Parshas Shemos 5758
Volume 4 Issue 15
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
As the book of Exodus begins, it is important to ponder what catapulted
Moshe (Moses) from the position of valiant citizen to national leader. The
story of Moshe's youth in Egypt is hardly expounded upon in the Torah.
Yes, it tells the story of his birth and his escape in the Nile River. The
Torah even mentions his great vigilance in smiting an Egyptian who struck a
Hebrew. But in relating those stories, it does not leave us feeling that
those acts, merited Divine ordination. It tells the tale of Moshe stopping
a fight between two Hebrew fellows, and how he was forced to flee from
Egypt to the wilderness of Midian because of his strong stand in chastising
those Jews who quarreled. All those stories show perseverance, courage,
and fortitude. Yet not one of those incidents is juxtaposed with the
Divine revelation that catapults Moshe into the great spiritual and
prophetic leader whom we know.
Even after the event in which he saves Yisro's (Jethro) seven daughters
from evil shepherds G-d is silent, there is no pronouncement of Moses'
glory or appointment of a Divine role. Hashem declares Moshe's greatness
in the context of a very simple serene story.
"Moses was shepherding the sheep of Jethro his father-in-law, he guided
them into the wilderness, and he arrived at the mountain of G-d toward
Horeb. An angel of G-d appeared to him in a blaze of fire from amidst the
bush, and he saw that the bush was burning, and the bush was not consumed.
Moshe looked and analyzed the sight and he questioned, "why is the bush not
being burned?" (Exodus 3:1-3). It is only in that serene setting that G-d
called out "Moshe, Moshe," to which Moshe replied "Here I am." The end of
that story is the beginning of the Jewish nation.
Why is the act of shepherding sheep the setting for such majestic and
Divine revelation? What amazing incident occurred during the shepherding?
Why didn't G-d appear to Moses after his courageous act of smiting the
Egyptian or after he reproached two Hebrews who were fighting? Wouldn't
that setting be the ripe moment for induction into the halls of prophecy
James Humes, a speechwriter for President Reagan, tells the story about a
young recruit who was drafted into the army. During the interview, the
sergeant asked him the following question, "Did you have six years of grade
"Sure thing, Sir", snapped the recruit. "I also graduated with honors from
high school. I went to Yale where I received my college degree and then I
did my graduate work at Colombia University, and," he added, "I received my
doctorate in political science at Harvard."
The sergeant turned toward to the stenographer, smiled, and said, "Put a
check in the space marked literate."
The Midrash tells us that during Moshe's tenure as a shepherd, one of the
sheep ran away. He chased the sheep, he brought it back to the rest of the
flock, and he carried it home. G-d looked upon him and said, "A man who
cares for his sheep, will care for his people." That act catapulted Moshe
to the position we know.
Acts that are bold and courageous may personify leadership, character, and
commitment. People think that they that only those gallant and daring acts
that will catapult them into greatness and glory. The Torah tells us that
it is not so.
The Torah links Moshe's selection to Divine leadership with the simple task
of shepherding. The qualifications that G-d wants are not necessarily what
humans perceive. We often look for honors, accolades, achievements, and
accomplishments that are almost superhuman. Hashem, on the other hand,
cherishes simple shepherding, He loves care and concern for simple Jews.
We may come to Him with risumis of brilliance, of courage, of valor, but He
does not need that. He wants consistency, love, compassion, and, perhaps
most of all, humble simplicity.
Moshe had those qualities too. It was those qualities of compassion, not
the forceful qualities of attacking the Egyptian taskmaster, nor fending
off evil shepherds, nor chastising combative Hebrews, that were chosen to
cast Moshe into the light of leadership. We may be bold and courageous,
but without compassion for the little things, without the humility to find
lost sheep, we may be simply overqualified.
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