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. Aaron and Chur supported his hands, one on either side, and his hands remained an expression of trust until sunset.” (Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 17, posuk 12)
Rabbi Pliskin in Growth Through Torah cites a Rashi which states;
“…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)
R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, z’l comments in the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Daniel Haberman), Sefer Shemos, Parsha Beshalach Perek 17, posukim 9-12 (pages 296-298):
Attacked by Amalek, Israel is compelled to meet the test of battle. However, it is not the sword of Israel, but the staff of Moshe, that defeats Amalek. And it is not the magical power of the staff, but the emunah, the devoted trust in Hashem, as signified and awakened by the uplifted hand, that prevails over Amalek.
…Aaron and Chur were at Moshe’s side as the representatives of the people. Not the leader’s faith, but the 0people’s faith, which the leader inspired, led to victory.
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 Pharaoh’s palace, and led to his fleeing for his life from Mitzrayim and his forty year exile.
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 Pharaoh as a future ruler. When a person receives exceptional favors, he is normally drawn towards his benefactor. Yet despite Pharaoh 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 Pharaoh, 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.
Earlier on in our Parsha, R’ Hirsch renders translation of Perek 13, posuk 19, page 222:
“Moshe took with him the bones of Yosef, for he [Yosef] had bound the sons of Yisrael by an oath… you shall take up my bones with you from here.”
R’ Hirsch comments asking why this is mentioned as the Jews were enroute to the sea and not as they departed Rameses. He notes that:
Perhaps… to emphasize the contrast: 600,000 armed men on their way to the Promised Land could not be trusted to have sufficient confidence in Hashem, that he would grant them their victory in the battle for the Land, for the sake of keeping His promise. By contrast, the true Jew — like Yosef — trusts in the fulfillment of Hashem’s promise, even if it came after his death (c.f. Breish’t 50:24)…
From this perspective, the bones of Yosef, which were carried at the head of the procession, were a clear reproof to the people, who had to be led on a detour through the wilderness because of their faint-heartedness.
But it wasn’t just Moshe Rabbeinu who possessed these midos of inspirational leadership and empathy.
Rabbi Dr. Gerber (ibid, page 178) writes how David HaMelech became a Torah giant without diminishing his care for his flock (of sheep) and how he smote lion and bear to rescue a single sheep which was 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 Goliat.
All of the above seems exemplified by citings of Rabbi Simcha Broide and The Maharal in Rebbetzin Shira Smiles’ “Torah Tapestries” on Sefer Shemos (pages 53-54). Rebetzin Smiles cites both sources in giving deeper meaning to “Az” (then) — the first word of the Shirat HaYam sang by Moshe Rebbeinu and B’nai Yisrael after crossing the Reed Sea and observing the utter destruction of Pharoah and the Mitzri army which pursued them:
Rabbi Broide (Sam Derech, Shemos page 336) wrote that not only did the sea split, but it split into twelve paths, one for each of the tribes. In addition, …the Jews would enjoy nourishing sustenance [fruit bearing trees and water fountains] while they crossed.
Rabbi Broide explains that Shirat HaYam demonstrated the level that the Am Yisrael reached at that time. They saw with clarity how nature itself is a manifestation of Hashem, just like the miracles…. They beheld the natural events with wonder and awe. To them, it was all a miracle. B’nai Yisrael understood the “natural” drowning of their enemies as a direct manifestation of Hashem’s Will. They saw Hashem’s Hand and burst into song.
The Maharal expounds (Gevuros Hashem, page 47) on the Torah’s use of “Az” — “Az yashir Moshe uVnei Yisrael” (Then Moshe and the Children of Israel sang) — “Az” is composed of two letters: aleph — which has a numerical value of one, and zayin which has a numerical value of seven. The Maharal quotes a Midrash which interprests “az” as a code word for… the one that rides on seven…. In Judaism, digits represent much more than their simple numerical value. As clarified by Rabbi Chaim Friedlander (Sifsei Chaim, Volume 2, page 416), the number six signifies a complete object which has six sides: top, bottom, right, left, front and back.
A few observations here by this author:
The number six — the complete object — Hey, don’t we shake the lulav and etrog in six directions on Succot? And where did B’nai Yisrael first set up camp and huts after crossing the Reed Sea? In a place called Succot.
But “zayin” has a numerical value of seven. What do we recognize seven as? As Shabbos? Rabbi Friedlander, in his clarification (above) indicates that seven “symbolizes moving beyond a unified whole into many disparate objects.” But doesn’t Shabbos signify a unity of and within these individual parts?
Now let’s return to Rebbetzin Smiles:
The number one [the Aleph] is the Only One. It represents the Highest Unity, the all-encompassing Unity of Hashem. The “az” of Shirat HaYam means that the Divine One “rides on” and dominates the… seven…. When Hashem turned the sea into dry land, the Jews perceived with clarity that Hashem is the source of everything and that all… are contained within His Unity.
So this author queries; what is the sum of “Az” — one and seven? Eight. And what does the number eight signify? Bris Milah (circumcision) — eight days from the birth of a male to his circumcision — his connection, his covenant with, his unity with HaKadosh Borchu.
This spirit, this unity with The Divine 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 with that poor, lonely Jew absorbed in his matzav — perhaps in danger of being devoured. Our support for, and empathy with, our fellow Jew is at least as important as the myriad gross injustices, harrassment, persecution, explusions, high court legalized thefts, at gunpoint, and more suffered on a national level 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. What the citings of Rabbi Broide, The Maharal and the clarification of Rabbi Friedlander seem to indicate are, that while seven may be the expression of individual parts, it symbolizes Shabbos and the unity of these parts. And Moshe Rabbeinu is the very epitome of both this unity of seven and, the one which makes eight, the paradigm of bris — his connection with each of his fellow Jews, and his connection, unity and covenant wth Hashem.
And more, this inspirational spirit, unity and empathy of both Moshe Rabbeinu and David HaMelech are not just lacking amongst the religious sectors at the national level regarding harassment, persecution, expulsions, legalized thefts at gunpoint sanctioned by a so-called “high court” against Torah Jews as a whole, these midos exemplified by Moshe Rabbeinu seem lacking on a local and individual Jew-to-Jew basis as well.
These same standards of inspirational leadership, unity and empathy within both Moshe Rabbeinu and David HaMelech are needed regarding bonding with one’s fellow Jews on a national level concerning collective physical and economic security, Jewish possession and ownership of the Land, Pidyan Sh’vu’im as in the cases of Jonathan Pollard, Sholom Rubashkin and the other MIAs. Such standards of inspirational leadership and empathy are vital and crucial as well on a local, communal level concerning no less important needs; shidduchim problems for the 30s, 40s and 50s plus as well as for Kohanim, 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, for the abused, for parents of an abused child. Or do we let the secular lawyers do it — i.e., on “contingency” (read Retainer, Plus, Plus, Plus adnausium) totally with the expense absorbed on the heads of the aggrieved, often impoverished victims?
The marks of a real Jewish leader then seem to be the attributes of inspiration, unity and empathy — inspiration as a leader by example who is thus worthy of following, a spirit of unity with the klal, and with empathy — as much for and with each Jewish brother, as with the broad Jewish national purpose.
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 — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone 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.