Toward Shabbat – The Grandeur of Moses

Why was Moshe chosen to be the leader of his people? What were his special virtues? Our Sages point out that: He cared for his people. He stood up for Justice, empathized with his people even though his status was higher, he was a Shepherd of his flock. He possessed modesty and humility. He was righteous, he kept his flock away from robbery, was compassionate and meditated in the desert. He was the most open (anav) and empathetic of all people, because he encountered such a wide variety of experience: from abandonment as a child to living in the House of Pharaoh, living in an Urban environment in Egypt and a rural one in the desert, abandonment as a child and living in the realm of power and opulence, at times expressing anger, and even murdering an Egyptian! He experienced it all!

Perhaps as an outsider, being raised in this regal space of the House of Pharaoh, also gave him the strength and courage to rebel against what he was observing, the plight of the slavery of his people. He knew the narrow line between anger, murder, and restraint which allowed him to become empathetic and compassionate towards others. His failures taught him that imperfections are part of the human condition, and the best that we can do is learn from them and not become judgmental of ourselves and others.

Let us look at four qualities of Moses that made him the ideal leader. First, his sense of CARING for others, his brothers and sisters. (Even running after a lamb that strayed from his flock, placing it on his back and returning it back home).

The verse says: ‘ Vayigdal Haish Moshe Vayetzy et echav, Vayaar Bsivlotom’.( “ And Moses GREW UP AND HE WENT OUT TO HIS BRETHREN and observed their burdens (2;11).” MATURITY equals CARING, ‘going out’ from your safe space to help your brothers and sisters. We are born selfish,(‘polymorphous perverse’-Freud,-“The heart of man is evil from youth (Gen.8:21).” It would have been understandable had Moses chosen not to notice his brothers and remain secure, but he GREW UP. Most of us are afraid to venture out, and give others a claim over us. But as we feed, so are we fed. So he grew up and went out to his brothers, felt their pain, gave up his own security and fulfillment to serve. To serve is to become connected through giving. It is our connection and relating to others, to get to know ‘the other’ where this caring and empathy is developed.

The second quality was his sense of JUSTICE and his courage to stand up against injustice. Moses was consistently motivated by justice. In our Parsha Moshe encounters 3 incidents of injustice- 1- an Egyptian striking a. Hebrew man (2:11), 2- Two Hebrew men fighting with each other (2:13), 3- Gentile vs. Gentile usurping water at the watering well (2:17). In the first incident maybe one might say he intervened out of solidarity with his people and not because of justice, In the second incident maybe he acted to prevent internal strife within his people and not because of justice, but when he intervened between two gentiles we see it is because of his sense of justice (and not reward) and we may surmise that the seeking of JUSTICE was a part of his motivation in all these cases (Peli)..

A third quality was his PATIENCE and sense of FOCUS. (While it is true that he showed impatience and impulsiveness at times toward his people and their failures, it was his awareness of these proclivities that allowed him to focus on overcoming these qualities. This quality of great patience and focus is glaringly obvious in the incident of the burning bush. “And an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blaze of fire from amid the bush. He saw and behold the bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed (3:2)!” We all have a burning bush surrounding us (and within us). But we must be patient, and turn aside to discover it. Many of us would have walked past the bush and not even noticed it. Moses had PATIENCE to see that it wasn’t consumed, he had the ability to spontaneously ‘turn aside’, unlike many of us who are caught up in our thoughts, or I Phones, or our ‘workaholic proclivities.’ There is a bush within all of us that is not consumed. A burning bush may burn for a long time, but it takes time and patience to discover this. This quality of patience is crucial as well to discover the spiritual dimension within life. The soul is eternal, the ego is always in a rush.

The 4th quality is his COURAGE and CLARITY. The verse says: “And Moses SAW into their suffering (2:11).” He saw their place of freedom, their potential. Every human being has some inner place where s/he is a free person, a part of us that has never submitted to the bondage surrounding us, but knows the place of freedom. Finding that place within us and allowing it to help us become free from our Egypt that is how we will find our way out of Egypt. That is the time when we are not willing to put up with our suffering anymore (Sfat Emet).

Shalach et bni V’ya’avduni (G-d says to Moses to say to Pharaoh, ‘Send out My son that he may serve Me 4:23)’. Moses had the COURAGE and CLARITY to confront Pharaoh.The path to freedom is not to serve the Pharaohs of the world with their selfish interests, blinded by power and unconstrained cruelty. It is the following of G-d’s commandments which leads to freedom from ego consciousness to soul consciousness. It is the yoking to a higher calling which leads us from slavery to freedom. Though subservience to a tyrant may create the illusion of security, it is a false hope that leads through fear to servitude.Thus, our Sages teach, freedom must come through a path that leads us to a higher plane of life-soul consciousness (‘Ein Charut ela Cheirut’-the Tablets lead to freedom).

But one may ask, ‘Is there such a thing as absolute freedom?’ There are times when we are closer to the Light and times when our choices lead us to darker paths. Judaism’s solution is a recognition of this creative tension. The bearing of this tension creates an inner reliability and authenticity to follow an inner higher calling.

Absolute rejection of the Law can bring confusion, lack of identity, (too many choices), leading to potential lack of discipline; or to the alternative, submission to any absolute authority. But Judaism’s solution is neither the path of dogmatism nor the road of unrestrained carte blanche freedom. It is a path that leads us to soul growth while encountering a myriad of choices that must be discerned as either soul enhancing or distractions from holistic meaning.

Let us learn from the qualities of our hero Moses that we can each be caring and courageous in our own ways, and lead our world to true freedom as we embrace the spiritual path set out for us by our holy tradition.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mel