In this week’s Parashah we are introduced to Moshe Rabbeinu. The Torah (Shemot 2:11) writes “VaYehi BaYamim HaHeim, VaYigdal Moshe, VaYeitzei El Echav VaYar BeSivlotam…” “it came to pass in those days, when Moshe had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked upon their burdens….” What does it mean that Moshe had grown up? Should this be taken literally, or is there a deeper meaning? Rashi (ibid. s.v. VaYigdal Moshe) explains that this phrase either means that Moshe physically grew and became taller, or that he rose to prominence when Par’o appointed him to govern the royal household.
The Egyptian oppression of the Jewish people, the context of the Torah’s description of Moshe’s growth, can provide another explanation. The Midrash Rabbah offers several different explanations of Moshe’s reaction to the suffering of the Jewish people. One of the suggestions emphasizes the words “VaYar BeSivlotam.” The Midrash explains that the sight of the Jews making cement, a most difficult task, caused Moshe to be so distraught that he assisted them in this menial labor to alleviate their suffering. Even though Moshe could have remained in his palace, unbothered by the pain and suffering his brothers endured, he couldn’t stand idly by. Moshe so badly wanted to help Kelal Yisrael that he left the comfort of his home and risked his life to save a fellow Jew. His love and empathy for every Jew was what defined Moshe’s as the quintessential and paradigmatic leader.
At every Brit Milah, we pray that the baby becomes a Gadol and follows in the ways of Moshe Rabbeinu, becoming one who gives to others. Rav Shimshon Refa’el Hirsch, in his commentary on Shemot, explains that Moshe’s altruistic nature was rooted in his very name. Moshe could have been named Mashuy (one who was drawn out of the water), but he was instead named Moshe, meaning one who draws from the water.Rav Hirsch explains that, in naming him Moshe, Par’o’s daughter was teaching him that he needs to be a person who “delivers” when his people are in times of trouble, and draws them out from the pain.
The Seforno (2:10) elucidates a similar idea. He writes that Bat Par’o named him Moshe, because she hoped that he would become someone who “MeMulat UMoshe Et Acheirim MiTzarah”, one who will save others by pulling them out of their calamity. Just as she drew Moshe out of a near death situation, she hoped that Moshe would become someone who was willing to save others.
Moshe’s tremendous selflessness and willingness to give to others made him the perfect leader for Bnei Yisrael. Perhaps this is what the Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 5:2) meant when he stated that every person has the potential to be as righteous as Moshe Rabbeinu. Through giving and caring for others, we can strive to achieve the same level of greatness as Moshe Rabbeinu in our everyday lives.