Torah Fax

Friday, January 16, 2004 - 22 Tevet, 5764

Torah Reading: Shemot  (Exodus 1:1 -6:1)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:35 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:39 PM
We bless the New Month of Shevat   

Not Bad?

Our Parshah tells us that after Moses was put in a basket in the Nile by his mother, Yocheved, he was found by none other than Pharaoh's own daughter, Bitya. His elder sister, Miriam, had been watching Moses' "trip" downstream, along with its unexpected conclusion. When Moses refused to be nursed by any of the Egyptian nursemaids, Miriam was right there to suggest to Bitya that she find a Jewish nursemaid - specifically, Yocheved - to nurse him. Thus, though Moses was raised within the confines of the Pharaoh's palace, he spent the first two years of his life with his mother and was well aware of his Jewish heritage. Nonetheless, it is somewhat surprising that on Moses' first occasion to venture out of the palace, he observed a Jewish slave being beaten by an Egyptian taskmaster and Moses’ immediate reaction was to kill the Egyptian. 

How do we explain Moses' strong reaction to this situation? Why would Moses, who was sheltered from his people, put his own life at risk for the mistreatment of his brethren - upon his very first encounter with them? 

The answer lies in understanding the factors that shape a leader. Firstly, a true leader must be born with the innate qualities that make him a leader. Thus, the Torah highlights Moses' uniqueness at the time of his birth. When he was born, the Torah says, "he was good." 

But isn’t every newborn child good, especially in the eyes of its mother? What does the Torah mean when it singles out Moses for distinction as a good child? One of the answers the Talmud provides is that when he was born he illuminated the entire house. However, this answer needs to be clarified. First of all, the Torah says that he was good and not that he was light. Granted, the first entity that was ever declared to be good was the creation of light, when the Torah said "And G‑d saw that the light was good."  The question remains why doesn't the Torah simply say that when he was born, he illuminated the entire house?

To answer this question we need to bring up yet another question. What does the Torah mean when it says that "G‑d saw that it was good." How could G‑d's creation not be good? The answer is that "good" in this context does not mean that it was not bad, but rather that when it was created it already possessed the potential to realize the purpose for which it was created. 

So when we learn that Moses was good at the time of his birth, it means that at birth he already possessed the potential for which purpose his soul came into the world, namely: to bring light and comfort to the Jewish people of that generation and for all future generations. In other words, while most people might be destined for leadership, that potential is not necessarily defined until a later stage in life. With regard to Moses, however, his life's mission was clear from the time of his birth.

However, even Moses did not just seamlessly grow into his position of leadership. He had to display some rare moment of dedication to the people he was going to lead; he had to be prepared to risk his own future, and perhaps even his life to defend them. Thus, the Torah relates how pained he was by the suffering of his brethren that he reacted in the most drastic manner.

But even this act of zealousness in defense of his fellow Jew was not yet enough to make him ready for his role as liberator of the Jewish nation. The third step, according to the Midrash, was his role as a shepherd. The Torah makes a point that G‑d's first encounter with Moses at the burning bush occurred when he was grazing the sheep of his father-in-law. According to the Midrash, this was G‑d's final test to determine Moses' qualification for the job of leader. By showing how he was concerned with every little lamb and not merely caring for the flock as a whole, he demonstrated another crucial ingredient of a true leader: one who is concerned with every individual member of the community not just the community at large.

But even that was not sufficient to place Moses in the leadership role. The final proof of his leadership qualities was the fact that he showed tremendous reticence in accepting this tremendous responsibility. 

To summarize: Jewish leadership is something one is born with, and the signs of which are already apparent at a tender age. Nevertheless, a true leader must demonstrate his deep concern for the suffering of his brethren even when it involves personal risk. In addition, this zealousness must be complemented with the nurturing and warm feeling for every individual, no matter how insignificant that individual may appear. And finally, a true leader must be imbued with profound humility, seeking neither the glory nor the honor.

Though these leadership qualities of Moses was also the hallmark of many leaders of the Jewish people, Moshiach will be the ultimate heir to the legacy of Moses. Thus we have the famous saying of the Rabbis that Moses will be both the first and final redeemer. Clearly, this is not to be taken literally, since Moses was from the tribe of Levi and Moshiach must be a descendant of Kind David, of the tribe of Judah. Rather, this saying of the sages means to convey that Moshiach will be the spiritual heir par excellence to all of the great leadership qualities that Moses possessed.
Moshiach Matters

Happy is he who does not tire of awaiting the redemption and who makes certain that he and his children increase their Torah learning and their fulfillment of the Mitzvos so that they will not be ashamed when Moshiach comes {and they will proudly be able to show Moshiach what they  have done in order to hasten his arrival}.
(The Chafetz Chaim on Awaiting Moshiach)

For more info, visit

© 2001 - 2005 Chabad of the West Side