Moses grew up went amongst his people and observed their burdens… (2:11)
The Torah records little about the early life of Moses. By the time he ‘stood before Pharaoh’ he was already 80 years old (7:7): and entering the last third of his life.
What is recorded develops with three incidents where he firmly and effectively applies the principles of leadership and social justice. These bring out the vital characteristics Moses needed to do his life’s work. That was to found the Israelites as distinct people: a ‘holy nation’ (19:6). It was his task to deliver and enforce the message of G-d. That would determine the precise terms of their being able to be, and continue as, a ‘holy nation’.
These leadership features are within the fabric of the stories. He needed courage, and at the same time discretion: when he saw the Egyptian beating the Hebrew ‘he looked this way and that way and saw no man. He struck the Egyptian…’ (2:12) There was courage, and yet discretion. He was no more sympathetic to the Hebrew who was beating a fellow Hebrew (2:13). There was consistency in justice; not one law for insiders and another for outsiders. He intervened on behalf of Jethro’s daughters, who were being unfairly elbowed and shoveled by the brawny shepherds to the back the queue (2:17). Might was not to conquer right. And he also knew his place in the hierarchy. He was given seemingly impossible orders by G-d to put the Exodus in motion. He did not fear to voice his gravest doubts and ask for help, but still placed himself in G-d’s hands (4:10-18).
Rabbi Fishel Todd These qualities balanced humility before the Creator with the vital qualities of leadership, justice, determination, and impartiality needed to win the confidence and command of the nation.
Yet there is one thing that is missing from the account. That is Moses previous experience as a leader of an important division of the Egyptian army, for Pharaoh. There are records (both in the Midrash and in Josephus, as well as a passing hint in ‘the Ethiopian wife that Moses married’ – Num. 12:1), but the text is silent about Moses’ previous successful campaign on behalf of Pharaoh on the southern border of the Egypt against the people of Ethiopia.
The reason for the silence could be as follows. It is to teach that new tasks are precisely that. Some values – humility before G-d, courage, determination, and social justice are applicable to all situations. Others are counterproductive. Indeed many people who transfer positions in life are unsuccessful because they will not learn the job afresh. They just put ditto marks and say: ‘It’s one more job, it should (and it better had) be like the last place’.
Moses knew that. The Israelites were not the Egyptian army. They were a very difficult group of people who did not have Pharaoh’s backing in carrying out Moses’ orders. His previous experience was not only irrelevant, but potentially counterproductive – had he led the Israelites as though it was an army, he would have failed.
Instead – it was back to the drawing board – with the burning bush.