Lessons from Moshe Rabbeinu – Weekly Words of Torah, Shemot 5774

Insights into Parshat Shemot of Mr. Avi Sebbag of Yeshiva Sha’alvim, by Rav Re’uven Ungar of Sha’alvim.

Throughout history, we find instances in which people do great things and achieved fantastic accomplishments אישא man could not comprehend at that specific time. Due to this lack of comprehension, man resorts to referring to these people as “God-like.” These people have also claimed to be gods, or above natural law. As mentioned in רש”י in Parshat Va’era, Pharaoh went to the bathroom very early in the morning because he had a god-like status in Egyptian society, and gods, as we know, don’t go to the bathroom. By contrast, this concept never appears in Judaism; every individual is a messenger of G-d, or for G-d, but no one claims to be anything out of the ordinary. The Navi שמואל was known as the “wandering prophet”, going from town to town helping spread Hashem’s word and תורה. Before he became a prophet, however, Sefer שמואל deliberately speaks of the humble beginnings of שמואל, a normal-born child who worked himself up to greatness. This spiritual growth and development is the basis of Judaism, this constant striving for more and elevation of the self toward Hashem. One of first examples we have of this growth, this recorded striving, is that of Moshe Rabbeinu at the start of Parshat Shemot. The תורה makes sure to note that Moshe was born from a mortal woman, to make known to everyone that he started from the bottom, and yet became one of the most known names not only in Jewish history but in the history of the world. How did he achieve this? How did the beginnings of this simple Jew become Moshe Rabbeinu?

As we all know, Pharaoh made a decree that all newborn males must be killed, as per the prophecy that a male would take the Jews out of Egypt. Amram, Moshe’s father, and Yocheved, Moshe’s mother, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and were no longer able to hide him. They hatched a plan to sail him down the Nile in a basket, hoping beyond hope that someone would take him in and spare his life. Sure enough, Bat Pharaoh turned up and took him in as her own, destining him for a life of royalty in the house of Pharaoh. According to the Ibn עזרא, this was the first step in Moshe becoming who he was. Had he grown up and been educated in a Jewish home, he would have displayed “exile syndrome” which would have made him incapable of executing any of the brave acts he would go on to accomplish.

The next step in Ordinary Moshe becoming Moshe Rabbeinu was his devotion and attention to their torment. This is shown from the words וירא- as רש”י elaborates, “He focused his eyes and heart to be distressed over them”. Then, once Moshe found out he was Jewish, his unwillingness to tolerate the injustice that was happening to his people deemed him unable to function properly in the house of Pharaoh. Eventually this unwillingness culminated into his attack and murder of a מצרי officer. He then left מצרים and encountered the burning bush, thus solidifying him as the Jewish savior, leading them through the desert and eventually to Eretz Yisroel.

What can be learnt about the ascent of Moshe Rabbeinu? The first couple Perakim of Shemot are about the importance of בין אדם לחבירו and its connection to our spiritual growth. Moshe felt the pain of his people and decided to help them. He realized that helping people, making sure equality is distributed and justice is served, is worth more than living in a fancy palace and having everything done for oneself. It is a lesson that can be applied to our everyday lives, and one that can enhance our connection to Hashem and our fellow Jew.