Parshat Beshalach 5770: Moshe’s Paradigm of Empathy: Applied Today?

by Moshe Burt

Near the end of our Parsha, we read “And the hands of Moshe were heavy and they took a rock and placed it under him and he sat on it.” (Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 17, posuk 12)

Rabbi Pliskin in Growth Through Torah cites a Rashi which states;

“that Moshe did not sit on a comfortable pillow, but a rock. There was a battle going on with Amalek and Moshe wanted to feel the suffering of the people. This, said Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, is a lesson in feeling for another person’s suffering. Not only should we mentally feel their pain, but it is proper to do some action in order to feel some of the discomfort yourself when someone else experiences pain. This way [through empathy] you actually feel his pain.” (Growth Through Torah, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, page 177, citing from Daas Torah, page 152)

What this and other citings from our Parsha and from throughout Torah indicate is that Moshe Rabbeinu was as one with the entire B’nai Yisrael. He made himself to feel what the B’nai Yisrael was feeling in order not to lead from aloof or afar, and to beseech Hashem on their behalf, knowing what suffering they were undergoing. This attribute of empathy possessed by Moshe Rabbeinu stems back young days in Pharoah’s palace.

Rabbi Dr. Yosef Gerber cites Shemos Perek 2, pasuk 11 and quotes Rashi in his sefer, “Today is Eternity” (page 164):

Moshe Rabbeinu…. in particular, his rise to greatness was a consequence of the outstanding way in which he was… able to identify with the needs and share the burden of others.

The pasuk tells us… “Moshe became great and he went out to his brethren.” Rashi explains that Moshe was being groomed by Pharoah as a future ruler. When a person receives exceptional favors, he is normally drawn towards his benefactor. Yet despite Pharoah having chosen and elevated him, Moshe “went out to his brethren.” He was not drawn towards the Egyptians. In fact, the reverse is true. He became profoundly involved with Am Yisrael and he saw and felt the depth of their suffering.

Rabbi Gerber then indicates that Moshe’s empathy was not limited to the view on a national level, but when he saw a Mitzri beating a Jew, he put his life on the line to get involved. And when, a short while later, he saw 2 Jews fighting, he again got involved. And after running away from Pharoah, he had the courage and compassion to defend the daughters of Yithro from shepherds who threatened them. Rabbi Gerber notes that this empathy showed yet again in the story of the lamb who strayed from the flock which Moshe was shepherding.

But it wasn’t just Moshe Rabbeinu who possessed this mido of empathy.

Rabbi Dr. Gerber (ibid, page 178) writes how David HaMelech became a Torah giant without diminishing his care for his flock (of sheep) amd how he smote lion and bear to rescue a single sheep which way carried away from the flock and about to be devoured. And we know about this act only because David revealed it to Shaul HaMelech in begging him to be permitted to do battle with Golias.

This spirit within both Moshe Rabbeinu and David HaMelech set a standard which we, in contemporary times, are hard-pressed to emulate. That is, when situations are critical, there is the need, the compulsion to act in tangible, meaningful ways to manifest our oneness, our unity and bonding both with our Land and with our Brethren, even that poor, lonely Jew absorbed in his matzav — perhaps in danger of being devoured. This is at least as important as the myriad gross injustices, harrassment, persecution, explusions, high court legalized thefts, at gunpoint, and more suffered at the hands of a regime in Israel diabolically opposed to and divorced from Torah and which seeks to eradicate the Jewish spirit from Israelis.

And more, this spirit of empathy is not just lacking at the national level regarding harrassment, persecution, explusions, legalized thefts at gunpoint sanctioned by a so-called “high court” against Torah Jews as a whole, this empathy of spirit exemplified by Moshe Rabbeinu seems lacking on a local and individual basis.

This same standard of empathy within both Moshe Rabbeinu and David HaMelech is needed regarding bonding with one’s fellow Jews on a local, communal level concerning no less important needs; shidduchim problems for the 30s, 40s and 50s plus and for Kohanim accross the board, parnossa and unemployment, spousal abuse — physical, psychological, financial and otherwise, child abuse — at home, b’derech as well as at school. Someone has to stand up, act and advocate for the aggrieved. Or do we let the secular lawyers do it?

The mark of a real Jewish leader then seems to be empathy — as much for and with each Jewish brother as with the broad Jewish national purpose.

Again this year, as in recent previous years, this author quoted from a Parsha sheet for Parsha Vayeshev written several years ago by Rabbi Yaakov Haber. It bears repeating here;

Has anyone said “Hineini” lately? Our kids are at risk, our brothers and sisters are being shot at and bombed! Our communities are fragmented. We have shiduchim problems and parnossa problems. Assimilation is at an all time high.

Most of us sit at the sidelines, observe and comment. It’s not good enough – we have to do something, we have to say “Hineini”! If there are kids that need help, come find out what you can do with a couple of hours a week.

Make a connection with a terrorist victim in Israel that is being ignored.

As the world is changing so drastically and quickly, we have to change. We have to change our priorities and our schedules. Like Yosef, we can no longer avoid the issues…. Like Yosef, each one of us has to consider what we can do, and say “Hineini” – I’m here and I’m ready – to do what ever needs to be done for G-d and His people; and like Yosef, we will succeed.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos! Tu B’Shvat Same’ach!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.