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.
PARASHAT VAYECHI Rabbi Fishel Todd
Rabbi Fishel Todd discusses Parshas Mikeitz(76)
Rashi teaches us the meaning of a familiar word
“And bring your younger brother to me and I will know that you are not spies but that you are honest; your brother, (Simon) I will give back to you and you can travel the land.”
And you can travel the land. Rashi: [It means literally] you can travel around the land. All such words [ in Hebrew] as ‘socharim’ (merchants) and ‘sechora’ (merchandise) are derived from the fact that they travel around ( in Hebrew ‘sechor’ = around) after business.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING ?
Rashi tells us the meaning of the word ’tischoru’. The root is ‘s’chor’ which literally means ‘around’, but frequently it has the derived meaning of doing business, because businessmen travel around a lot.
RASHI’S STYLE IN TEACHING WORD MEANINGS
Rashi often tells us the meaning of words in the Torah. When he teaches us the meaning of a strange or rare word there is no problem. His comment is necessary because we need his help. But when he teaches us the meaning of a familiar word, which he does occasionally, we have two questions. 1) Why the need to teach us the meaning of a familiar word? & 2) If the word has already appeared in the Torah why didn’t Rashi tell us its meaning the first time it appeared?
Which question would you ask of Rashi?
Hint: See verses above 23: 16; 34:10; and 37:28.
A Question: We see from that this word has already appeared in the Torah several times. Why did Rashi wait until now to teach us its meaning?
Can you see a reason for this?
Hint: Note that this verse is spoken by the brothers to Jacob; they are quoting what Joseph had said to them. You can see the exact quote of Joseph in verse 42:20. Is there a difference between what Joseph actually said and what they quoted him as saying?
EXAMINING THE VERSE CLOSELY
Rabbi Fishel Todd Answer: Of course there is a difference. All that Joseph said was that if they bring their younger brother then they will be believed that they are not spies. He said nothing about “sechora”.
So why did the brothers add this gratuitous phrase?
Can you think of an answer?
A CLOSER LOOK
An Answer: The brothers were on the defensive, since they returned without Simon. They didn’t tell their father Jacob everything. They did not tell him that Simon was being held in prison. They wanted to convince Jacob to release Benjamin in their custody so they could get the needed food in Egypt. Perhaps they figured that if they reported the man was very cold and distant Jacob would remain hesitant and fearful. So they improved on what he had actually said a bit; they said he would then consider them as foreigners in good standing and they could even tour the country freely.
HOW HAS RASHI TAUGHT US THIS?
Rashi too was bothered by the way the brothers misquoted Joseph’s words. He understood that this was done intentionally. Their use of the word “tischoru’ must mean “travel around” freely and not have its usual meaning of doing business. If the word meant to do business this would mean that Joseph jumped from suspecting them as spies and restricting their movement to allowing them become equal to all citizens, permitted to do business in his country! No. That would sound too strange to Jacob. So their meaning must that the man considered them to be in good standing and permitted to travel freely through the country. That sounded reasonable. It is for this reason that Rashi says the word does not mean business here, which usually does; it means just to travel around.
And it is for this reason that Rashi did not have to tell us the meaning of the word ‘sechoruha’ above (Genesis 34:10) because in that verse it had its usually meaning of doing business and Rashi assumed we knew its meaning. Only here where it does not mean to do business does Rashi need to enlighten us.
AN INTERESTING NOTE Rabbi Fishel Todd
It is interesting and enlightening to note that even these reasonable words still did not convince Jacob to let them take Benjamin. It was only Judah later (42:3- 10) who put everything on the table in a straightforward, unadorned manner that Jacob finally conceded to let Benjamin go with them.
Rabbi Fishel Todd
Genesis 42:2″And he said ‘Behold, I have heard that there are provisions in Egypt. Go down there and purchase for us there, that we may live and not die.’ “RASHIGo down there: RASHI: He did not say ‘go’ (but rather ‘Go down’) This is a hint to the two hundred and ten years that they (the Nation Israel) were to be enslaved in Egypt. For the Hebrew word “R’du” (Go down) is numerically 210.”Look at Rashi on verse Genesis 45:9.Do you have a question on our Rashi-comment?Your Question:QUESTIONING RASHIA Question: This Rashi comment assumes that the word “go” (“l’chu” in Hebrew) is more appropriate than “r’du’. But this is not so. Rashi himself has tells us further on (Genesis 45:9) that EretzYisrael is higher than all other lands, thus when speaking of going to Eretz Yisrael the Torah uses the word “alu” (“go up”) and conversely when one leaves Eretz Yisrael the Torah uses the word “to go down.” So Jacob’s word here – “go down there (to Egypt)” is appropriate. How can Rashi imply that he should have said “go” and not “go down”?A difficult question.Can you think of an answer?Hint: Look carefully at verse 45:9. That verse speaks of “going up” and our verse speaks of “going down”. But can you see another difference between our verse and that one?Your Answer:UNDERSTANDING RASHIAn Answer: Rashi’s point is well taken. Because while the Torah uses the words “going up” and “going down” when coming to and leaving Eretz Yisrael, Jacob does not. See verse Genesis 45:28 where it says: “And Israel (Jacob) said: It is great that my son Joseph is still alive. I will go (Hebrew “ailcha”) and see him before I die.” So we see that when Jacob speaks of going to Egypt he himself uses the word “to go.” And not “go down.” Thus Rashi’s focusing on Jacob’s use of the word “go down” in our verse is correct. So Jacob himself should not have used the word “r’du”, though the Torah itself does. He must have used this word because it had other connotations in this context. His word “going down” has a negative connotation and implied going down into slavery – for 210 years.A LESSONThe Torah’s words as a narrative may be quite different from an individual’s quote in the Torah. There are other instances in the Torah where this is the case. The lesson is to closely examine Rashi’s comments, especially when it seems that he contradicts himself. He was quite careful in his choice of words and in his comments.Shabbat ShalomV’Chanuka SomayachAvigdor Bonchek “What’s Bothering Rashi?” is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries Rabbi Fishel Todd.
Parashas Miketz (5762)