This week’s parsha begins the second book of the Torah, and deals primarily with the first eighty years of Moshe’s life. One of the major turning points in Moshe’s life is described in 2:11: “And it happened in those days, Moshe grew up and went out to see his brethren, and he saw their suffering: he saw an Egyptian man beating a Hebrew, one of his brothers” (translation mine). Sforno highlights the important fact that Moshe, having grown up in the palace, must have been aware of the suffering of the Hebrews, since they were enslaved to Pharaoh. Sforno thinks that the verse, instead, refers to the fact that on this day Moshe consciously chose to see the plight of his fellow Hebrews. I think that this is indeed what the verse intends to bring our attention to, and I think that many of us have life-altering moments like Moshe, when we decide to let the suffering of others enter our hearts and minds, where before such suffering passed before our eyes without our really seeing it. Over the course of the parsha, Moshe has three encounters with suffering: this first one, an Egyptian oppressing a Hebrew; two Hebrew men fighting (2:13); and the shepherds of Midyan oppressing Yitro’s daughters (2:17). After pointing out the nature of this turning point in Moshe’s life, Sforno constructs a theory about these three incidents as well. As the text quoted above makes clear, Moshe intercedes – and ultimately kills the Egyptian – the first time because he connects with the plight of his kin. In the second case, Sforno posits that he refers to both parties as רשע – wicked – since both are fighting with each other and both are his brethren. Finally, Sforno makes his theory clear with regard to the daughters of Yitro: “Since both parties to the conflict were not Hebrews, Moshe was not aroused to avenge the oppression, and he also did not see a need to provide rebuke to the wrongdoers. He simply arose to free the oppressed from the hands of the oppressors” (2:17, translation mine).
This strikes me as a cheapening of Moshe’s legacy. In these few verses, the text shows me that Moshe, after being awakened to the plight of his brethren, applies the principle of fighting oppression more generally, eventually devoting his life to leading his nation to freedom after four centuries of slavery. I do not see a distinction being made between Hebrews and others – I see a man who has newly dedicated himself to stepping in when he witnesses oppression, wherever he may be. The final example brings this home, as he has just run away from Egypt, knows no one, and is accountable to no one. Encountering two groups of strangers, most people in Moshe’s position would ‘blend into the furniture’ and turn a blind eye. Moshe does not take the easy way out, but rather enters this new setting and demands justice. It is for moral development like this that he merits the title משה רבינו – Moshe our Rabbi.
May we all learn
To make our Resolutions
Binding like Moshe