Shabbat, 23 Tevet, 5777
21 January, 2017
Exodus Chapter 2
11 “Now it came to pass in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers.”
and looked at their burdens: He directed his eyes and his heart to be distressed over them. [From Exod. Rabbah 1:27]
The Hebrew phrase of “he saw their burdens” is “Vayar B’sivlothom.” וַיַּרְא בְּסִבְלֹתָם But the more correct Hebrew for this would be “Vayar Eth sivlothom.” Where “their burdens” is the direct object of his seeing. But the Torah’s words are “Vayar B’sivlothom” which is subtle change which means “he saw into their sufferings” Meaning, he identified with their sufferings.
Here we have a fine picture of the future leader. Highly sensitive to the pain of others, deeply empathic, benevolent and actively involved. These features characterized Moses. The Torah leaves no room for doubt as to why this man was chosen for this historic and awesome task. Before Moses is chosen by
G-d, the Torah relates three incidents regarding Moses getting involved with the suffering of others. The struggle between Jew and non-Jew (Egyptian) (Exodus 2:11), the fight between Jew and Jew (Exodus 2:13) and the quarrel between Gentile (Yisro’s daughters) and Gentile (the Midianite shepherds) (Exodus17). These depict Moses’ unqualified, unlimited and non- discriminatory appreciation for the pain of others. It also shows his proactive involvement in redeeming them from their suffering.
The distinctive moral trait of a leader in Israel.
First, we are told that Moshe became “great” in the house of Pharoah: “Now it came to pass in those days that Moses grew up….” Next we are told that Moshe went out to his brothers. Then we are told that Moshe saw their burdens. What verse 11 does is come to introduce the subject of why Moshe fled from Pharoah’s house and went out of Egypt. Pharoah sought to slay Moshe for his having slain the Egyptian. (“And Moshe became frightened … The matter [saying] is become known.” v.14)
We see how “his wicked brother” reacts to his having slain the Egyptian: “Who made you a man, a prince and judge over us?” (v.14) The wicked one mockingly acknowledges that Moshe has become great. Then suddenly, Moshe’s greatness is dashed to pieces: “The matter, [literally, the saying] is become known.”
What matter? The matter of the slain Egyptian? Or the matter of Moshe being a Hebrew? It’s simple meaning is the slain Egyptian – “Do you say ([this:]”Why are you going to strike your friend?” v.13) to slay me like you slew the Egyptian?” [Are you, a Hebrew Prince going to slay me without a judge?]
But the drash is the matter saying of the people that is of Moshe being a Hebrew rather than an Egyptian! If Moshe is an Egyptian then he is on equal footing with the Egyptian task-master whom he has slain and he need not fear Pharoah’s sword. If Moshe, on the other hand, is known publically as a Hebrew, then he has what to fear!? Loss of his standing or greatness in Pharoah’s house. (A mature man, a prince and judge over the Hebrews!)
Because he felt his Hebrew brethren’s burdens, that is, since he greatly identified with their sufferings, he outed himself as a Hebrew by trying to rectify the sufferings of his brother and trying to make peace between two of his brethren who were quarreling!
Had Moshe known that the matter of the slain Egyptian was seen by the wicked brother; would he have tried to make peace between the two brothers? The answer lies in the fact that they were quarreling and one brother sought to slay his other brother. Moshe is ignorant as to why they are quarreling. What they are quarreling over is whether or not they should inform on Moshe or help him conceal the slaying of the Egyptian! When Moshe discovers that one is an informant he becomes frightened that Pharoah would slay him for being a Hebrew who has slain an Egyptian!
Here, hadavar הַדָּבָֽר tells us that “the matter” is “the word” – “And Moshe became frightened … The saying is known.” v.14
14 “And he retorted, “Who made you a man, a prince, and a judge over us? Do you plan to slay me as you have slain the Egyptian?” Moses became frightened and said, “Indeed, the matter has become known!””
וַיֹּ֠אמֶר מִ֣י שָֽׂמְךָ֞ לְאִ֨ישׁ שַׂ֤ר וְשֹׁפֵט֙ עָלֵ֔ינוּ הַֽלְהָרְגֵ֨נִי֙ אַתָּ֣ה אֹמֵ֔ר כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר הָרַ֖גְתָּ אֶת־הַמִּצְרִ֑י וַיִּירָ֤א משֶׁה֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר אָכֵ֖ן נוֹדַ֥ע הַדָּבָֽר
(RASHI: Do you plan to slay me: lit., Do you say to slay me. From here we learn that he slew him with the Ineffable Name. [From Tanchuma, Shemoth 10] )
2.15 “Pharaoh heard this saying, and he sought to slay Moses; so Moses fled from before Pharaoh. He stayed in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well. ”
When he sits by the well, Moshe is still identified by the daughters of Reuel as an Egyptian, (v.19 “They replied, “An Egyptian man rescued us from the hand[s] of the shepherds, and he also drew [water] for us and watered the flocks.” “) in spite of his having fled from Pharoah.
From this we are able to deduce that He was able to flee from Pharoah’s house as an Egyptian Prince. He left royalty and arrived at a well surrounded by daughters of royalty!
So why was Moshe frightened? The midrash tells us that he was concerned that the Hebrews deserved to be enslaved! Which brings us to our point: if the saying became known, what was it that caused Moshe to be frightened? That he slew the Egyptian speaking Hebrew and with the Ineffable Name (HaShem, the Tetragrammaton) he was able to “say to slay!” He was afraid that the Hebrews would use the Ineffable Name improperly; for instance, as a weapon with which to slay, (Vayiqra 24:10-23) rather than to Bless! Shmoth 20.6 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
He was afraid that the Ineffable Name would become common-place instead of spoken as a Sacred Name!