Shemot 5759 – Gilayon #64

Shabbat Shalom The weekly parsha commentary – parshat Shemot

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Parshat Shemot

"All Those Who Seek Your Life Have Died"

by Yaakov Bing

At the burning bush, G-d appointed Moshe to carry out a great mission: to approach Pharaoh and take the Children of Israel out of Egypt. G-d saw the distress of His people in Egypt and heard their cry. Moshe tries to refuse G-d's command and claims that the mission is too great for him ("Who am I?"). The Children of Israel won't believe him, he isn't a man of "words", and even refuses without providing an explanation when he said, "Please, send someone else more suited." G-d does not accept Moshe's answer and instructs him to accept the mandate with Aaron's assistance. Throughout this critical dialogue, no mention is made of any danger involved upon Moshe's return to Egypt. This subject has simply been agreed upon.

After Moshe returns to Jethro, his father-in-law, and departs from him, "G-d said to Moshe, while Moshe was still in Midian, 'Go return to Egypt, for all the men who seek your life have died.' " (Exodus 4:19). This verse "shows that if those seeking his life were still alive, Moshe should not take the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Although the people needed him, he should not place his life in danger" (Meshech Hochma). The Meshech Hochma finds in this verse an explanation for a Halachah in Mishnah Makkoth (Ch. 2, Mishneh 7). This mishnah discusses the problem of an individual who commits murder unintentionally and must go to a city of refuge and remain there until the High Priest dies. If the exiled leaves the city of refuge, a relative of the slain is permitted to kill him. In the words of the Mishnah, "The murderer can never leave the place [of refuge] … not even if [all] Israel should need of him, not even if he be 'Commander of the Army of Israel' like Joab ben Zeruiah."

An inherent contradiction exists between Moshe's crucial mission and the concern for his personal safety. On one hand, the Children of Israel face tremendous suffering, persecuted and oppressed. On the other hand, Moshe is waiting for those who are seeking his life before returning to Egypt. Our commentators have grappled with this contradiction. An additional question relates to Moshe redeeming Israel through supernatural means. Should Moshe, then, have cause to fear for his life? Don't we know that G-d told Moshe that "I will be with you" (Exodus 3:12)?

In his commentary, the Ramban writes that Moshe didn't intend to wait without taking action, but decided to use underground means and gather intelligence to prepare for the great mission. In the Ramban's words, "He decided he should go by himself as a stranger to visit …" instead of approaching the Pharaoh to take the Children of Israel out of Egypt.

The Ralbag says that Moshe should, like any of us, act using powers of logic and reason within the confines of this world. In his words, "No person should place him or herself in danger even if he or she is commanded by the Almighty. Didn't the Almighty tell Moshe that he will return to Egypt after those seeking his life have died. This means that Moshe would not have agreed to return to Egypt, if they had not died because 'a person should not rely on miracles'." That is, when we need to make difficult decisions, we should not place ourselves in danger and rely on the belief that "G-d will save us". Rather, we should base our decisions on logic and embrace the reality of natural law in this world.

The Ralbag continues and mentions a situation Samuel the Prophet faced: "And G-d said to Samuel, 'how long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from ruling over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse, the Bethlehemite, for I have provided Myself a king from among his sons.' And Samuel said, 'How can I go? If Saul hears about this, he will kill me.' And G-d said, 'Take a heifer with you and say, 'I have come to make a sacrifice to G-d' ' " (I Samuel 16:1-2).

After Saul disobeyed G-d, G-d decided to depose him from the throne and asked Samuel to anoint David. Samuel was afraid that when Saul heard about this, he would kill Samuel. G-d tells him to deceive Saul by using the making of a sacrifice as a pretext. The Ralbag writes: "An individual should not rely on miracles even if that person is confident and trusts in G-d. Even though the great Samuel was commanded by G-d to go to Jesse and his mission was blessed by G-d, he was afraid that Saul would kill him. He was even counseled how to escape this danger and did not rely on miracles. A person should make a concerted effort to save him or herself as G-d will not perform miracles unless the circumstances make G-d's intervention absolutely necessary". Here, the Ralbag comments that even a person who is commanded by G-d and is close to Him, should not rely on miracles.

Today, some believe we are very close to approaching the messianic age while others disagree. The making of decisions should be done cooperatively between the opposing sides and decisions reached should be agreed upon mutually. Those who believe we are nearing the messianic age should not make decisions related to this world based on their beliefs about the messianic age. All of us should base our decisions on powers of reason within the confines of this world and not rely on miracles.

Yaakov Bing is an economic and management consultant.

Translated by Evelyn Ophir.