Bad Fellows by Yosef Silfen


One of many highlights in Parashat Shemot is the scene recounting the fight between two Jewish men and Moshe’s subsequent interjection. The Torah recounts that Moshe sees two Jewish men fighting, and Moshe Rabbeinu asks the wicked one “Lama Takeh Rei’echa,” “Why would you strike your fellow?” (Shemot 2:13). Rashi (ad loc. s.v. Rei’echa) explains that the Torah refers to them as “fellows” because they are equal in the sense that they are both wicked. Despite the Torah’s equating the two men, how does Rashi conclude that the word “fellow” teaches that these two men are fellows in wickedness and not in some other way? The Maharil Diskin, citing the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 1:29), explains that Rashi knew that these men were Datan and Aviram, the sons of Eliyav. Therefore, Rashi was troubled by the fact that the Torah does not refer to them as brothers, but rather fellows, which means they must be related to each other in an additional way. Since we have a tradition that Datan and Aviram are wicked, Rashi understood that this relation is their wickedness.

Nevertheless, we must understand how their wickedness is expressed. While fighting is certainly not positive, it seems rather harsh to call two people wicked simply because they are fighting. The Talelei Orot cites the Torah Or who notes that the aggressor in this case is wicked not only because he raises his hand to hit his opponent, but also by how he responds to Moshe’s criticism. He asks Moshe, “HaLehargeini Atah Omeir Ka’asher Haragta Et HaMitzri,” “Will you try and kill me just as you have killed that Egyptian?” (2:14). Not only does the man not accept the criticism, he does not even attempt to explain his actions. The Torah Or explains based on this interaction that the true sign of a wicked person is his reacting aggressively to someone who tries to modify his behavior. Because he cannot accept rebuke from others, the Rasha continually and willfully moves in the wrong direction.

Aside from the textual nuance of Rei’echa, what basis does Rashi have for classifying the opponent as wicked? The Torah tells us that after this encounter, Par’oh hears that Moshe had killed an Mitzri (2:15). Rashi (ad loc. s.v. VaYishma Par’oh) wonders how Par’oh found out about this encounter. Rashi, again citing the Midrash (1:30), answers that both Datan and Aviram informed him about Moshe killing the Mitzri. This means that not only did the man who was criticized inform Par’oh, but the very man that Moshe had attempted to save turned against him. This utter lack of gratitude is a characteristic of a truly wicked person.

When Moshe hears the Rasha’s criticism of him for killing the Mitzri, Moshe concludes, “Achein Noda HaDavar,” “indeed the matter is known” (2:14). Rashi (ad loc. s.v. Achein Noda HaDavar) explains that “the matter is known” refers to Moshe’s understanding that the reason the Jews are suffering in Mitzrayim is because they are informers. Rashi is clearly suggesting that Datan and Aviram’s betrayal of Moshe Rabbeinu is one of the most wicked acts done by the Jews. Although informing on others does not appear to be a valid cause for 210 years of slavery and suffering, we must understand that informing is not simply Lashon HaRa, but it is a betrayal of trust. The whole cause of the Jews’ original descent to Mitrayim was Mitzrayim because Yosef informed on his brothers to their father and showed distrust in the family. Moshe understood that we could not leave Mitzrayim and be free unless we correct that sin and rebuild trust in each other. Although Datan and Aviram are wicked for their actions and poor character, it is mistrust in their people which is their worst sin. We must work on ourselves to trust our friends and judge them favorably in order to not make the same mistake which caused our slavery in Mitzrayim.

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