Parshat Shemot: Running

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11 Jan 2007

Part One

Our parsha marks the beginning of the miraculous exodus of our nation from Egyptian bondage, but ends in a grave and somber mood. The hopes and aspirations for freedom and spirituality which Moshe infused into the people, turned at the end of the parsha into a disillusioned nation and very angry leader.


At the heart of our parsha is one of the most emotionally charged human dramas in history, before which the greatest plays of Shakespeare pale; the story of the child with the Hebrew name Tuvya, who later became the Egyptian called Moshe.

But as is the way of the Torah, the words tell us little with much more alluded to between the lines.

The following are only a few of the mysteries enshrouded in the parsha.

The Torah relates that Moshe went out one day, “to his brothers and he saw their suffering, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew of his brothers.” Moshe is so repulsed by the scene that he kills the Egyptian.

  1. Why was Moshe so shocked at the beating of a Jewish slave? Did he not know that millions of Jews were being beaten daily?
  2. If indeed the conduct of the Egyptian taskmaster justified his being punished, why didn’t Moshe bring the matter before his adopted father, Pharaoh, instead of running away?
  3. Of all people in the land of Midyan, how is it that Moshe finds himself “by chance” in the house of Yitro?
  4. At the scene of the mysterious burning bush, for a period of seven days, Moshe rejects Hashem’s command that he return to Egypt. How does one argue with the Creator for even an instant, much less a whole week?
  5. How does Moshe enter the palace and attain an audience with Pharaoh seemingly at will? And when he orders Pharaoh to free millions of slaves, in effect suggesting an eventual undermining of the Egyptian economy, why does Pharaoh tolerate Moshe and not give the order to rid himself of this man?
  6. At the first meeting with Pharaoh which transpired before the first plague, a full year before the death of the firstborn Egyptians, Moshe already warned Pharaoh that his bechor (eldest) will “die”. But Pharaoh had no bechor. His only child was his daughter Batya (or Bitya).
  7. I suggest the following, but reserve and an apology if I am wrong.

We meet Moshe for the first time as an infant when his real name, the one given to him by his parents, was according to Chazal, Tuvya. The next time he appears in the Torah he is an adult with the Egyptian name Moshe.

As a member of the royal family, being the adopted son of Batya, he was certainly well versed in the culture of Mitzrayim in all its aspects. He undoubtedly completed the officers’ training course at “West Point” and was the honored guest at the cocktail parties given by the movers and shakers of Egyptian society.

Don’t fool yourself into believing that Amram and Yocheved had visitation rights with the young Moshe, where his true father taught him Yiddishkeit. Moshe was culturally an Egyptian, the beloved “son” of Pharaoh, and as the midrash tells us, Pharaoh would often hold him on his lap. Pharaoh, his daughter, as well as many of the older courtiers and probably Moshe too, were aware of his origin – he was a Hebrew who was adopted by the childless Batya.

With this in mind, Pharaoh, who very much loved the clever and handsome Moshe, was anxious to eradicate every semblance of Moshe’s past from the Jewish boy’s consciousness, and certainly to hide from him the intolerable servitude of the Hebrew people. The way to do this was to distance Moshe from life’s realities, and as Rashi comments, Pharaoh appointed Moshe “al bayto” – over his palace – whereby Moshe would be far from matters of the realm having to concentrate on the complex affairs of the royal court.

The Torah relates that one day Moshe ventured out to see the hinterland. He comes upon a totally unexpected scene – the mass oppression of the Jewish people as the basis of the Egyptian economy. He is overwhelmed when he sees a taskmaster beating a Jewish slave. Moshe’s sense of outrage arouses him to punish the oppressor.

Moshe is distraught and traumatized not for killing the man, but rather at the knowledge that Pharaoh, the man he loved as a father was capable of this inhuman treatment of a people who did only good for the Egyptian nation. It is like waking up one day to find out that your father was the commandant of the Auschwitz extermination camp!

Moshe can confront Pharaoh with the fact that he is now aware of the secret Pharaoh was holding back from him. But to do so would be to accuse of heinous crimes the man whom Moshe so loved, Pharaoh, who saved Moshe from death and had provided him with the life of a prince. Moshe saw only one way out – to run away. Because to fulfill his moral obligation of standing up to Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian leadership was too awesome a task, even for him.

Moshe arrives at the home of Yitro. Who was Yitro? The Gemara in Sotah tells us that Pharaoh had three advisors: Yitro, Balaam and Iyov. When Pharaoh brought up the matter of enslaving the Jews, Balaam agreed, Iyov gave no opinion and Yitro RAN AWAY.

Hashem plans it that Moshe the RUNAWAY from his responsibilities, finds himself in the home of the original RUNAWAY, Yitro. On the cold winter nights of Midyan, while sitting around the fire, Moshe looks at Yitro and thinks that if Yitro had not run away from his moral responsibilities of rejecting the proposal to enslave the Jews there would not have been slavery. And Yitro, who knew Moshe as a child in the palace, looks at Moshe thinking that he is the only person in the kingdom who can influence Pharaoh, but Moshe ran away!

One day, while tending the sheep at Mount Chorev, Moshe sees a wondrous sight – a burning yet unconsumed bush. He draws closer and hears a voice. But it is not the voice of Hashem. It is the influence of this holy place which arouses Moshe’s conscience. For seven days Moshe’s conscience paralyzes him at that spot with a dilemma. To return and confront Pharaoh with the fact that he is a despot, or to let time run its course? At the end of seven days, Moshe resolves his conflict and decides to return and help his Jewish family. It is only at this point, after Moshe has decided to do the right thing, that Hashem appears to him.

Moshe returns to Egypt and the palace, to the place of his childhood, to his beloved “mother” Batya and to Pharaoh who Moshe loves dearly.

I picture the scene as follows. Moshe arrives at the palace gates after being away, according to one opinion, for forty years. He requests from the guard entrance to the palace to speak with Pharaoh. The sentry asks him if he has an appointment. Moshe says he does not, but requests the sentry to inform Pharaoh that “Moshe” is here. The sentry goes inside to Pharaoh’s personal secretary telling him that a certain “Moshe” wants to see Pharaoh. The secretary probably answered that without a previous appointment no one can see Pharaoh. The sentry tells the secretary that the strange looking man said to tell Pharaoh that Moshe wishes an audience. The private secretary goes into the throne room and tells Pharaoh that a certain “Moshe” wishes an audience. Pharaoh jumps up and calls out to Batya to come immediately, “Moshe is back”. Moshe enters. Pharaoh looks at Moshe and asks, “Where have been all this time? Not a letter. Not even an e-mail. Look. Your mother Batya who saved your life, look at her eyes which have not stopped tearing out of longing for you. Then Pharaoh says to Moshe, “What do you have to say for yourself?”

Moshe looks at Pharaoh and at his beloved Batya, and with tears in his eyes calls out to Pharaoh “sh’lach et ami” – let my people go!” Pharaoh descends from his throne and says, “Moshe, We are your people!” Moshe answers, “The Israelite slaves are my people.” And Moshe continues, “And if you do not send out the Jews, then Hashem will kill your first born son.” But since Pharaoh has no son, Moshe was telling Pharaoh that if he, Pharaoh, does not free the Jews then, he, Moshe, will no longer feel as a son to Pharaoh. Pharaoh cannot bear this threat from his beloved Moshe, but he also cannot free the slaves.

I cannot prove that this is in fact what transpired; but what took place must have been very similar, for it must have been Pharaoh’s love towards Moshe which prevented Pharaoh from killing the man who would overturn the entire national order. And it had to be a person like Moshe, who was intimately associated with Pharaoh and the royal court who could stand before it and not be overwhelmed by the grandeur of the scene.

It is Moshe’s love for Pharaoh which causes the awesome and emotional outbreak stated in our parsha when Pharaoh warns Moshe never to see Pharaoh’s face again. The rejection by the person Moshe loves and so much respected in the past induces an equally emotional reaction (11:8).

The emotional scenes between Moshe and Pharaoh end in a very surprising way. Chazal say that all the Egyptian army was destroyed at the crossing of Yam Suf except for one person who was saved – PHARAOH. Pharaoh is saved by Hashem in deference to Moshe’s love for the man who so much loved Moshe.

If the community would demonstrate real anger at intermarriage or divorce, a person would think twice before taking the leap.

Now, Moshe’s mission is to bring Pharaoh down to his knees and agree to free the Jewish nation. But how can Moshe, who is eternally grateful to Pharaoh and Batya for everything they did for him, bring suffering to those he so much loves and respects.

Hashem has to cause a change of heart in Moshe regarding Pharaoh and all of the ministers and courtiers he knows so well. Moshe has to come from the heights of love to the depths of enmity and hostility. This Hashem succeeds in bringing about by sending Moshe to Pharaoh to plead for his people. But when Pharaoh refuses and indeed commands that the yoke of servitude be made heavier, Moshe sees the man for what he really is. Moshe is now of the mindset to bring punishment upon Pharaoh.

Many lessons can to be learned from the above scenario, one of which is the following.

Anger is a quality Hashem created for man’s use at appropriate times. Shaul HaMelech was willing to spare the Amalekite king Agag’s life, because he was not sufficiently enraged at the deeply ingrained evil in Agag’s heart. In stark contrast, when the great Shmuel HaNavi saw Agag, he immediately took a sword and in rage smote him. Moshe had to be taught to be angry at Pharaoh.

We infrequently get angry even when it is justified. We become angry when personally insulted; but in the face of crimes against Yiddishkeit we retain our “cool”.

If the community would demonstrate real anger at intermarriage or divorce, a person would think twice before taking the leap.

If we had really been angry at the evil of Islam and the Arabs who wish to destroy Israel, we would have taken advantage of the great miracle of the Six Day War by ridding ourselves of this curse.

If we were really angry at anti-Semitism and at the galut, we would have by now all returned to Eretz Yisrael.

My fear is that Hashem will have to act, as he did with Moshe, in order to set our priorities right. There is the galut and here is the land which Hashem chose for the Jewish nation. How much better to come home out of love rather than out of anger.

Part Two

This is being written at the end of the first year of the former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon’s, descent into unconsciousness.

The news spread like wildfire despite it coming from the most secure room in the country. It made its way from hospital rooms to the news services and from there to the four corners of the world – Prime Minister (Ariel Sharon) has regained consciousness!

It was exactly 9:37 in the morning when Mr. Sharon opened his eyes. He looked around the room and in a clear, audible voice, with a tone of immediacy and authority, demanded to see his two sons, Omri and Gilad.

The doctor held them back until he had completed checking their father’s vital signs. Blood pressure normal, pulse normal, temperature normal. The twenty or so members of the medical team rushed to the room, and with not a dry eye among them, they all suddenly called out in unison, “Baruch… she’asa lanu ness bemakom hazeh (Blessed is God who has performed for us a miracle in this place.)”

Omri and Gilad approached their father, who pulled them closer as he whispered, “Call the Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff. Now!”

To the amazement of all those present, Mr. Sharon took his first steps in a year. Medical history was being made in front of their eyes.

Mr. Mofaz, the Defense Minister, and General Chalutz, the Chief of Staff entered the room. They were unable to utter a sound because of the sight which awaited them. The PM already fully dressed, was sitting behind a desk, as if nothing had happened. He signaled for them to sit very close to him, as he handed each one a sheet of instructions. The two men read their papers and turned pale.

The orders were to call a special meeting of the Knesset for 8 a.m. the following morning, at which time Mr. Sharon would be making a special state-of -the-nation address. And then at exactly 8:30 a.m., the army was to surround the Knesset building with tanks, occupy the radio and TV stations, and call up the reserves.

The two gentlemen staggered out of the building. The cold January night restored their shaken thought processes.

The following morning, all 120 members of the Knesset were in their places precisely at 8:00 a.m. The President was in his seat of honor, and the gallery was filled to capacity with newsmen from around the world.

The Prime Minister entered to unaccustomed applause, and the Speaker of the House invited the PM to deliver his message to the nation.

The PM began:

“I cannot account for all the fourteen days of being unconscious, but for seven of them I was very much in a state of awareness.

I was standing in one of the hilly areas of the Sinai Desert, which I knew well because I had fought there.

It was dawn, and as I was awaiting the inspiring sunrise, I saw an unbelievable sight. It was a thorn bush ablaze, but the bush was not being consumed! I approached this wondrous sight in disbelief, and then I heard a voice, ‘Remove your shoes, for the place where you are standing is sacred.’

I jumped back. Then the voice rang out again and said, ‘Remove the shoes which are the symbol of running, of escaping, for I have appointed you to be the leader of my nation. I will return you to your people, and you will lead them in the way befitting my chosen nation.’

I argued with the voice of God for seven days and seven nights that the task was beyond me. Nothing I said could sway the voice. I argued that I could not even speak the language of the rabbis. The voice said, ‘You will be the Moshe of this time and I will make you young and healthy, and the great Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Avraham Kahana-Shapiro of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav will be your Aharon and will speak for you.’

With this I awoke perfectly healthy.”

At that moment, pandemonium broke out outside the building as 100 tanks cordoned off the area. The PM then announced, “The democratic institutions of the medina (state) are hereby suspended until further notice. The nation will be governed by military rule according to the laws and spirit of the Torah. You are all dismissed to return to your homes.”

The PM began immediately to enact the mission for which he was sent by the God of Israel.

And these are some of the edicts which came out of the PM’s office:

1- Within 24 hours, all weapons in the Gaza area must be deposited in the city stadium. If anything which can be construed as a weapon, including any item of metal, will be found, then the entire city will be immediately destroyed, along with all its inhabitants.

It should be noted that within 6 hours there was no metallic item to be found anywhere in Gaza outside of the stadium.

2- The Gazans were to immediately clean out the area called “Gush Katif” in preparation for its rebuilding, bet knesset by bet knesset, home by home, on an area three times larger than before.

It should be noted that the cleanup was completed in three days, after which one million local Arabs ran for their lives into the Sinai desert, overrunning all the Egyptian forces in the area.

3- The Waqf (Muslim religious council) is to immediately abandon the Temple Mount. Fifteen minutes later not an Arab was to be found on the Mount, and tens of thousands of Arabs were seen escaping from Yerushalayim.

4- Rav Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, is to address the General Assembly of the UN.

Rav Lau was at his greatest. He declared that Medinat Yisrael is the realization of God’s promise to return His nation to His land, and any people who stand in the way will be destroyed by the vengeance of God through His agents of nature. Rav Lau announced the establishment of a new United Nations in Yericho to unite all the gentiles in the world around the seven Noachide laws.

At this point, the members of the Security Council made their way to the podium to recognize the God of Israel and pledged to rebuild the Bet HaMikdash.

Later in the day, the PM brought to his office 71 of the major rabbanim in the land: Harav Elyashiv, Harav Ovadia Yosef, the major Hassidic rabbis and roshei yeshivot. He announced to them that he has instructed that the door be locked until such time when all the rabbanim would agree to sit together as a Sanhedrin in order to lead our religious life. After deliberations, Harav Elyashiv was crowned as Nasi of the newly established Sanhedrin, and he proceeded to give semikha to the other 70 rabbanim.

5- The PM notifies the Ayatollahs of Iran that within 3 days all nuclear facilities are to be dismantled and inspected by Israeli specialists. Failure to do so will result in Iran becoming a hole in the ground. The facilities were destroyed as verified by experts from Weizman Institute.

6- All illegal Arab construction is, from this moment on, government property and will be divided among olim chadashim and young Jewish couples.

7- The Education Ministry will institute mandatory Torah classes in all schools. All yeshiva students will be required to do basic military training and all draftees will have to undergo Torah studies in the first 6 months of their service.

8- There will be complete Shemirat Shabbat in the land, except for security and health vehicles.

9- A call went out to all Jews to return home. The Jewish Agency made a survey of who would be interested in leaving the galut. The final numbers were 20% to leave and 80% to remain (as in the days of the Exodus).

There were many more issues which the PM dealt with, but I will mention just one more.

The Chief Rabbinate announced that it will extend aid to any peoples who think they might be descendants of the Anusim (Maranos) or the Ten Lost Tribes in tracing their roots, for the purpose of uniting with the Jewish nation.

The following day, the Chief rabbi received a discrete phone call from the President of China.

A medical team at Hadassah Hospital announced the discovery of the gene which produces cancerous cells and our ability to control it, the Technion announced the long-awaited breakthrough in releasing huge amounts of harnessable energy from small quantities of water, and Bar Ilan discovered how to decelerate the gene which produces aging, thereby extending human life to 120 years of quality health.

However, to our great chagrin, the PM did not wake up, nor did he stand before the burning bush at Sinai, nor did any of these fantastic things happen.

So we find ourselves with the frustrations felt by our fathers at the end of parshat Shemot when salvation seemed very much out of sight.

But after parshat Shemot comes the parshiot of the miraculous salvation of Am Yisrael.

And as it was in those days, so Be’ratzon Hashem will it be again in our time.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.