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Geshmack Dvar Torah of the Week: Why Moshe?

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Why Moshe?

The book of Shemos starts as one would expect, with a brief conclusion from Bereishis. It explains how Yakov's children thrived in Egypt, and when the brothers had died, only then did the slavery begin. It then continues as one would expect, with the process of how the enslavement began.

But Chapter 2 starts " וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ מִבֵּית לֵוִי - A man of the house of Levi went" - and it is talking about Amram, Moshe's father and the leader of the Jews at the time. But why doesn't Chapter 2 start with the part of the story that matters, Hashem contacting Moshe the shepherd? Would it not make more sense to say "A shepherd of the house of Levi called Moshe etc...."?

Clearly, there is something more for us to learn from the Torah's description of Moshe's early life, as the Torah does not waste ink to tell us stories for the sake of it. We can suggest that we are being told about the nature and personlaity of Moshe, that led to his selection as being suitable to lead the Jews out of Egypt.

When Moshe is first found by Batya, she says " וַתִּרְאֵהוּ אֶת הַיֶּלֶד - and she saw him the child", but then the next words are "וְהִנֵּה נַעַר בֹּכֶה - and behold, he was a weeping lad". He went from being a baby to a lad (a term to describe someone older). Various commentators note that it was a mature cry ie a cry for others, that subsequently led her to conclude " מִיַּלְדֵי הָעִבְרִים זֶה - "This is [one] of the children of the Hebrews." (2:1)

We must note that it is clear that although in 2:10 that he grew up and Batya was like a mother to him, he knew that he was a Jew, as in 2:11 it says" וַיְהִי בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וַיִּגְדַּל מֹשֶׁה וַיֵּצֵא אֶל אֶחָיו וַיַּרְא בְּסִבְלֹתָם וַיַּרְא אִישׁ מִצְרִי מַכֶּה אִישׁ עִבְרִי מֵאֶחָיו - 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". Rashi points out that looking at their burdens distressed him as it was his brothers that were suffering, and yet he was a prince of Egypt! This is derived from the repetition of growing up in 2:10 and 2:11, where the first is in physical stature and the second in greatness, which Rashi interprets as meaning "Pharoh appointed over his house".

This undoubtedly created a schism in his psyche. Here he was, an Egyptian prince, yet he empathised with Egyptian slaves, who were his brothers. He was neither an Egyptian, nor a Jew.

The next Pasuk after we are told how he noticed his brothers suffering "וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ וַיַּךְ אֶת הַמִּצְרִי וַיִּטְמְנֵהוּ בַּחוֹל - He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand." (2:12)

He made the decision to stand with his brothers, and murdered an Egyptian, which inherently means that he ostracised (cut off) himself from the that nurtured him.
I read an unbelievable explanation that supplements this, said over by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo in his book, Thoughts to Ponder. This Pasuk is describing the internal conflict that we pointed out! "Moses turned {within himself} this way ({Egyptian?} and that way {or Jew?} and saw there was no {complete} man {ie he was neither}. So he struck the Egyptian {within him} and hid him in the sand."

The beauty of this is that it fits in perfectly with the Pasuk, and it fits perfectly with the first answer we gave as well! Whether or not he killed an Egyptian police officer, he chose to side with the Jews, thereby alienating Egyptian society culture within him, as he would be rejected by them (for siding with them and/or for murdering a police officer! Geshmack!

The point we can draw from this is that the history of Moshe Rabbenu made him into who he was. He was a product of Egypt, and he knew Egypt. In a way, he was Egypt! And he made the choice to become a Jew and severed his ties with Egypt, and this choice made him who he was. It is telling that G-d only speaks to Moshe after these events unfold.

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