Parshat Beshalach 5771: Moshe’s Paradigm of Inspiration and 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. 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 people’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.

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.

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 inspirational spirit and empathy are not just lacking 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 basis.

These same standards of inspirational leadership 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 the Land, Pidyan Sh’vu’im as in the cases of Jonathan Pollard, Gilad Shalit 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 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, for the abused. Or do we let the secular lawyers do it — totally at the expense and on the heads of the aggrieved, often impoverished victims?

The marks of a real Jewish leader then seem to be both inspiration and empathy — inspiration as a leader by example worthy of following, 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 (restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint), that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard — incarcerated through an American travesty of justice, imprisoned now into a 26th year and only now publically appealed by an Israeli Prime Minister for his freedom — commutation of sentence, and captive Gilad Shalit, as well as the other MIAs ALL be liberated alive and 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.