Redeeming Ourselves
Redeeming Ourselves

After growing up in Pharaoh’s home, Moses ventures out to his enslaved Jewish brethren.  The Torah tell us that Moses 'saw their suffering and saw an Egyptian beating (one) of his Jewish brothers (Shemot 2:11).'  One wonders what the Torah intends us to learn from the preface of Moses’s having 'seen their suffering'?  Rashi[1] explains that the preface teaches us that Moses 'focused his eyes and heart to feel the pain of his brothers.'

Rashi’s comment here connects to his explanation[2] that Parshat Vayechi is a ‘closed parsha’[3] because ‘the eyes and hearts of the Jewish people became closed through the pain of the servitude.’  The need to survive persecution made the Jews self- focused and stifled their sensitivity to each other’s suffering.[4]

This was the situation until the emergence of Moses.  Moses owed his own survival to the risks others (Shifrah, Puah, Yocheved, Miriyam, Bat Paro) took on his behalf.  Although bestowed upon him by Bat Pharoh, Pharaoh's daughter and not his actual mother, Moses is known by the name 'Moses' because it connotes not only his having been saved, but also the role he plays in saving others.[5]  He intervenes on behalf of his own brethren and even on the behalf of Midianite women (through which he finds his wife and children).

Moses’s compassion for others is the only attribute described before his appointment as leader.  This highlights the compassion as the reason he is the one chosen to save the Jewish People, Bnei Yisrael.  Chazal, our Sages, underscore this by explaining[6] that the Torah refers to Moses shepherding as the backdrop to Hashem’s revelation to him at the burning bush[7] because his extreme devotion to his sheep is what brought him to the bush and why Hashem chose him as leader.

We have seen that Rashi begins a flow of consciousness with his comment about the loss of compassion caused by the enslavement (Parshat Vayechi).  He continues this theme with his comment about Moses’s compassion as the basis of his having been chosen to lead.  We shall see that completes the theme in his explanation of the return of Hashem’s compassion for the enslaved Jewish people. 

Chapter Two concludes by describing Hashem as having 'seen the Jewish people and knowing.'  What does this mean?  Rashi explains that Hashem 'set his heart on them and did not hide his eyes (from them).'  Rashi’s usage of terminology similar to what he used in reference to Moses’s compassion implies that the sudden return of Hashem’s compassion was connected to that shown by Moses.  The implication is that Hashem cares for the Jewish people once they care for each other.

The lesson here is a powerful one.  Realizing how much our success, both individually and nationally, hinges on Hashem’s assistance, we continuously beseech Him to show us mercy and assist us.  The Shemot (Exodus) redemption teaches us that Hashem’s showing us mercy and assistance to us depends upon our showing and doing the same toward one another. 

May we truly and completely emerge from the galut (exile) slave mentality of ‘each man for his own’ and act like a redeemed nation capable of sincerely caring for one another and, in this way, merit the true and complete return of Hashem’s compassion.  


[1] Ibid.  Rashi is paraphrasing Shemot Rabba 1:27.  See the midrash itself for a detailed description of Moses’s compassion for and sharing the load with the slaves.

[2] Bereishit 47:28.

[3] This means that the Sefer Torah begins the first pasuk of Vayechi right after the last of Vayigash without a space in between.

[4] In fact, the slavery is the result of Yosef’s having been sold into slavery which the brother’s described as a result of their insensitivity to their brother (Bereshit 42:21 and the Rambam and Seforno there).

[5] See Seforno and Chizkuni Shemot 2:10.

[6] Shemot Rabba 2:2.

[7] Shemot 3:1.