Real Chessed - Moshe's Style by Rabbi Herschel Solnica zt"l


         Sefer Shemos begins with the story of Moshe's birth, and a description of certain events in his life.  Three episodes described in our Parsha stand out as presenting the basic traits of the character of the greatest leader and teacher of the Jewish people.  These three stories as described in the Torah, seem to be trivial, but they are in fact tremendously important, if not imperative, to understand and appreciate in order for our people to survive.

            The earliest adventure that we are told Moshe faced is when he saw a vicious Egyptian beating a Jew (שמות ב:י"א).   His reaction was swift, yet careful.  By killing the Egyptian (שם פסוק י"ב), he made it clear that Jewish blood is not cheap!  The Torah then presents a second story.  On the next day, Moshe saw one Jew raising his hand against a fellow Jew (שם פסוק י"ג).  This enraged Moshe to the extent that he exclaimed "אכן נודע הדבר," "indeed the matter is known" (שם פסוק י"ד).  As Rashi (שם) explains in the name of the Midrash, Moshe's exclamation was the result of his realization of why the Jewish people, of all nations, were sentenced to this period of suffering and slavery.  He suddenly realized the greatest Jewish weakness: self-hatred and "Jewish" anti-semitism.  When one Jew abuses another Jew, the nation is indeed in great trouble, and deserves whatever punishment befalls them.  In the Sefer על התורה, Rabbi Mordechai HaKohen underscores this point by focusing on the Posuk later in the Torah where Moshe expresses doubt that Paroh will listen to him, saying "הן בני ישראל לא שמעו אלי ואיך ישמעני פרעה ואני ערל שפתים," "Bnai Yisrael did not listen to me, so how will Paroh listen to me, especially since I have a speech defect" (שם ו:י"ב).  This Sefer suggests that Moshe here was really wondering what he would do if Paroh would listen to him while his own people reject him.  Then, he says, he will be ערל שפתים, unable to respond.  There is very little to say when Jews do not trust or get along with each other.

            Finally, when Moshe was in Midyan, he saw that several shepherds were driving seven young women and their sheep away from the well (שם ב:י"ז).  Moshe could not tolerate such discrimination; he therefore stood up and helped them, and provided water for the flock (שם).  We see from here how important it is to stand up for social justice.  Chazal tell us that the world is built on kindness, an idea expressed in Tehillim (פ"ט:ג), where we read "עולם חסד יבנה."  This is not limited, however, to Chessed done by or for Jews exclusively.  Indeed, we recognize the greatness of חסידי אומות העולם, the righteous gentiles, whom the Rambam tells us (פרק ג' מהל' תשובה הלכה ה') have a share in Olam HaBa.  It would not be possible for us to acknowledge this unless we understand the existence of a notion of Chessed and social justice which applies to the whole world.

            We are thus trained by Moshe Rabbeinu, our fearless leader, through these episodes, to be ready to follow his example.  We must be prepared to fight the vicious anti-Semites who threaten our existence.  At the same time, we are directed to bring peace and stop the fighting between the different factions of our Kehillah.  The great enemies of the Jews throughout the centuries, down to our very own day, made no distinction between observant and non-observant Jews.  The collective suffering of our people can serve as an eternal symbol that should inspire us to unite and to love each other as we love Hashem.

            Finally, we dare not live a parochial, self-centered life.  We are a part of the larger community.  Sometimes, one who suffers a personal tragedy sees kindness from every friend he has ever known; from colleagues, Talmidim, congregants and Chaverim who stand together to help in whatever way possible.  Jew and non-Jew can show to each other this Chessed that was so beautifully displayed by our Rebbe, Moshe Rabbeinu.  The story is told of two men who were seated in the lobby of a hotel; one was a white American and the other an Apache Indian.  The Caucasian stared at the Indian, and respectfully asked, "Are you really a full-blooded Indian?" "Well, no," replied the Apache thoughtfully, "I am short one pint of blood, which I just gave to save a white man's life."  This is an example of real Chessed, Moshe's style.

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