Shemot 5773 – Gilayon #781
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And a new king arose in
And he said to his people:
Behold! the people of the children
Is more numerous and vaster than we.
Come, let us act shrewdly with them, lest they multiply…
Let us act shrewdly – Let us
seek a shrewd path so that they do not multiply (Ibn Ezra,
Let us act shrewdly with them –
There is positive wisdom and there is negative wisdom. The wisdom of Torah and
morality is positive wisdom, whereas the wisdom in matters of deception is negative
wisdom. This acting shrewdly is not [true] wisdom, for he does not say 'let
us be wise'. Scripture says (Kohellet
cautioning against acting shrewdly [as against being shrewd] belongs to this
category of wisdom, for it [Kohellet] does not say "Do
not be overly wise".
(Rabbeinu Bachayey ibid. ibid.)
There is really little new under the
sun, and historic phenomena in general are as old as history itself. Whenever they
desire to oppress a nation, they subject to it another nation for them to oppress,
thereby providing compensation for the pressure applied from above. This policy
was the source of many of the decrees which had as their purpose the harming of
Jews. Perhaps a similar consideration guided the first promulgator of the earliest
"Jew Law". Pharaoh wished to compensate the Egyptian people whom he had
tyrannized forcefully, and towards this end he created a caste of inferior beings,
upon which the Egyptian could look down with confidence and pride, imagining himself to be a free man. And if Pharaoh could find no greater
violation with which to charge the Jews other than that of population growth, and
if in order to justify his planned decrees he was forced to depend upon consideration
of "the welfare of the state", there can be no more a shining testimony
to the social-ethical behavior of the Jews.
(RaSHaR Hirsch, ibid. ibid.)
Moshe rabeinu's feminine world
Parashat Shemot, which opens the Book
of Shemot, second book of the Pentateuch, is devoted primarily
to the progression of the Israelite nations from Egyptian servitude to its miraculous
path to freedom and receiving the Torah. Alongside the main narrative can be found
– between the lines – additional important topics which do not always receive sufficient
For example, it
is interesting to research the possible meanings which may be attributed to the
definitions of the names, both of persons and of the Divine (See chap. V.
It is also worthwhile to note the variety of female images which surround
Moshe from birth until his standing before Pharaoh in fulfillment of his mission.
The parasha begins with the words: "And these are the names
of the Children of
The sixteenth century Italian commentator, Ovadiah of
Seforno, writes: Those mentioned here are worthy of being
identified by name because each of them is worthy of consideration as a man, his
name indicative of his personal image". Seforno emphasizes
the intrinsic value of the essence of the name and its significance in the life
of he who carries it. We are well-acquainted with this idea from the Book of Bereishit, where we find the names of Abraham, Sarah, Yitzchak
and Yishmael chosen and given by the Lord himself.
In light of this
fact, we are puzzled, and perhaps do not really comprehend the significance of the
phenomenon that the greatest prophet to arise in Israel, the man chosen by the Lord
to lead the exodus from Egypt, bears a name given him not by his parents nor by
the Lord, but by a gentile woman.
It is written in
Shemot Rabba (
And she called
his name Moshe … For from the water I drew him out". Did not his father and
mother give him a name before this? But the Holy One, blessed be He, rewards those
who perform deeds of righteousness. Even though Moshe had many names, throughout
the Torah he is called only by the name assigned him by Batya,
daughter of Pharaoh, and even the Holy One called him by no other name.
names (Yered, Gador, Hever, Socho, Yekutiel
and Zanoach) are known to us from R' Shimeon ben Pazi's
derasha (Bavli, Megilla
in all the Torah the name given by the daughter of Pharaoh is used exclusively.
Even at the epiphany
of the burning bush, where Moshe merits the revelation of God which is to change
the course of his life, charging him with an unprecedented mission, we are surprised
to discover that this signpost is not accompanied by a change of name. In the Book
of Bereishit we see that significant change in the lives
of the patriarchs is often accompanied by a divine command to change the name: "No
longer will you be called by your name Abram; your name will be Avraham, for I have made you father to a multitude of nations"
is Yaakov; your name shall no longer be Yaakov, but Yisrael
shall be your name, and He called his name Yisrael"
The question, then, is why is there no name change when Moshe is called upon
by the Lord to liberate the Israelite nation from
before the giving of the Torah.
In the light of
the Seforno's words regarding the reflection of man's
character in his name, we suggest the following explanation: Moshe was saved by
a gentile woman who rebelled against her father's orders because she could not suffer
the injustice of killing all the male children. Her compassion for Moshe was greater
than her national affiliation. R' Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
And the child
grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became a son to her, and
she called his name Moshe, 'For from the water I drew him out'" (Shemot 2:
him never in all his life forget that he was flung into the water and was drawn
out by me. Thus, throughout his life he will possess a kind heart, sensitive to
the suffering of the other and always prepared to be a savior in time of trouble,
to be "one who draws out".
In other word,
there is no need for a name change because Moshe's main mission in life is already
inherent in the name he received from Batya, daughter
of Pharaoh, i.e., to be attuned to the needs of the other, to protect and free the
weak. This mission is not limited to the Israelite nation alone.
It is interesting
to note that not only was it the name which Moshe received from a female figure.
Plain reading of the Bible teaches us that Moshe owed his life to a number of women,
beginning with Yocheved his mother and Miriam his sister,
through Batya daughter of Pharaoh, and ending with Tsipporah, daughter of Yitro. It is
reasonable to assume, therefore, that Moshe, through his concern for the weak, is
particularly sensitive to the status of women and their fate. These qualities were
assimilated into Moshe's personality and we are witness to such qualities as seeking
of justice and zero tolerance for injustice. Upon reaching maturity he goes out
to meet his brothers. His first step is intervention against an Egyptian beating
a Hebrew, followed by an additional intervention in an altercation between two Hebrews.
Both actions were taken from a position of relative strength, Moshe then being a
member of Pharaoh's household. Different was the situation when Moshe saved the
daughters of Yitro; then he was but a sole wandering refugee,
fleeing for his life. Moshe reveals fully the personality evoked by his name; he
cannot stand by and witness violence of men against women. According to Rashi, the violence of the Mideanite
shepherds against Yitro's daughters was a result of excommunication
of Yitro's family. The reason for said excommunication
was related to Yitro's decision to discard idolatry, despite
the fact that he was a senior priest of the Mideanite
In this event,
then, we see the phenomenon (familiar to us today as well) of arrogance and male
aggression against women disguised as religiosity. It is important to note, in any
case, that the Torah ties this phenomenon to idolatrous practice, and the one who
rises up against it with all his power and despite the dangers, is the greatest
of all prophets, our teacher Moshe, loyal to his personality and faithful to his
Ottolenghi is an advocate, a graduate of the Hebrew U.
Law Faculty. He currently teaches Judaism at the
Oppressed Must be Saved from his Oppressor without Regard
When he went out the next day, he
saw two hebrews fighting: so
he said to the offender, "why do you strike your fellow?" he retorted,
"who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed
the egyptian? Moses was frightened
and thought: then the matter is known!
Two Hebrews – This
comes to order to commend Moses. It shows that he did not kill the Egyptian on the
previous day out of brotherly solidarity, but rather in order to save the oppressed
from his oppressor. The proof is that on the next day he rebuked a man who caused
strife with his fellow, even though both of them were Hebrews and it would have
seemed appropriate to sympathize with the victimizer (as well as with the victimized),
since he was one of his brothers.
(R. Yitzhak Shemuel Riggio,
Even When Justified, the Killer Cannot
Erase the Memory of the Killing
The Holy One, Blessed Be He said to Moses: "Moses, whose son are you?"
He replied: "The son of Amram."
"And Amram is the son of whom?" He replied:
"The son of Kehat."
The Holy One, Blessed Be He said: "Are any of them still alive?"
He replied: "They have all died."
The Holy One, Blessed Be He said to him: "And you want to live!?"
He replied, "Master of the Universe, the first man [Adam] stole and
ate against your will, and you sentenced him to death, but I – did I ever steal
anything from you?! You wrote about me, My servant
Moses, most trustworthy in my house – how, then, can I die?"
He said: "Are you greater than Abraham, whom I tested with ten trials?"
He replied: "Abraham fathered Ishmael, whose descendents enslaved your
He said: "Are you greater than Isaac?"
He replied: "Isaac fathered one who will destroy your House, and his
sons will kill your sons."
The Holy One, Blessed Be He said to him: "Did I order you to kill
the Egyptian?!" Moses replied to Him: "You killed all the firstborn
yet I am to die because of a single Egyptian?!"
The Holy One, Blessed Be He said to him: "Are you comparable to me,
killing and giving life? Can you give life as I do?"
(From the midrash Petirat
Moshe found in Beit Hamidrash,
New Studies in the Book
of Shemot by
Prof. Nechama Leibowitz z"l)
Empathy with the Suffering of Others
is the Secret of Revelation and of Redemption
said: Just as it is with these twins, that if the head of the one aches, the other
feels it as well, [so too] in a manner of speaking, the Holy One Blessed Be He said,
I am with him in troubles (Tehillim 9
Another explanation: What does I
am with him in troubles mean? When they suffer adversity, they call only upon
the Holy One Blessed Be He. [So it was] in
the bondage rose up to God (Shemot 2:23). At the Red Sea: And the children of
to the Lord (Shemot
In all their troubles He was troubled (Isaiah 63:9). The Holy One Blessed Be He said to
Moses: "Don't you sense that I am steeped in suffering, just as
in suffering? Understand that I speak to you from amongst the thorns; I am, so to
speak, their partner in suffering.
(Shemot Rabbah 2)
"The Place On Which You Stand
– It Is Holy Ground!"
– What is Place?
word "HaMakkom" – "The place" is be understood figuratively,
its application being that Moshe's value was very high, as is written, "Who
shall ascend the mountain of the Lord, and who will rise in His holy place? One of clean hands and pure heart."
Davar, Shemot 3:5)
Avraham returned to his place" – to his humanness; he
did not continue to seclude himself and pray, even though it is possible to be alone
and pray even without revelation of the Divine Presence; he nonetheless discontinued
his contemplation of the divinity once he understood the will of God, and returned
to his place.
I will go to my place and to my land" – to my value,
that I will not be a servant to others, and thus is its interpretation
in Bereishit Rabba on the verse
"And Lavan returned to hisplace" – to his bad habits.
Davar' Bereishit 30:25)
language extended its meaning and made it a term denoting an individual's rank and
situation… It is in this figurative manner that it is said: "Blessed be
the glory of the Lord from His place", meaning,
according to His rank and the greatness of His portion in existence. Similarly in
every mention of place referring to God, the sole intention is to signify the rank
of His existence, may He be exalted; there being nothing like or similar to that
(Rambam, Guide of the Perplexed, I, 8)
Moshe hid his face for he was afraid to look upon God" (Shemot 32:6) –
Commendation or Condemnation
"And He said: You shall not be
able to see My face" (Shemot 33:20). A Tanna taught
in the name of R. Joshua b. Korhah: The Holy One, blessed
be He, spoke thus to Moshe: When I wanted, you did not want [to see My face} now that you want, I do not want. – This is in opposition
to [the interpretation of this verse by] R. Shmuel b.
Nahmani in the name of R. Yonathan.
For R. Shmuel b. Nahmani said
in the name of R. Jonathan: As a reward of three [pious acts] Moshe was privileged
to obtain three [favors]. In reward of "And Moshe hid his face' (Shemot 34), he obtained
the brightness of his face. In reward of 'For he was afraid' (Shemot 3), he obtained the privilege that They were afraid to come nigh him. In reward of 'To look upon
similitude of the Lord doth he behold'.
(Bavli, Berachot 7a)
Scripture says that Moshe hid his
face "for he was afraid to look at God" – yet this was the same Moshe
of whom it is later told that "and God spoke to Moshe face to face" and
also "he saw the similitude of the Lord". There is no contradiction between
these. "He saw the similitude of the Lord" – true recognition of the Lord
is actually the recognition that man cannot recognize the Lord, and therefore Moshe
"hid his face", because he did recognize the Lord.
on the Talmudic dictum "All the prophets looked through an unclear glass, but
Moshe, our teacher, looked through a lucid glass", makes a powerful statement
which embodies the simple yet complete faith: "All the prophets looked through
an unclear glass – but thought that they saw Him; Moshe, our teacher, looked through
a lucid glass – and knew that he did not see Him before him". This is recognition
of the transcendental God.
Comments on the Parshiyot of the Torah, p. 4
The place upon which you stand is sacred soil
The Sages explained: Moses' face was
like the sun and Joshua like the moon (Bava Batra 75a). Just as one half of the moon shines and the other
is dark, so too was Joshua: his intellectual side gave illumination, but his remaining
material side was dark. However, Moses' face was like the sun, which illuminates
from all sides. His material aspect had become so purified that the material skin
of his face shined. It had been refined when he stood on the mountain for forty
days without eating or drinking, nourished by the brilliance of His Divine Presence,
may He be blessed. That is why Moses was told remove your shoes (Shemot 3:5) – meaning two [shoes] –
which implies the negation of materiality from both his aspects: refinement
of his intellect from material influences, as well as the refinement of the material
aspect itself. That is why it says, as if by way of explanation, for the place
upon which you stand is sacred soil. The word place [makom]
refers to a status, and the verse says that at the status which you have achieved,
even the part of you that is soil is holy. That is why Scripture says, is sacred
soil. Since you have achieved this great status, I had to tell you do not
come close to view the Divine Presence, because no man can see me and live
(Shemot 33:20). Even the angels do not draw near to view
God's essence, all the more so a human living in this world should not draw near.
(Keli Yakar 3:5)
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