Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Shemot - 5774

My friends,

This Shabbat we begin a new Book - the Book of Shemot, the book of Exodus. It begins with the enslavement of our people, the struggle for freedom, the liberation, the Giving of the Torah and the building of the Tabernacle, and the beginning of the march towards the Promised Land. The first Parasha which we read this Shabbat (called Shemot) deals with the enslavement, the rise of a leader - Moses - and the negotiations with Pharaoh.

What do we know about Moses? What made him qualified to be chosen to lead the people out of slavery and to become the teacher par excellence, known as 'Moshe Rabbeinu' - Moses our Teacher? We are told that he was born to Amram and Yocheved from the tribe of Levi. He had to be hidden from the Egyptians, but when his mother could no longer hide him, she placed him in a basket and placed him near the shore of the Nile. We know the rest of the story - Batyah, Pharaoh's daughter, finds him and raises him as her son, but it is his real mother who nurses him, thanks to his sister Miriam's intervention.

The Torah relates three incidents in Moses' life before he is selected by G-d to become the savior of his people. The first one is when he goes down to see what his brethren are doing and comes across an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave. Moses saves the Hebrew man by killing the Egyptian and burying him in the sand. In the second incident, he sees two Hebrews fighting. The Torah tell us that he addresses the wicked one and asks him to stop. Pharaoh hears of Moses' doing and wants to kill him, and Moses flees to the Land of Midian. There, the third incident occurs, as he observes how the daughters of Jethro come to the well to get water for their sheep, but a group of shepherds chase them away. Moses rescues the girls and gives water to their sheep.

From these three incidents the Torah chooses to describe Moses before he is chosen by G-d to become the leader, we learn of Moses' strong feelings about fairness and justice. This is shown in the way he deals with a slave, the lowest individual in the Egyptian society. He also stands for what is right even when both individuals are Hebrews, and he demands fairness - even from total strangers - when he sees injustice being done to vulnerable girls in a strange country. Moses' commitment to justice and compassion is extended to all humans beings regardless of their social status, race or ethnic background. Such an individual deserves to become 'Moshe Rabbeinu' - Moses our teacher - the giver of the Torah and the redeemer of the Jewish people.

Think about the kind of leaders we have today.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram