In this week’s parsha, SHMOT, we see the evolution of a leader, of our first rabbi, Moshe. Remember that Moshe lived the life of a prince, and his life in the Egyptian palace could have remained as comfortable as it was. But an event changes Moshe’s life and his destiny. And that event occurs even before Moshe’s conversation with God at the burning bush, where God tells him that He has taken pity on the Israelite slaves. But, even before that, we know that Moshe, in anger, kills an Egyptian, who was beating a Jew. And the Torah tells us that Moshe looked around, saw no one, and killed the Egyptian. But there’s an interesting phrase that we read just before he makes the decision to kill the oppressor. The line is “He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen.”
This line tells us that Moshe isn’t simply feeling compassion for someone who is being wrongfully hurt. It also tells us that Moshe experiences a connection with the victim. He is, the Torah tells us, his KINSMAN. So we know that Moshe, even with his privileged background, identifies as a Jew. VaYigdal Moshe VaYaytzay el Echawv VaYahr B’Sivlotawm. Moses became great when he went out to his brethren and saw their suffering. More than any other quality, a true leader has to have compassion.
At the end of today’s parsha, Moshe asks God two questions: The first question: Oh, Lord, why did you bring harm upon this people?
And the second: Why did you send me?
כבוַיָּ֧שָׁב משֶׁ֛ה אֶל־יְהֹוָ֖ה וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אֲדֹנָ֗י לָמָ֤ה הֲרֵעֹ֨תָה֙ לָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֖ה שְׁלַחְתָּֽנִי:
I think today we continue to ask that first question—why is there evil in the world? Why do good people suffer? And, as you’ll soon hear, God does not really provide much of an answer to either of those questions. But I think in Shmot we have a glimpse of an answer to that second question—Why did you send me?—as we see Moshe Rabbeynu’s compassion for the Israelite slaves, even as they complain to him that his attempts to free them have only made their lives WORSE. We see Moshe identifying with the downtrodden, when it would have been so easy to return to his comfortable life in Pharaoh’s palace. We see Moshe deciding to link his fate with the fate of the Jewish people. As God tells him, “Just as you believe in Me, so you must believe in them.”
Just as Moshe begins to believe in the Jewish people, so they begin to believe in Moshe and his leadership. This is all because of his great compassion.