Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
What's in it for Him?
At the beginning of Parshas Vaera, after Hashem describes to
Moshe and Aaron exactly how He plans to bring about the Jewish
Exodus from Egypt, and what they should say to Pharaoh, king of
Mitzrayim, the Torah does a sudden about-face, and returns to
discussing the lineage of the Tribes of Israel, starting with Reuven and
Shimon until after Levi, from whom Moshe and Aaron descended.
Since, in a sense, their mission of redemption really begins here (until
this point, Moshe and Aaron had only presented their case, but had
no positive results to show for their efforts), the Torah honors G-d's
agents by tracing their decent from the Patriarchs [Rashi]. This
lineage is concluded by the following obscure passage:
This was the [same] Aaron and Moshe to whom Hashem
said, "Take the Children of Israel out of Egypt according
to their legions." They were the ones who spoke to
Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out
of the land of Egypt; this was Moshe and Aaron. And it
was on the day when Hashem spoke to Moshe in the
land of Egypt. [6:26-29]
In case it seems like I finished off the above section in the middle of
a sentence - I did. But so does the Torah. We know that the Torah
signifies the end of a section by a space of at least nine letters. Well,
this section ends with the words, "And it was on the day when
Hashem spoke to Moshe in the land of Egypt," which we would
normally expect to find at the beginning of a section. Indeed, Rashi
is bothered by this very problem, and is forced to say that this is an
exceptional case where the Torah begins a new section at the end of
a previous one.
Rav Gifter zt"l (Pirkei Torah p. 190) writes: Upon examining the
above section in the Torah, dealing with the lineage of Moshe and
Aaron, one is struck by the fact that the entire section is no more
than a prelude to the last few verses, "This was Aaron and Moshe...
they were the speakers... this was Moshe and Aaron." It's as if the
Torah is telling us: Only Moshe and Aaron could have done what they
did - it was Aaron and Moshe and no one else!
What was so unique about what they did that it could not have been
done by anyone else?
It is natural, he explains, that when one is appointed to a very special
and important position, he is humbled by having been chosen. Only
the most arrogant individual feels sure from the onset that "he is the
man for the job." However, it is also true that as time passes, and the
mission progresses successfully, that a person feels contentment and
satisfaction in having accomplished a job well done. It is only the
most truly humble person that can, mission accomplished, fail to feel
any more personally attached than he did when he first set out. Such
humility can only be felt by one who sees himself as no more than a
cog in the machinery - a tool in the hand of the Almighty, through
which He has chosen to make something wondrous or special come
about. But who realizes that the accomplishment - the final product -
is Him, not me.
This was the uniqueness of Moshe and Aaron. Rashi comments on
the words, "They were the speakers" - "They were the same ones who
were commanded, and they were the same ones who executed."
What does Rashi mean? Of course they were the same Moshe and
Aaron - did we suspect, perhaps, imposters? What Rashi is trying to
emphasize, explains Rav Gifter, is where the uniqueness of Moshe and
Aaron lies. They felt no more personal attachment to their mission
when it began to take shape than they had when Hashem had first
commanded them. There was no smug sense of satisfaction at being
"the ones" to take the Jews out of Egypt, no pride at having been
chosen to address the monarch of Mitzrayim and mingle among the
elite, and no false humility masking the swell of the self-important
heart. It was the same Moshe and Aaron - from beginning to end.
Perhaps this is the meaning behind the cryptic last verse in the
section: And it was on the day when Hashem spoke to Moshe in the
land of Egypt. It was to Moshe and Aaron - throughout the entire
duration of their leadership - always the same as the first day they had
been spoken to; the same humility, the same feeling of
David HaMelech (King David) writes in Tehillim (Psalms 34:3), "In
Hashem does my soul take praise; the humble will hear and be glad."
Who is the one whose soul takes praise only in Hashem - who views
himself but "as clay in the hands of the Sculptor?" The humble will
hear and be glad - only one of true humility and modesty.
It is told that Rav Gifter zt"l was once asked to become the president
of a certain institution. He responded that his busy schedule as a
Rosh Yeshiva didn't allow him to invest the time needed to take on
such responsibility, to which he was told that he wouldn't have to do
anything at all - they merely wished to have him on their letterhead as
honorary president. "What?" he asked, "honor - do you think that's
what I need?"
So often, when considering taking on a mitzvah or position of
responsibility, the first thing we ask ourselves is, "What's in it for me?"
Perhaps its the monetary incentive, perhaps the honor, perhaps even
the simple self-satisfaction of knowing we've done something good.
But somehow, we're there - front and center. How different this
attitude is from that of our leaders, Moshe and Aaron, whose only
concern was: What's in it for Hashem?
Have a good Shabbos.
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Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.