The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tevet 25, 5768/January 3, 2008

"'This is one of the Hebrews' children.'"
(Exodus 2:6)

It seems remarkable that from such inauspicious beginnings Moses was able to rise to the position of savior of the Israelite nation, the greatest of G-d's prophets. Not one of the patriarchs or matriarchs was able to speak with G-d "face to face" as was Moses (Deuteronomy 34:10). Not even the righteous Joseph, who saved the world from hunger, was able to attain the status of Moshe rabbeinu - Moses our master.

It is curious that Isaac (Yitzchak), whose parents were both righteous servants of G-d, did not become the leader of a nation. Nor did his son Jacob (Yaakov) become the lawgiver. We have already mentioned Yosef.

What distinguished Moses from his own exalted forebearers? Why him? In a word: family. The Genesis history of the first generations of the Jewish people is a history of brotherly rivalry, deception and hatred. Yitzchak was plagued by Yishmael, Yaakov was pursued by Esau, and Yosef was sold by his brothers for a pocketful of coins. The great reunion and reconciliation that took place between the sons of Israel in the closing chapters of Genesis shows a family still riddled by fear: "And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said: 'It may be that Joseph will hate us, and will fully requite us all the evil which we did unto him.'" (Genesis 50:15)

In retrospect this delicate reconciliation does not so much represent a new chapter in the history of the Jewish nation, as it does presage the opening of the book of Exodus and the early years of Moshe's life. We are told that the daughter of Pharaoh, upon discovering the ark in which Moshe was placed, "... opened it, and saw it, even the infant; and behold a youth that wept." (Exodus 2:6) Our sages teach us that the youth that wept was not, as we might suspect, Moshe, but that it was Moshe's older brother Aharon standing behind the rushes, fearing for his brother's fate. And of course we know that it was Miriam, Moshe's older sister who approached Pharaoh's daughter, and offered to fetch a Hebrew wet nurse, (Moshe's own mother).

This familial love and great sense of responsibility for one another is the ingredient that was too often missing from the lives of the patriarchal households. It was brotherly strife that nearly destroyed the family of Israel and that brought them under the harsh rod of Egyptian bondage. We see here in Exodus that it would be brotherly solidarity that would lead the people to redemption.

It is little wonder that Shifra and Pua, the two Hebrew midwives who refused Pharaoh's order to kill the newborn Hebrew males are identified by midrash as being none other than Miriam and Yocheved, Moshe's sister and mother. They display the very same quality of caring for the wellbeing of others above that of themselves.

And so it was that Moshe was likewise imbued with this quality. We next hear of him when he ventures from the palace of Pharaoh and spies a Hebrew slave being beaten by his Egyptian taskmaster. Overcome by compassion for his Hebrew brother he strikes the Egyptian and buries him in the sand.

It was only the following day when Moshe confronted two Hebrews engaged in a heated argument that his world began to unravel: for the first time in his life Moshe witnessed brotherly strife. "The thing is known," (Exodus 2:14) he says, and flees Egypt, ostensibly from Pharaoh, but on another level from his own people, ridden with strife, mired in exile. It would be forty years before the power of compassion with which he was nurtured as an infant would lead him back to the role for which he was destined: savior of Israel.

Tune in to TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the opening verses of Exodus and the qualities which separate servants of G-d and leaders of men from those enslaved by petty rivalries and self serving delusions.

Click to hear:

Part 1
Part 2