“It came about on the next day that Moses sat down to judge the people, and the people stood before Moses from the morning until the evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw what he was doing to the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you sit by yourself, while all the people stand before you from morning till evening?” Moses said to his father-in-law, “For the people come to me to seek God. If any of them has a case, he comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and I make known the statutes of God and His teachings.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out both you and these people who are with you for the matter is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will advise you, and may the Lord be with you. [You] represent the people before God, and you shall bring the matters to God (Exodus 13-19).”
A good father-in-law knows when to offer advice and when to support in silence. Yisro saw his son-in-law, the great Moshe Rabbeinu, struggling under the load of managing and adjudicating the daily affairs of his nation. He proceeded to make a simple suggestion – hire additional judges. It seems obvious enough; managing the judicial system of the Jewish nation was not a one-man job. So why did it take Yisro to convince Moshe of the need to make the change? Why didn’t Moshe implement this system on his own?
The great tzaddik, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1810) frames the discussion between Yisro and Moshe in a dramatically different way. Yisro says to Moshe, “my beloved son-in-law, you are so incredibly holy. You spoke to God on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights; you have a direct line of communication, you are God’s right hand – why are you involving yourself in the daily, petty affairs of ordinary people? If you spend your days with them and immerse yourself in the mundanity of their lives, you will spiritually regress. In your effort to help them, you will suffer a spiritual set-back.” Moshe responds, “my beloved father-in-law, I truly appreciate your care and concern, but I think you have misunderstood. You see, when I spend my time with them, I am able to lift them up. It is not them who bring me down, but rather me who lifts them up.” This was the fundamental dispute between Yisro and Moshe. Should one leave the ivory tower of spirituality in order to effect change in others? Yisro felt – leave it to someone else to help the people with their ordinary, everyday problems. You have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Moshe knew he could appoint other judges, but in doing so, would lose out on the opportunity to influence and lift them up.
At the end of the day, Moshe listened to Yisro but not because he accepted Yisro’s perspective. He adopted Yisro’s advice as it was correct on a practical level. However, from the Jewish outlook and perspective, Moshe was and is unequivocally correct. It is tempting to remain closeted in the ivory tower of spirituality and holiness. It is alluring to want to focus one’s spiritual energies on one’s personal development. But it is our sacred task to have a positive impact on the people around us. It is our holy mission to share our spirituality with all of our brothers and sisters. It is our responsibility to lift others up by sometimes going down to meet them where they are. The fear of falling and failure when leaving our personal spiritual surroundings is understandable. But if we work on ourselves, invest in our learning, spiritual growth, and adherence and commitment to mitzvos, then when we go down to meet others, we will be successful in lifting them up.
Dedicated in memory of Fraida bas Moshe Yosef z’l by her loving family
Moses led Israel away from the Red Sea, and they went out into the desert of Shur; they walked for three days in the desert but did not find water.” (Exodus 15:22)
The Jewish people had seen miracle after miracle. The plagues and the splitting of the sea had culminated in the singing of the jubilant shira (song), Az Yashir. But now, it was time to travel forward and embrace destiny. It was time to journey to Mount Sinai, receive the Torah, and solidify our identity as the nation of God. Moshe told the people to ready themselves for the journey ahead, but they didn’t want to leave the banks of the Red Sea. The verse states, VaYasa Moshe es Ha’Am mi’yam suf, Moshe led Israel away from the Red Sea, and Rashi comments: “Moses led Israel away: lit., made Israel journey. He led them away against their will, for the Egyptians had adorned their steeds with ornaments of gold, silver, and precious stones, and the Israelites were finding them in the sea”.
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin (1881-1966) in his work titled, Oznayim LaTorah provides an incredible insight. With the crossing of the sea, the Jewish nation was catapulted to the heights of prophecy. They were able to see and perceive God in ways unimaginable to us. They sang with Moshe; they sang with Miriam and with each song felt closer and more connected to God. When Moshe told them it was time to leave, they responded with one simple question, “why?” Why would we leave this place of incredible holiness? It is here that we have experienced and connected with the Divine. Is this not the promised land? Is this not what we aspire to? Why would we want to be anywhere else but here? You have told us about Mount Sinai and the Land of Israel, but all we need spiritually and materially is right here. We feel no need to journey any further. And it was in this moment that Moshe taught the people an incredible lesson. There are times in life when you must leave that which is comfortable and known for the opportunity to seize an even greater destiny. The banks of the Red Sea are wonderful, but there is something even better. But in order to seize it, you will have travel into the desert of the unknown, give up your security and comfort, and strike out into the wilderness. It appears that the people were unmoved by Moshe’s argument, and so VaYasa Moshe es Ha’Am, Moshe forcibly moved the people.
There are times in life when we find ourselves at our personal Red Sea. I find a spot in life which is comfortable, predictable, and secure. I settle on the banks of my life river, and I feel good. It is a good spot spiritually and materially, and I feel like I can dwell here for a long time. After all, what we crave most in life is predictability and security. But in those moments, when we want to settle on the banks of our Yam Suf, the voice of Moshe whispers in our ears, “it’s time to move, it’s time to break camp, it’s time to travel to Mount Sinai.” In those moments in life when we get to ready to settle down and “coast”, we must push ourselves to do more and be more. In those moments when we happily reflect on our accomplishments, we must ask ourselves, “what’s next?” Real growth only occurs when you are willing to leave your comfort zone and strike out into the unknown. May we find the courage to leave the banks of the Red Sea, venture into the desert, find meaning at Mount Sinai, and continue travelling to our promised land. (From 5780)
The wheels of redemption were turning. God tells Moshe to prepare the Jewish people for imminent freedom.
Please, speak into the ears of the people, and let them ask, each man from his friend and each woman from her friend, silver vessels and golden vessels.” (Exodus 11:2)
Why did they have to ask? Why not orchestrate that the Egyptians would give their former slaves the gold and silver? There was so much miraculous activity; why not save the Jews the hassle of going door to door asking for riches?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson 1902-1994) explains that Hashem didn’t want the people showered with gifts; He wanted them to receive their fair share. The money and possessions they received from the Egyptians was to represent back wages, compensation earned during the 210 years of servitude. Hashem was trying to instill within us two profound lessons.
Lesson #1 – Don’t wait for handouts. The most important thing in life is to be self-sufficient. Those who depend on the generosity of others are beholden to others. But those who find the ability to be independent can chart their own course. We must recognize that none of us are fully independent. Our ancestors in the desert depended on Hashem for their daily bread and every aspect of survival. Truth be told, we must depend on Hashem for every aspect of our lives, but we must create a level of independence and self-sufficiency when it comes to the other. It is always beautiful to receive a gift, but don’t rely on it. And it isn’t only material gifts. It is true with emotional “gifts” as well. My happiness cannot be dependent on someone else. My sense of purpose and fulfillment cannot be tethered to the other. Otherwise, I am waiting to receive these emotional gifts to from someone else, which may or may not come. Hashem tells us, do not wait for the Egyptians to give you gifts; go and get that which you have earned.
Lesson #2 – If you don’t ask you don’t get. Too often, we expect people to know what we want or need without ever communicating the wish or desire to the other. It can be uncomfortable to ask or to advocate for your own interests. But if you don’t do it – no one else will. We become so frustrated when people don’t come through for us in ways that we feel they should have. Sometimes, it is just because we never really asked. I just relied on the other to intuit or somehow discern what my need may be. Most people have a lot going on at all times and don’t necessarily know what you need or when and why you need it. I need to summon up the courage to articulate and advocate for myself. Hashem ordered our ancestors to knock on the doors of their former oppressors and ask for that which was owed to them. It was probably uncomfortable and awkward but was a necessary step in their personal and national development.
Just like a father or mother who wants the very best for their child, the Ribbono Shel Olam wants our success, happiness, and fulfillment. The instructions He gives us are for our benefit and allow us to become the best version of ourselves.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader (John Quincy Adams).”
Moshe and Aharon have emerged as the men who would lead the Jewish people to freedom. It is Moshe who encourages the people to not only believe in God and His promise of salvation, but to find the strength to believe in themselves. Yet, in the midst of this rousing narrative, the Torah interrupts and records a shortened genealogy for the tribes of Reuven, Shimon, and Levi. On the surface, the importance of this tribal family tree is to show us the familial greatness of Moshe and Aharon. Yet, interestingly enough, when we were introduced to Moshe in last week’s Parsha, the Torah does not mention the names of Moshe’s parents. The verse states: “A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi (Shemos 2:1).” If the genealogy is so important that the Torah interrupts the narrative (in this week’s Parsha), why not convey complete familial information when we are first introduced to the future savior of the Jewish people?
To answer this question, we must look at the event that forever changed Moshe’s life. Moshe was out shepherding Yisro’s flocks when he saw the bush that burned but was not consumed. And it is there that God told Moshe:
“So now come, and I will send you to Pharaoh, and take My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt (Shemos 3:10).”
Moshe resisted. He didn’t feel worthy of such an assignment; after all, he was but a simple shepherd. Furthermore, he was not sure if the people were salvageable. Moshe turned to God and said:
“Behold I come to the children of Israel, and I say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),” and He said, “So shall you say to the children of Israel, ‘Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you (Shemos 3:13-14).'”
God is known by many names. Each Divine name is descriptive and highlights a specific Divine trait or attribute. Why would God identify Himself using such an ambiguous, non-descript name? The question is compounded in light of the fact that this will be His first “introduction” to the Jewish nation.
Rav Kalonymous Kalmish Shapiro (1889-1943), the Rebbe of Piacezna, in his moving work titled, Eish Kodesh explains that man often defines himself by his past and present actions. I view myself through the lens of my past accomplishments and failures. To take this a step further, I often view my future through the lens of my past and present realities. I assume that in many respects, my future will be a continuation of my past and present. God has the unique ability to see us not only for what we were or what we are – He has the ability to see us for who we can become. God says to Moshe, “When you look in the mirror all you see is a simple shepherd – I see the man who will become the greatest prophet the world will ever know. When you look at the people- you see a nation of embittered and broken souls – I see the men, women, and children who will say, Naaseh V’nishma (we will do and we will listen) at the foot of Mount Sinai. So, if the people ask you who has sent you, tell them, the God who believes you will be what you choose to be, the God who sees what you can become, the God who believes in you has sent me here to help you become a free nation.” Ehyeh asher ehyeh, I will be what I will be, is not simply a Divine name; it is the ultimate Divine hope and aspiration for each of us. This is to become the mantra of the Jewish nation. God wants each of us to know Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, I will be what I will be – I will become what I choose to become. I determine the kind of person I will be and the nature of the life I will lead. I have the ability to create a future that is dramatically different than my past. I may not be able to control all the circumstances of my existence, but I can determine the quality, meaning, holiness, and direction of who and what I become. I will be what I choose to be.
Perhaps, this is why Moshe’s parents are not mentioned by name when we are first introduced to the future savior. Had the Torah told us that Moshe’s father was Amram, I might have thought that it was solely Amram’s influence which shaped Moshe. Moshe was the son of a great man, and it must have been that paternal greatness which influenced his spiritual maturation. Had the Torah related that Yocheved was Moshe’s mother, one might have thought that it was in the merit of having a mother who was the daughter of Levi and a selfless midwife to countless Jewish women that enabled Moshe to rise to such spiritual heights. But the truth is, as much as Moshe’s parents may have influenced and informed his maturation and growth, Moshe became the greatest prophet of all time because he made a conscious decision to become more. At first, he resisted his destiny, but ultimately, he embraced it. Moshe decided to actualize the Divine mandate of Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh; I will be what I choose to be. Moshe made the decision to be more, and that is why he became more.
There are many things in life we don’t get to choose. There are many circumstances which are imposed upon us as a result of external realities. But we do maintain the ability to make the most important life choice. We have the power and privilege to say Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh; I will be what I choose to be. Let us find the courage to choose wisely. (Reprinted from 5777)