Dvar Torah from Rabbi Leener
Why was Moshe picked to be the leader of the Jewish people?
The Torah provides no credentials for his selection by Hashem. The story just randomly shifts to him. Why?
With Noach, the Torah says “Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation.” With Abraham the Torah doesn’t give his qualifications but it does mention his heritage.With Joseph, we learn that his dreams made him worthy of circumventing the birthright. With Moshe, he is born to unknown parents. When born his mother says, “She saw that he was good and she hid him for three months.” What Jewish mother doesn’t see their child as being special? What makes him distinct? What behavior does he express that makes him worthy of being the eternal spokesman of the Jewish people?
For one, he fully interalizes the suffering of others.
The Torah says, “Some time after that, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinsfolk and witnessed their labors. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen.”
He literally saw into their suffering. This is more than a casual observer — it has depth.
Rashi comments, “he set his eyes and mind to share in their distress (Exodus Rabbah 1:27).”
R.Samson Hirsch adds, “Compassion is the feeling of empathy which the pain of one being of itself awakens in another; and the higher and more human the beings are, the more keenly attuned are they to re-echo the note of suffering which, like a voice from heaven, penetrates the heart.”
Seeing and acting on suffering makes us human but also Jewish.
Heschel, “A child becomes human, not by discovering the environment which includes things and other selves, but by becoming sensitive to the interest of other selves. Human is he who is concerned with other selves.”
This explains how Moshe transitioned into adulthood in one pasuk. His physical growth is based on his ability to be compassionate.
Heschel goes on, “A person cannot be religious and indifferent to other human beings’ plight and suffering. In fact, the tragedy of man is that so much of our history a history of indifference, dominated by a famous statement, Am I my brother’s keeper? The essence of a Jew is his involvement in the plight of other people, as God is involved. This is the secret of our legacy, that God is implied in the human situation and man must be involved in it...”
This is the Torah of Dr.King who we will honor this month, “We must affirm that every human life is a reflex of divinity, and every act of injustice mars and defaces the image of God in man.”
Moshe understood that alleviating human suffering is the role of a religious person. So what stops people? I think most people agree in the importance of compassion and ending suffering.
To do so, requires vulnerability. Rabbi Alan Morinis explans, “The soul trait of compassion emerges from the experience of being very, very close to another, or from a feeling of closeness, or equally from an effort to draw closer to the other…The soul-trait of compassion may be more accurately defined as the inner experience of touching another being so closely that you no longer perceive the other one as separate from you. The two are made one, as the baby in the mother’s womb. It can only exist with full emotional contact with the other.”
We’re not separate, hence Moses sees them as brothers all of a sudden. The Torah makes a special point to mention that “he went out to see his brothers” — he left the comforts of the castle and encountered the injustice with his own eyes. His entire sense of self shifted at this moment. He for the first time identifies as a Jew. He immediately became bound to the plight of the entire nation because of their suffering.
It’s easy to read about the injustices happening around the world in the New York Times. To make any real change though, we need to encounter suffering at its core. This is critical as life is dominated by virtual space and death tolls continue to rise around us. Like Moshe, we need to have the courage to confront suffering. This is how the world is rebuilt.