Moshe Becomes a Leader by Amos Schorr


In Tanach, a format called chiastic structure is sometimes used regarding stages of a journey and in many other contexts. In the opening Parshiot of Sefer Shemot, we find an example of an A-B-C-B-A chiastic structure. This is used when a person started in place A, went to place B, had a positive experience and moved on to C, whereupon he had a negative experience and backtracked to B, and then backtracked again to A.

Moshe is the subject of this structure of places. A represents when he was born and among his nation. B refers to when he was being raised in Paroh’s palace. C is when Moshe ran to Midyan. The second B is when he went back to Paroh’s palace to advocate for the suffering Jewish slaves. And last but not least, the second A is when he is back amongst his brethren.

The Torah tells us (Shemot 2) that when Moshe was born, he was placed in a boat on the Nile so that he would not be drowned as per Paroh’s decree. Batya, the princess, found him and took him into her house. There he was raised as an Egyptian in Pharaoh’s house.

Some say that because Moshe’s biological mother was his wet nurse (see Shemot 2:8-9), he was actually raised in a Torah household. I believe that this is unlikely. Moshe lived in Paroh’s house. He probably was not left alone with his mother for very long periods of time. He was most likely influenced by her to a small degree, but he was raised an Egyptian, not an Ivri. This is a very significant point. If Moshe had gone to Paroh and said, “Let my people go,” Paroh would have said, “You’re a Jew, you were raised in a Jewish environment and therefore you are biased towards your nation.” But since Moshe was raised as an Egyptian, Paroh could not say that. It was important that Moshe recognized the evil through the eyes of a Mitzri. That shows the purity in his heart. Also, since he recognized evil through the eyes of a Mitzri, he would stay as far away from them as possible and would never convert or give up. Additionally, having been brought up in the palace, Moshe knew the Egyptians fears and weaknesses.

The Torah then tells us about Moshe’s attempt to break up a fight between two Jews.  He was rebuffed with the comment, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us?” (Shemot 2:14). This is what Moshe sees as the Jewish perspective at that time. The slavery had so contorted their minds that they were bitter and had resigned themselves to their “inevitable” fate of lifelong slavery and death. Because of this mindset, they were bitter and cynical. This made it much harder for Moshe to convince them that a new dawn was coming. Incidentally, this is also the reason for 10 plagues- Hashem had to knock the slavery mindset out of the Jews. The two feuding Jews spread the rumor that Moshe killed an Egyptian, forcing Moshe to flee to Midyan. Immediately upon arrival, Moshe helps out Yitro’s daughters and in turn receives Tzipporah as a wife and a place to stay.

Then there is the incident of the burning bush (stage C). This is the culmination of Moshe’s ability, purity, and courage as a leader. The problem is that Moshe didn’t want to be a leader. His own powers scared him. But Hashem convinced him to go back to Egypt.

Then Moshe returned to Paroh’s palace (stage B) and says, “Let my people go!” Pharaoh refused. Then came the plagues. I see the plagues as several battles. We see Moshe’s leadership skills, intelligence, and finesse when the plagues occur.  Each plague was Midah KeNeged Midah (measure for measure). The Nile was considered an Egyptian deity, so it was turned to blood. Sheep, another Egyptian deity, were killed. Each plague was related to the Egyptian rituals or daily lives. Moshe exploited the Egyptian weaknesses perfectly.

A common question is why ten plagues were necessary.  Couldn’t one have sufficed to beat Paroh and his nation into submission? The answer is that the plagues weren’t just to punish the Egyptians. The Jews needed convincing; they hadn’t heard anything from Hashem for over two centuries! The plagues were drawn out to ease the Jews through their transition back to faith. The Egyptians let up bit by bit. The Jews got an inch of leeway, then another, and another, etc.

This demonstrates Moshe’s moral development. He had reached the point where he could exploit people, but would only go so far. He showed mercy and kindness, traits of Hashem. Yet he also punished the Mitzrim, which is Midat HaDin. He had a proper balance of the two traits, which was quite an accomplishment. This shows that he was closer to Hashem than anyone else, the culmination of his development into a leader. Yet again he was scared. He had never led a nation before. He was nervous and didn’t want the responsibility.

Hashem showed him that being a leader isn’t for the leader’s benefit, but rather for others’. A leader needs to help people. Moshe then returns to his people and takes them through the Yam Suf, boldly singing Shirat HaYam. This is where he learns to be a true leader of his own people. This is A.

The chiastic structure shows us the clear development of Moshe as a leader.  In Paroh’s palace and among his own people, where he had not succeeded earlier in life, he was able to excel and emerge as a true Manhig Yisrael later in life. 

It’s Only a Couple of Names by Rabbi Ezra Frazer

Perfect Faith by Marc Poleyeff