Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Parshat Shemot

Moshe - Assimilated Jew

We often have the impression that Moshe was destined to become Moshe. He was born great and therefore rose to great heights. This idea is backed up by midrashim who teach that as a new-born baby, Moshe refused to suckle from non-Hebrew mothers (as their milk was not kosher) and Moshe got a lisp when the angel forced him to choose the coal instead of the gold.

Nevertheless, the daughter's of Reu'el describe Moshe as: "an Egyptian man" (Shemot 2:19). Even though he was born of Israelite parentage, Moshe was an Egyptian. Having grown up in the royal household, it is likely that he received an Egyptian aristocratic education. It seems tht he spoke, dressed and acted like an Egyptian. Culturally, Moshe was an Egyptian.

Indeed, while Moshe himself seems to know where he comes from (see ibid 4:18), he is totally detached from them. He marries a Midianite (ibid 22), he does not circumcise his son (ibid 25) and does not seem to possess the desire to return to them. Would we have chosen Moshe to be our leader?

Moshe was not chosen because of his background but because of his moral courage. Despite having a privileged background he could not ignore the suffering of others (ibid 2:11), even when the outcome was personally disastrous. Firstly, when an Egyptian oppresses a Hebrew, Moshe intervenes, killing the Egyptian. Despite this outcome, Moshe could not help but intervene the following day when two Hebrews quarrelled. The outcome forced him into exile. Yet, when the shepherds drive away Reu'el's daughters, despite being in a strange land, despite being outnumbered and despite his previous experiences, Moshe still endangers to help an innocent victim.

These 3 cases also follow an interesting pattern. Moshe intervened not just when an Egyptian oppressed a Jew, but also when a Jew persecutds another Jew, and even when a group of gentiles oppressed another group of gentiles. Moshe did not discriminate. Whoever the victim was, he intervened.

The Midrash adds another two qualities. Moshe was shepherding his sheep far away in "the free pastureland" (ibid 4:1) of the wilderness, because he wanted to avoid the theft of his sheep grazing - he respected the property of others. He was also far away as he had chased a kid goat who had escaped the flock. Upon realizing that the goat was thirsty, Moshe showed compassion and carried the goat home (see Shemot Rabba 2:2) - Moshe also cared about animals.

Despite his lack of a Jewish upbringing, Moshe had moral courage and fought injustice indiscriminately, even when he placed himself in real danger.

We may talk about the social problems that exist not too far from our own communities. We may hide in our own communities pretending that everything is fine, or we can be like Moshe and stray outside the comfort of our own suburbs and try to help the socially oppressed.


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