Showing Solidarity in Times of Crisis

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Showing Solidarity in Times of Crisis: Lessons from Moshe Rabbeinu’s Initiative

ֱNow it came to pass in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian Man striking a Hebrew Man of his brothers. He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no ֱMan; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Shemos 2 -11-12)

The timeless lessons from Moshe Rabbeinu’s (then a prince in Pharaoh’s palace) willingness to become involved and take  action teach us a critical message for difficult times – we must follow his example and show solidarity with our brothers rather than standing idly by, responding to challenges facing the Jewish people today.

Moshe Rabbeinu, who was raised in the house of the king of Egypt, goes out to his brothers and sees their suffering. He sees an Egyptian Man striking a Hebrew ֱMan, one of his brothers. Interestingly, even though Moshe Rabbeinu was raised in the house of the king of Egypt, he identifies that the Man being beaten is his Hebrew brother (apparently the Hebrew was dressed in Hebrew clothing, as it is written: “that they (Bnei Yisrael) did not change their dress”). Moshe Rabbeinu turns this way and that way, sees that there is no Man, strikes the Egyptian, and buries him in the sand.

This is the content of verses 11-12 which appear in the Shemos, chapter 2. In these verses, the word “Man” appears three times, each time in a different context. The first time it appears in the phrase “an Egyptian Man,” the second time in the phrase “a Hebrew Man,” and the third time it appears in the phrase “and he saw that there was no Man.” To which Man is it referring this time?

It is possible to explain that the third ֱMan is Moshe Rabbeinu himself! Moshe Rabbeinu is described as a Man in the verse “Now the Man Moshe Rabbeinu was very humble.” The verse in our Torah portion describes that when Moshe Rabbeinu sees the Egyptian striking the Jew, “he turned this way and that and saw that there was no Man.” From the continuation of the story it is understood that there were people who saw him. Why did Moshe Rabbeinu hesitate? What exactly was he looking for?

The Kli Yakar writes that Moshe Rabbeinu “thought that one of his Hebrew brothers standing around him would rise up against the Egyptian and save his beaten brother. And then ‘he saw that there was no Man’: he saw that none among them had taken to heart the distress of his brother to try to save him.” According to this, Moshe Rabbeinu hesitated to take  action because he was looking for one of the Hebrews to defend his beaten brother, but there wasn’t any!

According to the HaEmek Davar, Moshe Rabbeinu specifically looked for an Egyptian who would intervene on behalf of the beaten Man: “He turned this way and that: He sought advice to confront the Egyptian who had struck him for no reason.” And then he understood that there was no one to defend the beaten Man: “And saw that there was no Man” – to tell of the injustice before him, that all of them were betraying, hateful enemies of Israel.”  

According to these interpretations, “and saw that there was no Man” refers either to an Egyptian ֱMan or a Hebrew Man, but the fact  is that the Torah does not clarify which one he was looking for!

As mentioned previously, one interpretation is that ‘Man’ here refers to  Moshe Rabbeinu himself. Moshe Rabbeinu examined himself, and so the Abarbanel suggests that the “he turned” refers to Moshe Rabbeinu, who considered both possibilities in his mind and weighed up his options. On the one hand, why should he risk his life to save someone else? On the other hand, how can one see the suffering of another and simply walk away? And then “and saw that there was no Man,”  וירא כי אין איש he came to the understanding that if he wants to be a Man, a איש a person of consequence and unimpeachable morality and courage, he needs to overcome his fears and to step  out of his comfort zone deal with the situation of this suffering Jew by coming to his aid.

And that is the lesson we must learn  from Moshe Rabbeinu – the importance of taking initiative, or even risk, in order to relieve the distress of others. And not to stand idly by! But to make quick and judicious decisions to help  in the plight of others

In this difficult time of war against Israel and rampant antisemitism in the world, we must never be ashamed or reticent to show our true allegiance to our Jewish brothers, even at a personal cost to ourselves. We must demonstrate our solidarity and come to the aid of fellow Jews in distress, just as Moshe Rabbeinu did. By showing courage and taking initiative to help others, we can fulfill the teaching “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man” (Pirkei Avos 2:5) and uplift our people in times of crisis.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

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

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