By Rabbi Aron Tendler
In this week's Parsha, Moshe was faced with a monumental dilemma whose
resolution would profoundly affect his personal destiny as well as the
destiny of the Jewish nation. Moshe's dilemma was, should he or shouldn't he
kill the Egyptian overseer? In the balance was the life of a single man VS
the potential redemption of an entire nation.
What did Moshe, his adopted mother Basya, his birth parents Yocheved and
Amram, and his siblings Miriam and Aharon, think of his strange and wondrous
life story? Moshe was born to the royal family of Amram and Yocheved. He was
set afloat in the Nile River. He was found and adopted by the Egyptian
Princess - who just happened to be sympathetic to the Jewish condition. He
returned to the embrace of his true mother Yocheved and was raised as a
prince of Egypt in the house of the evil oppressor Pharaoh. What did they
think G-d had in mind? Add to the mix the Medresh that says that Miriam had
already prophesized the Redeemer's birth and that her prophecy was realized
when Yocheved's home was filled with light upon Moshe's birth. Also keep in
mind that a redeemer was expected because Yoseph's last words to his brothers
was to expect the eventual redeemer who would take them out of Egypt!
I believe that there was only one logical conclusion to be derived from these
not so coincidental events. Moshe was the long awaited redeemer, and G-d's
plan was for him to one day ascend to the throne of Egypt and free the Jews
The eventual accession by a Jew to the throne of a foreign monarch as a means
for redeeming the Jewish people from exile was repeated later in history. In
the aftermath of Purim, Esther's son, Darius, granted permission to the
exiled Jews of Babylon to return to Israel and rebuild the Bais Hamikdash.
The entire story of Esther's marriage to Achashveirosh was divinely
orchestrated to provide immediate and long-term benefits for the Jewish
nation. As the queen she was able to expose the evil of Haman and save the
Jews from imminent destruction. As the queen she gave birth and raised a son
who was in the position to effect the fulfillment of prophecy and the return
of the Jews from the Babylonian exile.
The theme of Moshe's divine placement as heir to the throne of Egypt is
echoed in two famous Medrashim. The Medresh explains that Moshe's speech
impediment was a result of a childhood accident. Pharaoh, goaded on by his
own paranoia, tested the baby Moshe's eventual ambitions by placing before
him the coveted crown of Egypt and a glowing brazier of coals. We are told
that Moshe first reached for the crown, which would have resulted in his
execution, but was redirected by an angel to touch the glowing coals. He
then put his burning fingers to his mouth, which in turn scarred his tongue
causing his speech impediment.
The other Medresh reflects on Moshe's behind the scene manipulation of the
Egyptian slave economy to provide relief to his oppressed brethren. The
Medresh says that Moshe rose through the royal ranks until Pharaoh put him in
charge of the entire Jewish slave force. In that capacity he was able to
institute changes, such as not working on Shabbos, to the benefit of the
Jews. Of course, this was all done without exposing his true identity to
either the Jews or the Egyptians.
Given the unique circumstances of Moshe's early upbringing, the incident with
the Egyptian overseer takes on profound dimensions and consequences. By
having saved the Jewish slave, Moshe "blew his cover". Until that point,
Moshe's true identity and mission of redemption had been kept secret by all
those involved. Eventually Pharaoh would die, and eventually Moshe would
become king and free the Jews. However, by saving the Jew from the Egyptian
overseer, Moshe exposed his true identity and mission. It is true that the
verse states that "he first looked this way and that way and saw that there
was no witness." However, there was at least one other witness to his crime
of salvation. The Jewish slave whom he had just saved! Imagine the tale
that he must have told that night to his family and friends. "Guess what
happened to me today? Not only was I saved from imminent death, but the one
who saved me was no less than the Prince himself!"
We know the rest of the story. Moshe was forced to flee Egypt and the Jews
remained in captivity an additional 60 years. G-d clearly guides the
destinies of individuals and nations so in the end it all worked out.
However, there was no way for Moshe to initially know that the consequences
of his zealousness would lead to redemption. In fact, it is clear from the
incident at the Burning Bush that Moshe believed that he was no longer a
prime player in the eventual redemption. His whole argument to G-d revealed
that he did not consider himself worthy or appropriate to be the Redeemer.
Whatever plans G-d originally had for using Moshe as the Redeemer had been
totally compromised by killing the Egyptian.
At the time Moshe killed the Egyptian overseer, the question was, should he
kill the Egyptian and possibly compromise G-d's well laid plans for Jewish
redemption; or, should he spare the Egyptian and sacrifice the Jewish slave
in order to maintain the integrity of G-d's plan? What should Moshe do?
Let me reframe the question in more general and philosophical terms. As
humans, we are endowed with the divine attribute of free will. We are
empowered and expected to make decisions that seem to impact our destinies,
the destinies of our families, and possibly the destinies of nations. At the
very same time that we engage in our decision making process, G-d has a plan
for each of us, as well as the various groupings of people that we associate
with, large and small. How are we to reconcile our limited capacity for
making decisions with G-d's planned destiny for humanity? What if the
decision we make is not in concert with G-d's plan?
The answer is, we are not supposed to attempt that reconciliation. It is not
our job to worry about G-d's plans. Our job is to do what is right, and to
avoid doing that which is wrong. Given our limitations in terms of time,
space, knowledge, and intellect, we have to trust G-d that He will somehow
work out the rest of the details and bring about His intended outcome.
When Moshe was confronted with the dilemma of the Egyptian overseer, he
decided to do what he felt was right and necessary for that moment in time.
He certainly realized that he was potentially compromising the assumed plan
for his one day becoming the king of Egypt. However, there was no guarantee
that the plan would ever come to fruition. Who knows how many more years it
would have been till Pharaoh died, and when he did die, who could know the
political climate of the time and Moshe's chances of becoming the king? So
many things could have happened in the intervening time to undermine Moshe's
chances of becoming the next Pharaoh! Therefore, Moshe chose to deal with
the here and now and trusted G-d to take care of the future.
Moshe attempted to maintain the integrity of the assumed plan by avoiding
witnesses; however, he couldn't have possibly known that the very man whom he
was saving would then be the one to turn him in!
In the end, G-d's plan worked out exactly as intended. It was not the
assumed plan of Moshe succeeding Pharaoh as the next king of Egypt. That
plan was what everyone "in the know" thought would be the plan. In truth,
there was an added dimension that could only be accomplished if Moshe could
have been king but instead lost his chance because he was seen as a traitor
Moshe's ultimate goal was to direct the Jewish nation to recognize their
absolute dependency upon G-d. However, G-d uses intermediaries to accomplish
his ends. The presence of these intermediaries, such as Moshe Rabbeinu,
allows us to think that the intermediary is responsible for our redemption
rather than G-d Himself. Therefore, G-d created a set of circumstances that
would render Moshe uniquely unfit for the job of being the Redeemer.
1. Pharaoh hated him as the traitorous and false heir apparent.
2. The Jews by virtue of his having been removed from their persecution and
suffering distrusted him.
3. He had a speech impediment that would interfere with his ability to
communicate, lead, or teach.
In the end, Moshe's decision to save the Jew was the right decision to make.
As a result, G-d's plan was realized and Moshe became the perfect Redeemer
for the job.
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.