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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Shemos

And she gave birth to a son. She saw that he was good and she hid him for three months. (2:2,3)

Rashi attributes Yocheved's ability to conceal Moshe Rabbeinu at home for three months to the fact that he was born prematurely - six months after conception. Hence, the Egyptians had no reason to search for a baby. When the nine-month period was up, she was forced to hide him in the water. Hashem could have saved Moshe Rabbeinu in any manner that He chose. He arranged for Moshe to be born prematurely, so that he would be home with his mother for three months. Then he was taken away from her, only to be returned to her later on in Pharaoh's palace.

Horav Zaidel Epstein, Shlita, infers from here a profound lesson in the chinuch, educational development, of a child. The formative years of a child's education have a profound effect upon his future. In order for Moshe Rabbeinu to emerge as the quintessential leader of the Jewish People, it was essential for him he be conceived in kedushah, sanctity. The well-known Midrash describes Amram's dialogue with his daughter, Miriam, after Pharaoh decreed that all male Jewish offspring were to be put to death. Amram felt that all marriages should be dissolved. As the leader of the Jews in Egypt, he divorced Yocheved, an action which everyone imitated. Miriam contended that her father's "decree" was worse than Pharaoh's, since Pharaoh's decree only affected the boys, while Amram's decree adversely affected all Jewish children! Indeed, Miriam Ha'Neviah prophesized that her mother would give birth to the savior of the Jewish People. How could Amram do this? Amram deferred to his daughter and remarried Yocheved, for the specific purpose of fathering the future leader of the Jewish People.

Moshe Rabbeinu was conceived and born in sanctity and purity with mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. He needed exposure to the kedushah of Amram and Yocheved's home. Even that did not seem to be enough. Hashem created the situation whereby Bisya bas Pharaoh herself would bring Moshe Rabbeinu, the infant she had rescued, to Yocheved to raise him in Pharaoh's palace. The environment in which Moshe grew up infused in him the sanctity and purity essential for the one who was destined to be Klal Yisrael's leader.

Indeed, Moshe Rabbeinu's early environment played a pivotal role in his educational development. Torah education begins at home from birth. Children reflect the attitude, practice and commitment that their parents manifest. Torah is a spiritual entity. A Torah environment infuses a person with a sense of spirituality regardless of his intellectual appreciation of Torah. In the Yerushalmi Yevamos 6, Chazal relate that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya's mother placed his crib in the Bais HaMedrash from the day that he was born, so that he would absorb the spiritual atmosphere. She kept him there so that the only sounds his ears would hear would be the sounds of Torah. Is is it any wonder that he developed into the great Tanna that he was? Moreover, we see the dedication to chinuch, Torah education, that his mother exhibited. To place an infant in the Bais Hamedrash for the purpose of "listening" to Torah indicates a unique appreciation of the essence of Torah. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya proved his mother right.

It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren...and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man. He went out on the next day and behold! Two Hebrew men were fighting. (2:11,13)

Moshe grew into a position of responsibility. He became ready to minister to the needs of his people. Horav Zeev Weinberger, Shlita, feels that Moshe had two distinct goals in mind when he began to serve Klal Yisrael: His first objective was to expunge the evil that the Egyptian environment had engendered. Second, he sought to correct and bring back the Jewish People. The occurrences related in the pesukim on the two days that Moshe "went out" to his brethren demonstrate these two faci.

On the first day, Moshe encountered an Egyptian beating a Jew. He immediately "corrected" the problem, as he smote the Egyptian. Purging the evil would not be that difficult. Raising Klal Yisrael from the depths, imbuing them with a sense of kedushah and taharah, charging them with their mission on this earth, created a greater challenge. The very next day, Moshe went out and encountered two Jews fighting with one another. If the actual discord between two brothers was not bad enough, the reaction of the one who was striking the other demonstrated to Moshe how far they had strayed. One individual challenged Moshe. He rudely and disdainfully said, "Who appointed you as a ruler over us? Are you going to slay me as you slew the Egyptian?" This was none other than Moshe's nemesis, Dasan, the man whom he had saved the day before from the murderous blows of the Egyptian! When Moshe realized the nadir of evil which this remark represented, he understood how difficult it would be to bring the Jewish People to the spiritual plateau necessary to merit their liberation.

To fully comprehend the profoundity of Moshe's concern, Horav Weinberger explains that when Moshe saw that there were Jews who had no conpunction about informing on another Jew, who would go to the Egyptian authorities and endanger the lives of others, he was filled with apprehension. There is nothing as low as an informer who would deliver another Jew to the gentiles. In his commentary, the Arizal explains the words of the Haggadah, "anus al pi haDibbur," compelled by Divine decree. Regarding the decree that Klal Yisrael be relegated to galus Mitzrayim, exiled in Egypt, he interprets the word "dibbur" as "speech." The exile was a result Bnei Yisrael's defective speech. They used their G-d given power of speech to distort, disparage, and inform on other Jews. Thus, the redemption of Pesach, which is an acronym for "peh-sach," the mouth speaks, occurred because Klal Yisrael corrected their speech by elevating and sanctifying the words which came out of their mouths. This grave concern caused Moshe to flee Egypt. He perceived that on his own, his success would be negligible.

Horav Weinberg takes another approach towards explaining Moshe's two encounters and his initial response. The Midrash seems to view these two encounters as sharing a single motif. When Moshe went out and saw the intensity of Jewish suffering - to the point that an Egyptian had no qualms about publicly beating a Jew, he reacted by killing the Egyptian. The next day he went out and saw two Jews fighting with each other. A lesser person would have reacted passively. He would have quieted the two so that the Egyptians would not take advantage of knowing that the Jews were not getting along with each other. Moshe did not react this way. He was a leader who did not shy away from controversy. He did what he had to do regardless of how unpopular it might be. The obligation to rebuke, to reproach when a wrong is committed, transcends social acceptance, be it from the gentiles or even from our own people. Unfortunately, the prevalent attitude that existed then seems to plague us to this very day.

Moshe was shepherding the sheep of Yisro...he guided the sheep into the wilderness. (3:1)

The proof that Moshe had the ability to become Klal Yisrael's leader was his ability to shepherd his father-in-law's sheep. Chazal relate the remarkable compassion he exhibited towards the tired and thirsty sheep. Hashem said to him, "You have such empathy towards the sheep belonging to human beings. By your life, you will shepherd My sheep, Yisrael." While this Midrash is well-known, it is important to take a moment and note the stories recounted by the Torah that demonstrate Moshe Rabbeinu's sense of compassion. Indeed, as Horav Yitzchak Goldwasser, Shlita, points out, there is a specific sequence to the Torah's narrative. He indicates that Moshe's character developed commensurate with his acts of compassion. The more lowly the subject of his compassion, the more spiritually uplifted Moshe became.

The first story in the Torah tells of Moshe's encounter with an Egyptian beating a Jew. The act of violence that the Egyptian was about to commit would have destroyed not only a physical life, but it would also have cut short the Jewish neshamah's, soul, stay in this world. The Egyptian was depriving a neshamah of preparation to enter Olam Habah. By shortening its lifespan, he was decreasing its opportunity for a greater portion of Olam Habah. Moshe displayed a noble compassion for the plight of the Yiddishe neshamah.

The Torah records the following incident to demonstrate Moshe's sympathy for the physical body. He encountered two Jews who were quarrelling. Their quarrel had escalated into a physical confrontation. Moshe quickly intervened, putting an end to the fracas.

In the third occurrence, Moshe saved Yisro's daughters from the hands of the Midyanite shepherds. His sensitivity towards all people, regardless of race, established his level of compassion on yet a higher plane. It was evident that Moshe did not have selective sensitivity. He was moved to action whenever he perceived that someone was suffering.

In the last case, the Torah shows that Moshe's empathy was truly unique. He cared for every creation. He treated animals that were thirsty or tired with tenderness. We derive from here that one must progress step by step through the levels of compassion. Some individuals demonstrate incredible concern for the plight of animals, while ignoring the difficulty experienced by humans. The Nazis were devoted to their dogs, but had no qualms about sending Jewish children to their deaths in the most cruel and heinous manner. Character refinement must be developed progressively, stage by stage, in each individual.

Hashem told Moshe..."to return to Egypt, as all the men who are seeking to kill you have died. (4:19)

Perhaps the people who disparaged Moshe, who went out of their way to inform on him to Pharaoh, were no longer a problem, but Pharaoh himself was still alive. He surely was not likely to embrace Moshe with love and friendship. Horav Yonasan Eibeshitz, zl, who suffered greatly from slanderers, asked this question. His response was one to which he could relate only too well. It appears, said Rav Yonasan, that the disparaging comments and slander of Jews such as Dasan and Aviram, were even more dangerous than Pharaoh's sword.

What a truism! Anyone who has been the hapless victim of character assassination will confirm this statement. Defamation of character destroys lives. It makes victims of entire families. Its effect can last for generations. Indeed, it really is more treacherous than Pharaoh's sword.

Hashem said to Aharon, "Go to meet Moshe"...and he went and encountered him at the mountain of G-d, and kissed him. (4:27)

Regarding Aharon's encounter with Moshe Rabbeinu, the Midrash cites the pasuk in Tehillim 85, "Chesed v'emes nifgashu, tzedek v'shalom nashuku," "Kindness and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed."

Aharon is the symbol of chesed; Moshe represents emes. In the second part of the pasuk, tzedek is the virtue which characterizes Moshe, while Aharon is defined by the virtue of shalom. Horav Elimelech Moller, Shlita, infers from this pasuk that an individual creates his name by his actions and deeds. Thus, when Aharon and Moshe met, it was an encounter of emes and chesed - tzedek and shalom. Moshe and Aharon were so closely identified with their individual attributes that these traits became their essence, the very name by which they continue to be distinguished.

We find a similar idea regarding Shifrah and Puah -- or Yocheved and Miriam. They were the two Jewish midwives who were moser nefesh, prepared to sacrifice themselves, to sustain the Jewish male babies. Chazal tell us that Shifrah was given this name because she was "mishaperes es ha'velad," "she made beautiful the child." Puah received her name as a result of "poah u'medaberes v'hoga le'velad," "she called aloud and spoke and murmured to the infant." This does not mean that they were "nicknamed" in accordance with their functions. On the contrary, these names defined their essence. They were Shifrah and Puah precisely because their whole objective in this world was to act with mesiras nefesh on behalf of the Jewish children.

Chazal tell us that Klal Yisrael were redeemed from Egypt in the merit that they did not change their "names." They came down to Egypt with the Hebrew names they were given, and they left with those same names. What is so unique about the fact that they did not change their names? While it indicates a definite respect for tradition, should this merit their liberation? Horav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, zl, explains that a name defines one's essence. Adam Ha'Rishon was able to give names to all the animals because he understood the basic qualities and the individual nature of each. Indeed, when Moshe asked Hashem, "When Klal Yisrael will ask me what is His Name, (referring to Hashem), what will I say?" Hashem answered, "Eheyeh asher Eheyeh." What Moshe was saying was, "How can I give them Your Name?" A name describes one's essence. How does one describe Hashem's essence? It is far beyond the scope of mankind. We only know Hashem's metzius, the existence of Hashem is a reality." Hashem responded, "I will be what I will be." Hashem will always be there. His metzius, existence, is a reality that is eternal.

Klal Yisrael did not alter their names. Their essential character, their Jewish essence, did not change. While they might have become acculturized to the Egyptian lifestyle and they certainly picked up some of the influence, their Yiddishe neshamah, their atzmius, did not change. They might have acted like Egyptians in many ways - but in character and belief they remained Jews. They did not change their names.


1. Whose names were "changed" as a result of their good deeds?

2. Amram divorced his wife as a reponse to Pharaoh's decree. Who convinced him to take her back?

3. How old was Yocheved when Moshe was born?

4. a. Who was the Jew that was being smitten by the Egyptian? b. Who was his wife?

5. What other name is given to Har Sinai in this parsha?

6. For how many days did Moshe continue his dialogue with Hashem in his attempt to avoid going to Egypt?

7. Hashem told Moshe to return to Egypt since the men that sought to kill him had "died." A. Who were these men? B. Were they really dead?


1. Yocheved and Miriam = Shifrah and Puah.

2. His daughter Miriam.

3. 130 years old.

4. A. Dasan B. Shlomis bas Divri

5. Har HaElokim

6. Seven days

7. A. Dasan and Aviram.

B. They had lost all of their money. A poor man is considered as if he is dead.

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