So this week we start reading the Book of Exodus, or in Ivrit, Sefer Shmot. The whole story of The Jewish People going out of Egypt and becoming a nation is about to unfold over the coming weeks. When we look ahead at all the events: Moshe being born, encountering Hashem at the burning bush, the ten plagues, and finally, the Grand finale, (or maybe the Grand Beginning,) that is the entire nation ‘seeing’ G-d at Mt Sinai and receiving the Torah, I think it’s good to be excited about it. Not that they are on the same level in the slightest, but I feel a bit like I’m in a movie that I’ve been waiting to see for ages and the screen has just widened, the lights have dimmed, and the story is about to begin….Imagine what ideas and insights we will be seeing over the next few weeks, as the Jewish Nation as we know it, and therefore the purpose of our existence, take form before our very eyes… Exciting, no?
We have to talk about Moshe Rabbeinu. Moses. Perhaps the greatest leader the world has ever seen. This is a man who reached a level that he could receive the Torah from Hashem on Mt Sinai. Our Sages tell us that no other prophet ever reached the level that Moshe did. They say that Joshua, his successor, was only a reflection of Moshe. Moshe was like the sun, and he was like the moon, whose light is just a reflection of the sun. Moshe. The whole world knows who he was, speaks about him. What made him so great?
Moshe was hidden as a baby in a small basket in the river because Pharoah had decreed that all Jewish male babies should be killed. Ironically, he was found there by the daughter of Pharoah, and she wanted to keep him. So she asked Pharoah’s permission and he let her. Moshe grew up in the lap of luxury. A prince of the royal palace. He wasn’t treated as a Jew, but rather as an Egyptian. Pharoah and the royal family treated him as such, but he knew the truth. Pharoah’s daughter had hired Moshe’s mother Yocheved as his nanny when he was young.
In two psukim (verses) in this week’s parsha we see the beginning of Moshe’s greatness:
It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and saw their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren.
He turned this way and that and saw that there was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
It says that Moshe grew up and then he went outside to have a look around and saw how his people were being opressed. But in the previous verse it says “The boy grew up and she (Yocheved – Moshe’s mother and nanny) brought him to the daughter of Pharoah and he was a son to her.” So he was already grown up!! How can it say again that Moshe grew up?!
Clearly the second ‘growing up’ doesn’t mean that Moshe grew physically. Rather, it means that Moshe matured. What was that maturity? What does it mean to be mature? It’s such a relevant question to our own lives. What is maturity??
We receive our answer from the continuation of the verse: and went out to his brethren and saw their burdens.
Moshe had so much to lose in ‘going out’. He lived in the palace. He had every pleasure money could buy. But to be mature is to look outside of oneself, and to forget about one’s own small concerns, and to care about what is just and right. Moshe looked outside his own life and saw the burdens of his people. And then, when he saw someone being struck, an old man carrying a heavy load being whipped because he was a Hebrew slave, he ‘saw there was no man’ and decided to set things straight. We shouldn’t make the mistake that Moshe’s seeing no man meant that he realised he could get away with it, and that otherwise he wouldn’t have done anything. The ‘man’ here is being used in the same way as the mishna in Ethics of our Fathers when it says: In a place where there is no ‘ish’ strive to be an ‘ish’. Ish is the word in hebrew for man, and that’s how it is usually used, but clearly in the mishna that’s not what it means. There is another meaning of ish, and that is leader. Our Sages are saying to us: In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader. Moshe left the comforts of his life, saw that there was something wrong outside, that there was a true and just way to the world that was being perverted, and ‘he turned this way and that and saw that there was no leader, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.’
What was Moshe’s greatness? Moshe had the courage and maturity to look outside of the life that he had been given, and to see if there was a truth to the world. Once he found that there was, he didn’t run back inside in fear that his whole life as a Prince of Egypt, with all its luxuries and grandeur, was about to be lost. Rather, he saw that the world needs people, the world needs him, to fight for that truth and uphold it. Moshe stepped up to the plate.
There is a mishna in the Talmud, in the section called Sanhedrin, that says that each of us are obligated to say ‘bishvili nivrah haolam’ which means: The world was created for me. This means we each need to see ourselves as the leader of the world. Thousands of years later, the whole world is still talking about Moshe Rabbeinu, because he acheived greatness: He looked outside, realised what the truth about our world is, and lived up to it.
Hashem has given us each a unique job in perfecting His world. We are all leaders in our own right. In a sense, there is no one more important than you in the eyes of Hashem, for unless you fulfill the specific task that you were designed to fulfill, our world will always be incomplete and imperfect. Only if we each fulfill our life mission can the entire world reach the perfect vision that Hashem has for it. Moshe fulfilled his role, and therefore achieved a greatness and a legacy that lasts until today. If we follow Moshe’s formula we too can fulfill our role, and achieve greatness at the same time.
Look outside, and stand up for what is true.