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Leaving My Comfort Zone

Friday, 1 January, 2016 - 1:27 pm

Our introduction to Moshe, the great leader of the Children of Israel, is in this week’s parsha, Shemot. Although Moshe is most often remembered for splitting the sea and receiving the Torah, I’d like to focus on how we are introduced to Moshe.  Other than his birth and the fact that he was raised in Pharaoh’s home, we know very little about Moshe’s early life. In fact, the Torah only records three events in Moshe’s life prior to his selection as leader and redeemer of the Jewish people. To be sure, more is found in the Talmud and Midrash, yet the Torah chooses to document only three episodes.

The first story in the Torah about Moshe is how Moshe killed an Egyptian. Yes, Moshe – the man who would speak to G-d like no one else – took the life of another man. And, it is this way that we are familiarized with Moshe!

It is not his astute Torah knowledge, nor his piety, that the Torah highlights.  We also know that Moshe was a truly humble servant of G-d. This, too, the Torah ignores. Instead, His entry onto the scene is his slaying of an Egyptian.

This is the way the Torah puts it:

Now it came to pass in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers. He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

Let’s contrast this with, for example, the Torah’s introduction to Noach:

These are the generations of Noach, Noach was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God.

Couldn’t the Torah have at least shared something positive and sacred about Moshe before telling us about his militaristic achievement?

We might argue that it is Moshe’s quality as a warrior that earned him the leadership role. Perhaps this is the reason the Torah highlights his ability to defend his brothers and kill their oppressors.  This, however, is not the rationale offered by G-d when he selects Moshe. Nor is it the modus operandi employed by Moshe when he returns to Egypt decades later to lead the Jews out of exile.

So, what is the Torah conveying with this depiction of Moshe? And, based on the Talmudic teaching that all Jews share Moshe’s qualities in minute form, what aspect of Moshe should we seek to emulate?

In 1980, the Lubavitcher Rebbe posed this question and offered the following fascinating perspective.

Moshe was raised in the king’s palace. He lacked nothing. He had every reason to consider himself part of Egyptian aristocracy.  He could have lived a life of luxury and privileged seclusion from the common citizens. It doesn’t seem like there was any natural draw to the life of misery that his unfortunate relatives were forced to endure.

Most people would likely withdraw inward, indulging in the freedoms and amenities of their fortunate environs, be they material, intellectual or civic.

Yet, Moshe chose to go out. He elected to join his brothers and sisters in their suffering.  He wished to connect with them and with their hardships.

When he saw the challenges they were facing, he didn’t run in retreat. Rather, at great danger to his own life, he stood up in defense of his people.  He risked a life of prestige, comfort and even life itself – all to help another person.

Who was Moshe saving from the hands of an Egyptian oppressor? The Midrash relates that it was a Jew who was being beaten by an Egyptian that had an affair with his wife.  When the Egyptian realized that his misdeed was discovered, he mercilessly beat the husband.  This woman was known in Jewish circles to be promiscuous, so it wasn’t terribly surprising that this occurred.  Nonetheless, Moshe rises to their defense.

This, then, is the key leadership trait of Moshe. 

His ability to both leave his comfort zone and risk his very life to assist a good-for-nothing family demonstrates true, selfless dedication.  Nothing is more important to Moshe than helping a fellow Jew.

Yes, Moshe was indeed pious. He was remarkably humble. He was a great scholar.

But, the Moshe G-d wants us to be familiar with is the Moshe that cares about each and every person. And is willing to sacrifice the comforts of life to help someone who, arguably, doesn’t even deserve it.

And that’s the Moshe each and every one of us should aspire to be.

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