Bearing the Burden in Wartime

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Bearing the Burden in Wartime: Lessons from Moshe Rabbeinu in Times of Crisis

In the midst of the current challenges facing Am Yisrael—enduring a war for survival, grappling with the emotional toll of conflicts against our citizens and values, and navigating through persistent mental and physical hardships, including killings, maimings, and displacement a period of seemingly Hester Ponim—the lessons taught to us by Chazal on this week’s Sedrah about Moshe Rabbeinu (משה רבנו) being chosen by Hashem to redeem his people because he was נושא בעול עם חבירו, due to his deep sensitivity and unwavering commitment to his people, become more relevant than ever.

The concept of ‘נושא בעול עם חבירו’—sharing the burden of one’s fellow—emerges as the reason for Hashem’s choice of Moshe Rabbeinu as the leader of Am Yisrael He stands as the paradigm of this principle, with the very first characteristic ascribed to him as an adult being “וירא בסבלותם”, “He saw their burdensome lives” emphasizing Moshe’s acute and constant awareness of his people’s suffering.

Moshe’s embodiment of “נושא בעול עם חבירו” is evident throughout his life, as he defended the Hebrew women from Egyptian overseers, led the Israelites out of Egypt, and interceded on their behalf before Hashem , demonstrating his deep compassion and unwavering commitment to their well-being in each instance.

Rashi, commenting on Shemos 2:11, explains the significance of what Moshe saw in the verse ‘וירא בסבלותם’ ‘He saw their burdens’. Rashi posits that Moshe, using his heart and eyes, expressed concern for the Jewish people, interpreting the phrase as ‘נתן עיניו ולבו להיות מצר עליהם’ (‘He put his eyes and heart into being sorrowful for them’). In other words, Moshe deeply felt the distress of his people, both emotionally and visually

The Midrash Rabbah further expands on the verse that “It was in those days, Moses grew and went out to his brethren, and he saw their burdens; he saw an Egyptian man beating a Hebrew man of his brethren” (Shemos 2:11). that Moshe took an additional step. As the Midrash describes it, Moshe not only sympathized with his brothers and constantly seeing their suffering in his mind, but also strove to alleviate their suffering: [If] he saw a large burden on a small person and a small burden on a large person… he would leave aside his rank and go and right their burdens.”

If we see our fellow suffering, how do we respond? Sympathy is a positive response. Active involvement, to the extent we are able, is even better. Thus the Midrash:

וַיַּרְא בְּסִבְלֹתָם. מַהוּ וַיַּרְא, שֶׁהָיָה רוֹאֶה בְּסִבְלוֹתָם וּבוֹכֶה וְאוֹמֵר, חֲבָל לִי עֲלֵיכֶם מִי יִתֵּן מוֹתִי עֲלֵיכֶם, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ מְלָאכָה קָשָׁה מִמְּלֶאכֶת הַטִּיט, וְהָיָה נוֹתֵן כְּתֵפָיו וּמְסַיֵּעַ לְכָל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד מֵהֶן. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בְּנוֹ שֶׁל רַבִּי יוֹסֵי הַגְּלִילִי אוֹמֵר רָאָה מַשֹּׂוֹי גָדוֹל עַל קָטָן וּמַשֹּׂוֹי קָטָן עַל גָּדוֹל, וּמַשֹּׂוֹי אִישׁ עַל אִשָּׁה וּמַשֹּׂוֹי אִשָּׁה עַל אִישׁ, וּמַשֹּׂוֹי זָקֵן עַל בָּחוּר וּמַשֹּׂוֹי בָּחוּר עַל זָקֵן. וְהָיָה מַנִּיחַ דְּרָגוֹן שֶׁלּוֹ וְהוֹלֵךְ וּמְיַשֵּׁב לָהֶם סִבְלוֹתֵיהֶם, וְעוֹשֶׂה כְּאִלּוּ מְסַיֵּעַ לְפַרְעֹה. אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אַתָּה הִנַּחְתָּ עֲסָקֶיךָ וְהָלַכְתָּ לִרְאוֹת בְּצַעֲרָן שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנָהַגְתָּ בָּהֶן מִנְהַג אַחִים, אֲנִי מַנִּיחַ אֶת הָעֶלְיוֹנִים וְאֶת הַתַּחְתּוֹנִים, וַאֲדַבֵּר עִמְּךָ, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (שמות ג, ד): וַיַּרְא ה’ כִּי סָר לִרְאוֹת, רָאָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בְּמשֶׁה שֶׁסָּּר מֵעֲסָקָיו לִרְאוֹת בְּסִבְלוֹתָם, לְפִיכָךְ (שמות ג, ד): וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו אלקים מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה (מדרש רבה ב’)

“He saw their burdens.” What is “he saw”? He would see their burdens and cry and say: ‘Woe is me over you; would that I could die for you. There is no labor more arduous than labor with mortar.’ He would shoulder [the burdens] and help each and every one of them. Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Yosei HaGelili says: He saw a large burden on a small man and a small burden on a large man; the burden of a man on a woman and the burden of a woman on a man; the burden of an elderly man on a lad and the burden of a lad on an elderly man. He would leave his royal guard and would arrange their burdens, feigning as though he was helping Pharaoh. The Holy One blessed be He said: ‘You left your affairs and went to observe the Israelite’s suffering, and you treated them in a brotherly manner; I will leave the upper and lower worlds to speak with you.’ That is what is written: “The Lord saw that he had turned to see” (Exodus 3:4); the Holy One blessed be He saw that he turned from his affairs to see their burdens; therefore, “ֱHashem called to him from the midst of the bush” (ibid.).

Moshe Rabbeinu’s unwavering dedication to easing suffering resulted in Hashem altering nature itself, communicating with Moshe through the burning bush. The Midrash Shmuel by R. Shmuel De Uzida (16th century) further expands on this, stating that “נושא בעול עם חבירו is followed by ומכריעו לכף זכות חבירו” signifies feeling your friend’s suffering and supporting them in any way possible. He adds that it’s not enough to simply share the burden equally; one should actively strive to alleviate it, taking on the greater share of the burden to ease their struggle.

אבות פרק ו

התורה נקנית בארבעים ושמונה דברים … נושא בעול עם חברו. ומכריעו לכף זכות …ץ

מדרש שמואל ו:ו

הל”ז נושא בעול עם חבירו והל”ח מכריעו לכף זכות. הכוונה כי כאשר רואה את חבירו בצעא מצטער בצערו. ולא זו בלבד אלא גם מכריעו לכף זכות כלומר כי לא די שנושא בעול שוה בשוה עמו אלא אדרבה מכריע את חבירו לכף זכות להקל מעליו והוא נושא רוב העול ורוב הצער.ץ

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) Chapter 6

“The Torah is acquired through forty-eight qualities… Bearing the burden with one’s fellow, and judging him favorably.”

Midrash Shmuel 6:6

“He bears the burden with his fellow, and he judges him favorably. The intention is that when one sees his fellow in distress, he shares in his sorrow. Not only that, but he also judges him favorably, meaning that not only does he bear the burden equally with him, but, on the contrary, he leans towards judging his fellow favorably, to alleviate his load. Thus, he bears most of the burden and most of the sorrow.”

Thus there are three stages to נושא בעול עם חבירו:

  • Sympathy and empathy (Rashi)
  • Physically acting to alleviate suffering (Midrash)
  • Taking on more than an equal share of the burden (The Midrash Shmuel)

Moshe,s unwavering dedication to easing suffering resulted in Hashem altering nature itself, communicating with Moshe through the burning bush. There was a Hester Panim. “God’s face was hidden” from Yisrael during the Shiabud Mitzraim, but because Moshe revealed himself and saw his people suffering, so did ֱHashem remove the ֱHester Ponim from Am Yisrael.

So today if we wish to remove the Hester Pשnim, we must be נושא עול עם חברו.

There is another aspect of נושא עול עם חברו. detailed by Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz in Sichos Mussar:

שיחת מוסר, תשל”ג מאמר ה’ץ

אמרו חז”ל ג’ היו באותה עצה בלעם יעץ איוב שתק יתרו ברח בלעם שיעץ נהרג בחרב איוב ששתק נידון יסורים יתרו שברח זכה ובניו ישבו בלישכת הגזית (סוטה י”א.) … והנה טעמו של איוב ששתק, יש לומר כי חשב בלבו שלא יועיל ככלום אם ימחה, וגם זו היתה סיבת בריחתו של יותר, שלא היה בידו לעכב, וברח וכך גם איוב שמשראה שאין הוא יכול למנוע מאומה, שתק. ובאו עליו יסורי איוב להורתו על טעותו, כי הנה המתייסר ביסורים זועק וצועק, והגם שיודע כי אין בצעקתו להושיע לו במאומה. עם זאת מטבע האדם כי משכואב לו הנו צועק, והשותק – על כרחך שאין כואב לו. ובאו היסורים להורות לאיוב כי הצרות של כלל ישראל לא היו אצלו כיסורין שלו “יסורי איוב” שצועק עליהם, ומששתק על צרות כלל ישראל הרי שאין הוא מרגיש בצרתם בשם שמרגיש ביסוריו.ץ

Chazal noted that three individuals—Bilaam, Iyov, and Yisro—participated in advising Pharaoh on how to handle the Hebrews. Bilaam recommended oppression, Iyov remained silent, and Yisro fled.

A crucial question arises regarding why Iyov’s silence incurred such a severe consequence if it didn’t necessarily indicate a lack of concern. As explained by Rav Shmuelvits, passivity and inaction, even when not expressed verbally, in the face of others’ pain are fundamentally unacceptable. Silence implies being a bystander rather than an upstander. Rav Shmuelvits emphasized, ‘If something hurts you, cry out!’ Even if Iyov cared internally, his failure to voice outrage or protest externally conveyed a degree of tolerance toward injustice.

Furthermore, even in situations where outcomes seem unlikely to change, raising one’s voice remains critically important. Silence breeds acceptance of the status quo, while vocal protest awakens the possibility of positive change. In short, while silence may not always reflect a lack of caring per se, it fails to demonstrate the depth of one’s caring effectively.

Iyov’s inaction conveyed complicity more than compassion. As Rav Shmuelevitz asserts, doing nothing was simply not enough, regardless of his intentions.

Together, Rashi, the Midrash, Midrash Shmuel and Rav Shmuelevitz offer a full picture of “נושא בעול עם חבירו” – engaging fully with the suffering of others, whether through emotional empathy, tangible assistance, or raising awareness when unable to help directly. The common theme is not being passive but responding vigorously to the needs around us.

Amidst the current challenges facing Am Yisrael, in the midst of this state of war and the uncertainties enveloping our people, the timeless lessons drawn from Moshe Rabbeinu and the principle of “נושא בעול עם חבירו” resonate with profound significance.

In these trying times, the suffering of our fellow Jews must never fade from our minds, hearts, and actions. Our commitment to share the burdens of our brethren demands constant vigilance and unwavering dedication, much like the soldier who cannot afford to relax 24-7. Emulating the empathy and proactive support exemplified by Moshe Rabbeinu, we are called upon not merely to observe but to genuinely feel the pain of others.

The Midrash and Talmudic narratives remind us that silence and inaction are unacceptable responses to the suffering of our people, much like a soldier on guard duty who must remain vigilant at all times. This involves not only offering prayers and good intentions but actively engaging in deeds that alleviate the burdens carried by our fellow Jews. In these critical moments, our collective strength is measured by our ability to stand together, united in Tefillah (תפילה) (prayer), Torah study (תורה), Mitzvot (מצוות) (observances), and Maasim Tovim (מעשים טובים) good deeds.

It is appropriate to conclude with the lesson taught to us by the Gemara in Ta’anis (11a).

יצער אדם עם הצבור שכן מצינו במשה רבינו שציער עצמו עם הצבור שנאמר (שמות יז, יב) וידי משה כבדים ויקחו אבן וישימו תחתיו וישב עליה וכי לא היה לו למשה כר אחת או כסת אחת לישב עליה אלא כך אמר משה הואיל וישראל שרויין בצער אף אני אהיה עמהם בצער וכל המצער עצמו עם הצבור זוכה ורואה בנחמת צבור (תענית יא)ץ

When the community is steeped in pain, one should not isolate themselves but rather pain themselves along with the community, as we saw with Moshe Rabbeinu, that during the war of Amalek, when he couldn’t stand, he sat on a rock rather than on a pillow or chair. Why? Moshe said “Since the Jewish people are steeped in pain, I will also be in pain” and anyone who pains himself with the community, merits to see the comforting of the community.

The Jewish people are suffering on many levels, both because of the war situation in Israel, missiles, and terrorism, as well as rampant anti-Semitism around the world. It behooves all of us to feel and share in the communal pain, even if we seemingly aren’t directly affected. In this time of crisis, we are all called upon to be like Moshe Rabbeinu – silence and inaction are fundamentally unacceptable responses. If we wish to avoid Hester Panim (the hiding of Hashem’s face) in this time of trouble, each and every one of us must do what we can, wherever we may be, to fulfill the principle of “נושא בעול עם חברו” – bearing the burden of suffering together with our fellow Jews through empathy, assistance, protest, and refusing to remain silent.

The key to removing the ‘Hester Panim’ in this challenging time is for each of us to do what Moshe Rabbeinu did and embrace the principle of ‘נושא עול עם חברו’ – bearing the burden of suffering together with our fellow Jews. This is the challenge that confronts us today.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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