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Parshas Shemos

Not a born Leader
Rabbi Yosef Levinson

This week's parsha introduces us to one of the most influential personalities in our history, Moshe Rabbeinu. He redeemed the Bnei Yisrael from slavery, brought them before Har Sinai to receive the Torah and led them for forty years in the Midbar, during which time he taught them the Torah. We also know that he was the greatest navi (prophet) that there ever was and will ever be. How did Moshe become such a great leader? Let us examine the parsha and see.

Moshe was brought up in Pharoah's royal palace. The Abarbanel explains that this was Divinely orchestrated so Moshe could gain the courage and strength of a king which would enable him to speak to Pharoah with authority, and not be overwhelmed or ashamed in his presence. In the palace Moshe would also acquire the royal demeanour necessary to lead the Jewish people with confidence and dignity befitting the leader of the Am Hashem. Harav Avigdor Miller, shlita, also adds that it was Moshe's aristocratic upbringing that gave him the strength and courage to kill the Egyptian task master.

There is a lesson to be learned from this. Pharoah was fearful that a leader would rise up to save the Jewish people. He therefore decreed that every newborn male be thrown into the river Nile. Despite his plans and precautions, that leader was born and was ironically raised in his own palace by his own daughter! And further, as the Steipler Gaon zt'l explains, it was Pharoah's own decree that caused Moshe to be reared in the royal palace. Without this decree, Moshe would have been raised in his parent's home rather than the royal palace. As we have already mentioned, this environment was particularly suited to preparing him for his future role as leader of the Jewish people. Thus we see that Hashem's will ultimately prevails in spite of Man's attempts at sabotage. Indeed, if Hashem wills it, the would-be saboteur can become the very agent of his own undoing. (Such was the fate of Haman who was hanged on the gallows he had built to hang Mordechai.)

No one is born a Jewish leader. One must be deserving of the position. How did Moshe Rabbeinu merit to become the saviour and leader of the Jewish people at eighty years of age? In fact we know very little about Moshe's life at this time. The Torah is not a history book. It only relates to us those events that we must learn from. After Moshe grows up , the first thing the Torah says concerning him is that "he went out to his brethren and saw their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man hitting a Hebrew man, of his brethren" (Shemos 2:11). HaRav Simcha Zissel Ziv known as the Alter of Kelm explains that the Torah is telling us that Moshe possessed the midda (trait) of nosei b'ol im chaveiro - sharing his fellow's yoke. Even though he was part of the royal family and could have ignored the Jewish slaves, he identified with them and considered them to be his brothers. Rashi explains that Moshe focussed his eyes and heart to be distressed over them. The Alter explains that the eyes refer to the intellect. He understood their suffering with his mind. But this was not enough. He also placed it in his heart, meaning that he totally empathised with them to the point that it was as though he himself was experiencing the same suffering. This is why he felt compelled to act, even risking his life to save "his brother", a fellow Jew.

Rav Simcha Zissel suggests that it was because of this midda that Moshe merited to receive the Torah and to redeem the Jewish nation. The Midrash relates that Moshe cried over their suffering and helped them with their burden. Hashem said that since Moshe had left the comfort and honour of the palace to see the suffering of Bnei Yisrael, He too would leave the Heavens and reveal Himself to Moshe at the burning bush and appoint him as their shepherd (Shemos Rabba 1:27; 2:6).

Moshe displayed this midda not only on a communal scale - he saw "their suffering" - but also at the level of the individual - "he saw an Egyptian hitting a Hebrew man". The Torah also relates that Moshe was concerned with their spiritual well being. He went out the next day and when he saw two Hebrew men fighting, he said to the rasha (wicked one): "Why would you hit your fellow?". Rabbi Miller explains that this episode reveals to us just how much love and empathy Moshe had for the Jewish people. The people had seen Moshe, a prince of the royal household, lower himself to help them, even risking his life to rescue a Jew from a cruel taskmaster. Every Jew should have admired and respected Moshe tremendously for the kindnesses he displayed. Yet this brazen man not only took him to task, he even informed on him to Pharoah. This was to be a common test for Moshe. Despite these tests, Moshe continued to be a loving leader for the Bnei Yisrael.

Moshe Rabbeinu was and is our greatest teacher, and we must continually strive to learn the Torah that he taught us. Furthermore, we can learn from his personal example to empathise with our brothers and sisters when they are suffering. At this time our thoughts, prayers and actions should certainly be turned to our brethren under siege in Eretz Yisrael. In this merit of being nosei b'ol im chaveiro, may Hashem also reveal Himself to us and let us witness the geula - redemption, speedily in our days.

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