The leadership qualities of Moses.
MOSES, THE QUINTESSENTIAL PROPHET AND teacher, the lawgiver and the redeemer, was also the archetypal Jewish leader; the Torah and Midrash are replete with accounts of his leadership. But what unique characteristics did he possess that qualified him to be selected as a leader in the first place? Why did God choose him? Of course, the same question can be, and is, asked about God's other biblical choices of individuals. Why, for instance, was Abraham chosen to be the first Jew? With regard to Abraham there are no biblical preselection stories. Where the Bible is silent, the Midrash fills in the details, supplying multitudes of stories of Abraham's devotion to God long before God actually revealed Himself. With regard to Moses, however, the Bible itself does provide preselection stories. However, the data are sparse, because for the entire eighty years prior to his selection,(1) there are only four biblical stories(2) from which to approach the question of why he was chosen. The classic rabbinic midrashim embellish these stories, though sparingly with respect to Moses' role in them, and add, again sparingly, new stories not found in the Bible.
The preselection tales of Moses lead one to ask: What particular character traits emerge from the biblical narrative that account for his selection as leader? Which qualities did the rabbis add, emphasize, or de-emphasize by including particular details and stories? Are there lessons to be learned from them? The answers to these questions might shed some light on what the Bible and the rabbis viewed as important qualities for the Jewish leader and, hence, for subsequent Jewish leaders.
The four biblical stories about the preselection of Moses are:
(1) And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out (va-yatze) to his brethren and looked (va-ya'ar) on their burdens and he saw (va-yar) an Egyptian hitting (makeh) a Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man ('ish) he hit (va-yakeh) the Egyptian and hid him in the sand (Exod. 2:11-12).
(2) And he went out (va-yatze) on the second day and behold, two men of the Hebrews were striving together and he said to him that did the wrong: "Why do you smite your fellow?" And he said: "Who made you a man ('ish), a ruler and a judge over us? Do you say [intend] to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?" And Moses feared and said: "Surely the thing is known" (Exod. 2:13-14).
(3) . . . but Moses fled . . . and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by the well. Now the priest of Midian [Jethro] had seven daughters; and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to their father's flock. And the shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up (va-yakam) and saved them and watered their flock. . . . And they said: "An Egyptian man ('ish) delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds . . . and watered the flock" (Exod. 2:15-19).
(4) Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law . . . and he led the flock to the . . . wilderness . . . and the angel of the Lord appeared to him . . . and he looked and behold the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said: "I will turn aside now and see this great sight." . . . And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush (Exod. 3:1-4).(3)
As each of these stories is examined in light of the rabbinic literature it will be seen that a common theme emerges. Moses is consistently portrayed as not only caring and concerned for others, but also as willing and ready to act upon those feelings. He was the true Empath.(4)
A cursory reading of the first adventure might lead one to see Moses as a violent vigilante. He sees an Egyptian hitting a fellow Jew, looks to make sure there are no witnesses, and then proceeds to kill the Egyptian. However, the rabbis saw this story in a very different light, and deemed Moses' action as both appropriate and positive. Noting the repetition of the word va-yar, "he saw," in Exodus 2:11, the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 1:32) comments (on the first va-yar): "What is va-yar? He saw their burdens, wept, and lamented, saying: 'I am deeply distressed on your account, would that l could die for you. For there is no work harder than working with mortar.'" But in the eyes of the Midrash, Moses did not just lament. The Midrash continues: "He would energetically help every one of them." Thus, just as with the second "look," Moses saw an injustice against a fellow Jew, felt pained, and took action (i.e., slaying the Egyptian), so too, the rabbis argue, was the case with the first "look."
Similar and even more detailed stories as to the nature of Moses' action(s) in response to the first "look" are found in a later Midrash:(5) "Rabbi Nehemiah said: 'Moses saw blood oozing from their shoulders through their burdens and he would bandage the wounds' . . . Rabbi Eliezer said: 'When they handled the plaster, the wind would scatter it about and it would get into their eyes. Moses would go and soothe them with ointment' . . . He saw how they died and were cast on dung heaps and left unburied, and Moses . . . would personally attend to their burial.'"
Commenting on the same word, va-yar, in Genesis 22:13, the Aggadat Esther 3:5 states: "Rabbi Elazar said: '[As for] the wicked, the looking of their eyes is a stumbling block [for it exposes them to sources of temptation], but for the righteous it [the looking of their eyes] is an opportunity to be even greater.'" Similarly, in Esther Rabbah 7:9, Rabbi Chelbo, commenting on Psalms 69:24, "Let their eyes be darkened that they not see," gives examples of how the "seeing" of the wicked(6) leads them to hell while the "seeing" (va-yar) of the righteous(7) raises them to the Garden of Eden. He finds a parallel for this in Psalms 107:41, "The upright see and are glad." In all of these examples of righteous, upright individuals, they did not just see, but their seeing led them to positive actions. The positive actions include: Abraham inviting the three [angelic] guests into his tent; Abraham sacrificing the ram in place of his son Isaac; Jacob rolling away the well stone and watering the sheep tended by Rachel; Pinhas avenging God's name; and Moses turning to see the burning bush. The Midrash Ha-Gadol similarly extends this list to include others who saw and reacted with a meritorious deed. These Midrashim present a whole ensemble of Jewish leaders who possessed this quality of taking positive action based on "seeing" the need of other beings.
The Midrash, by ascribing an action to the first va-yar, inserts numerous examples of Moses assisting his fellow Jews even before the first explicit biblical example, that of killing the Egyptian. But help achieved through beneficial benevolence is very different from that achieved through seemingly impulsive violent action.(8) How can such violence, and the fact that Moses is never censured for it anywhere in biblical or classic rabbinic literature, be justified?(9) The tenth-century Gaonic leader, Ray Sa'adyah, explains that Moses had not intended to kill the Egyptian, but simply to hit him and save the persecuted Jew. The midrashic commentators, however, adopt a different interpretive strategy, suggesting that the Egyptian was guilty of either killing the Jew,(10) intending to kill him,(11) or adultery.(12) Moreover, the Tanhuma (Exodus 9) says that the Egyptian was the father of the blasphemer (discussed in Leviticus 24:10ff). Thus, this Egyptian was connected in some way to the three cardinal sins of idolatry,(13) adultery, and murder, and the Midrash is suggesting that Moses' act of killing him was a legitimate act of zealotry (kana'ut).(14)
If, as the Midrash contends, Moses' killing of the Egyptian was a legitimate act, why then did he, in a seemingly craven manner, look this way and that way to make sure that there was no man ('ish) around?(15) If 'ish is to be understood not only literally, as "person," but also as a man, a real man willing to take action, it becomes more understandable. The$Talmud(16) says: "Rabbi Yehudah interprets [the meaning of "man," 'ish, in rids verse]: he saw thai there was no man to show zeal [kana'ut] on behalf of the Almighty." Leviticus Rabbah (32:4) adds: "He saw that there was no man to save the Jews." According to these interpretations, them were certainly other people present, and Moses was not afraid of witnesses; the issue at hand was that there was no man to stand up and take action.
This interpretation is supported by a verse in which there is no doubt about the meaning of 'ish. "And the Lord saw it and it displeased Him for there was no judgment, and He saw that there was no 'ish [clearly meaning man in this context] and wondered that there was no intercessor. Therefore, His arm brought salvation to Him and His righteousness, it sustained Him" (Isa. 59:15-16). Perhaps the prophet even had this story of Moses in mind, and compared God's judgment and action with the behavior of Moses. God also "looked around" to see whether there was someone to intercede, a true man who would prevent such an evil deed, and He, too, came up empty-handed. Perhaps this is what Hillel refers to in Perkei Avot (2:5), when he says: "In a place where there is no man ('ish), strive to be a man ('ish)."(17)
The Midrashim on this first story thus tell us that Moses was a man of action. He saw a wrong being perpetrated, was moved by this lack of justice, and saw that there was no one to take action. He therefore did what had to be done to restore justice. Did he better the lot of the Jewish people with this deed? Perhaps not. Maybe he did not even help that one Jew, who might have already been dead, but he could not stand idly by and watch an injustice. He was an 'ish, a man of action, an Empath.
In the second story, Moses happens upon two Jews quarreling. Though his previous excursion among his brethren had led him to a bloody confrontation, he did not seek refuge in the Pharaoh's palace, as he so easily could have, but, instead, he again went out among his fellow Jews. The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 1:32) points out that this incident (verse 13) starts with the same word that began the previous incident (verse 11): va-yatze, Moses "went out"--which is to say, Moses went out with the same attitude as before, undeterred and willing to stand up for justice.
Unlike the earlier confrontation, where Moses never attempts to communicate with the Egyptian, here Moses attempts to intercede verbally. The response from the reprimanded individual(18) is very revealing. He says, "Who appointed you a man ('ish), a ruler and a judge over us?" The Midrash,(19) in an attempt to understand the use of the word 'ish in this context,(20) postulates that perhaps Moses was not yet of adult age, and his status to judge and act was, therefore, being challenged.(21)
An alternate approach to understand the word 'ish in this context is possible. The Bible here employs the same word which was used in the previous incident, 'ish, to connote a man of action. Although the speaker here intends to question Moses' authority; Moses' chief leadership attribute, namely his readiness to act against injustice and, therefore, his right to this authority, emerges even in the words of his antagonist. It is as if to say: "Who taught you this concept of being a man and standing up for what is right? We do not have such people here." It was in response to this that Moses said, "Surely the thing is known" (Exod. 2:14). The simple understanding of this statement is that Moses is referring to public knowledge of his slaying of the Egyptian. However, according to the Midrashim on the first incident, Moses had not been concerned about witnesses and, therefore, already knew that his deed of killing the Egyptian was known. Rather, he had been looking for a man to take action. When, in this second story, he said, "Surely the thing is known," he had something else in mind. The Tanhuma Yashan (Va-'era 17) quotes Rav Yehudah Halevi the son of Rav Shalom: "Moses said to God: 'Master of the Universe, why is this nation enslaved? Seventy nations exist in the world and only this one is enslaved.' Now I know their sin." Thus, that which is now "known" is not something about Moses that is now known to others, but, rather, something known to Moses about others--the reason for the Jews' enslavement, their grievous sin that is causing them to remain enslaved. What is this sin? This Midrash does not tell us.(22) I suggest that it could be the sin of total apathy displayed by the people. Not only was there no 'ish among them, but they were so deeply apathetic that they did not even know how to appreciate or deal with an Empath or man when presented with one, considering him more as an enemy than an ally. As a consequence, Moses was forced to flee to Midian, to save himself both from Pharaoh and from the apathy of his fellow Jews.
Upon arriving in Midian, Moses again finds himself in the position of standing up for justice. While sitting by the well, he sees Jethro's seven daughters being harassed by the other shepherds, and he saves them in a non-violent, peaceful manner. The Bible uses the word va-yakam--and Moses "rose up," as if to say that Moses (again) rose to the occasion. Despite the fact that he was fleeing from Egypt because of his previously being a man, he again "rises," va-yakam, and helps the helpless.(23)
What were the other shepherds doing to the seven shepherdesses? The Midrashim suggest several possibilities. One opinion states that they wanted to throw them into the water(24) (and, presumably, kill them). Another possibility raised is that "the shepherds attempted to violate them"(25) A third suggestion(26) is that Jethro's daughters were being harassed as part of his excommunication. The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 1:38) relates a story: "Jethro was a priest to idolatry, but when he realized its worthlessness he rejected it. . . . He summoned his fellow citizens and told them . . . He then removed all the appurtenances of idolatry from his house . . . [and] thereupon they placed a ban [of excommunication] upon him" Thus, similar to the story of Moses killing the Egyptian, the Midrash embellishes this story at the well so that it also includes elements of idolatry, adultery, and murder.
When Jethro asks his seven daughters to describe their savior, they respond that an 'ish mitzri, an Egyptian man, had saved them.(27) The Midrash is bothered by this description of Moses, particularly by the word 'ish.(28) Why not simply say "an Egyptian saved us"--why the extra word 'ish? Because of this seemingly extra word, the Midrash(29) makes certain comparisons between Moses and Noah, who was also called an 'ish (Gen. 6:9). Alternatively, it is possible to suggest that the Bible is again stressing that Moses was an 'ish, a man, someone willing to rise to the occasion when no one else was willing to assume the role.
Within these three stories, there seem to be a number of progressions which reflect Moses' development. One progression is in terms of the archetype of the oppressed that is represented. First there was an Egyptian beating a Jew, then two Jews fighting,(30) and lastly, Moses intervenes between two groups of non-Jews. In each succeeding story there was seemingly less reason for him to get involved and yet, in all of these three archetypal cases, he intervened and attempted to save the victim(s) from the aggressor(s).
Yet another progression that can be noted relates to Moses' reaction to the injustice. First he reacts, apparently with force, by killing the Egyptian. In the second incident he speaks to the perpetrator, albeit with forceful language. Finally, in the Midian story, the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 1:39) comments: "Scripture continues: 'and watered the flock' (Exod. 2:19); it does not say 'our [Jethro's] flock' but 'the flock,' for he watered the flocks of the other shepherds too."(31) Thus, in the third incident, Moses acted in a manner that could bring about a harmonious peace between the parties involved. His mode of intervention had developed from rash violence, through verbal intercession, finally culminating, according to the Midrash, in peace-making. Thus, regardless of the archetype of the nationalities or relationships of the persons involved or of the nature of the response, there is one common theme: Moses is a man in places where there are no men.(32)
These three stories together represent the course of Moses' development toward becoming a leader. In each he displays the traits of empathy and of standing up to an injustice as a man, yet after these three incidents he still is not selected to lead the Jewish people, and God has not yet spoken to him. There is still one more episode that must occur in which Moses will exhibit his crowning trait. Following his development in the first three stories, he is ready for the final biblical preselection story--the incident with the burning bush. Upon seeing the wondrous sight of the "bush burning and [the bush] not being consumed" (Exod. 3:2), Moses decides to turn and get a better look. The Bible tells us: "And the angel of the Lord appeared to him. . . . And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him" (Exod. 3:2-4). These verses seem to be giving the reason why God spoke to him: "for God saw that he turned aside to see." Interestingly. the verse does not say "to see the bush" or "to see the spectacle," but simply that Moses turned "to see."(33) The Midrash picks up on this point, and, in what appears to be a flashback to earlier events, provides this illuminating passage:
Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rav Jose the Galilean said: [Regarding Moses while still in Egypt] He [Moses] saw a child under the load of an adult, and an adult bearing the load of a child; a woman bearing a man's load, and a man bearing the load of a woman; a young man with the load of an old man, and an old man with a young man's load.(34) . . . he would rearrange their burdens. . . . Said the Holy One, blessed be He, "You put aside your own affairs and went to share in Israel's suffering . . . Therefore I will leave . . . and speak only to you." That is the meaning of "the Lord saw that he turned aside to see" (Exod. 3:4): He saw that he had turned aside from his own affairs to see their burdens; therefore, "He called to him out of the midst of the bush" (Exod. 3:4) (Exodus Rabbah 1:32).
The Midrash, using a play on words,(35) is telling us one of the reasons behind Moses' selection: He was willing to put aside his own needs and help another person. God therefore selected him as a prophet to be spoken to directly.
Another interpretation of "he turned to see," also a play on words, provides another reason why Moses was selected:
Rabbi Isaac said: What does sar (turned aside) imply? The Holy One, blessed is He, declared: "This man is grieved (tzar) and distressed by Israel's suffering in Egypt; therefore he is fit to be their shepherd." There and then "God called to him out of the midst of the bush" (Exod. 3:4) (Exodus Rabbah 1:32).
Clearly, his status as an 'ish, which was discussed above and portrayed in the Midrashim, was instrumental in his selection, but that seems not to have been enough. These Midrashim seem to be providing explicit reasons why Moses was selected,(36) all centered around the burning bush. The problem is that these incidents are unrelated to the burning bush; they are simply flashbacks to other examples of Moses acting as an 'ish, clearly a quality that was necessary but seemingly not sufficient. The placing of these flashbacks in this context suggests that Moses' response to the burning bush revealed a final, additional quality for national leadership. The verse states, "And the angel of the Lord appeared to him." The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 2:8) comments:
To him--What does the verse indicate with the word to him? It comes to teach that there were other people with him but none saw except for Moses (emphasis added).
This, then, is Moses' prize quality--he saw what others did not see(37) and, based on what he saw, he then felt pain for others, and, most importantly, he was willing to "turn aside" and act for others. He was au Empath, an 'ish. He was not apathetic to the pain of others, nor to the injustices that they suffered, and he was willing to act. Moreover, it is possible to teach people to be kind and generous, but if they do not see the need they cannot act upon it. Moses had the God-given quality of being attuned to his surroundings, able to perceive the need, and then to act upon it.
The Midrashim cited above, based on biblical verses, explicitly explain why Moses was selected to be a prophet and the leader of the Jewish nation, and this reason stands wholly independent of all of the rabbinic embellishments of the biblical stories. Thus, the question to be addressed is: Why the need for the midrashic embellishments and additions to the biblical stories?
It is possible that the rabbis wanted to convey a particular message to the average Jew. They recognized that the absolute empathy displayed by Moses included a violent action and, fearing that this would serve as a precedent for others, saw a need to limit and to channel the empathy in specific directions. They therefore embellished the stories of the Egyptian and of the daughters of Jethro with so many sins and supernatural actions so as to make them difficult to use as precedent. In the midrashic scheme, it is unlikely that an ordinary person would find himself in a situation identical to Moses', one so replete with sin as to demand violence. These embellishments are thus intended to prevent people from being overly zealous and recklessly murdering others, or getting involved in quarrels where they do not belong, and using Moses as the role model.
In addition to limiting this empathy, the rabbis had another goal. By adding the very simple, mundane types of aid that Moses provided, like dressing a wound, applying soothing ointment to ailing eyes, burying the dead--deeds which are within everyone's capabilities--they were attempting to channel this empathy by using Moses as a role model. These deeds simply require motivation to take action. There is no need for unique talents, great miracles. or a special position in life. The rabbis were trying to impress upon the reader, the Jewish masses, that ordinary caring is truly great. This is what leaders are made of; this, and not supernatural acts, is what led to the selection of Moses and what made Moses great as a man.
The above biblical and rabbinic stories. along with the explicit statements of the Midrash, seem to establish satisfactorily what qualities Moses possessed that led God to choose him as the leader. Yet, the Midrash and the Zohar add one more story, and give an additional reason for Moses' selection.
"The Lord tests the righteous" (Ps 11:4-5) . . . How does He test them? Through the way they tend sheep. He tested David in this way and found him a good shepherd. . . . Said the Holy One, blessed is He: Let him who knows how to tend sheep come and tend My people. Thus it is written, "From following the ewes that give suck He brought him, to be shepherd over Jacob, His people" (Ps. 78:71). He tested Moses in the very same way. Our Masters related:(38) Once when our Teacher Moses--peace to him!--was tending Jethro's flocks in the wilderness, a kid ran away, and he pursued it until it reached a shady spot, where a water hole came in view and the kid stopped to drink. When Moses came up to it, he said, "I did not know that you ran away because of thirst; you must be exhausted." So he put it on his shoulder and walked back. Said the Holy One, blessed is He, to him, "You are indeed compassionate to care for the flock belonging to a mortal with such tenderness; therefore you will tend My flock." When ewes lamb, the shepherd gathers the new-born lambs in his bosom, lest they weary or overtire, and tenderly carries them after their mother. So must a Jewish leader lead his people tenderly, with compassion, not with cruelty . . . protect them from their Gentile foes and from earthly and heavenly judgment and lead them to the Life Everlasting. So was Moses indeed a faithful shepherd, and the Holy One, blessed is He, saw that he was fit to tend Israel, exactly in the same way that he tended the flock, caring for the rams and the ewes in accordance with their respective needs (Exodus Rabbah 2:2): (Zohar on Exodus 2:21a).
Why the need for this additional non-biblical story and reason? Did Moses need further testing? Had he not already proven himself worthy and caring? The answer may be based on Exodus Rabbah 2:3. The Midrash there, commenting on Proverbs (30:5), says:
God does not give greatness to a person until he tests him with a small thing and then he elevates him to greatness. . . . David was tested with sheep . . . and so too Moses was tested with sheep,(39) as it says: "He led the sheep to the desert" (Exod 3:1) . . . and God took him as the shepherd of Israel, as it says: "You did lead your people like a flock, by the hand of Moses and Aaron" (Ps. 77:21).
It is almost as if the Midrash were saying thai God uses animals to test His leaders' leadership qualities. If the individual passes, God then elevates him to leading His people.
The leadership of Moses was to be unique in that it consisted of two parts. Moses, therefore, required two types of tests.(40) The first part was to do justice with Pharaoh and with other wicked people, as God tells Moses: "For I have made you as a God to Pharaoh"--to do justice with him, as God had told Abraham: "And also the nation that subjugates them will I judge" (Gen. 15: 14). Secondly, his leadership would include taking the Jews out of Egypt and leading the people--as God continues with Abraham: "Then they will leave with a great wealth." Thus, Moses needed to be tested in both of these areas.(41) He first needed to be tested on his willingness to confront wrongdoers for the sake of justice and peace--the three biblical stories and the first rabbinic ones mentioned served this purpose. Second, he was tested with animals, similar to how King David was later tested, to ascertain his leadership qualities for his own people as a positive leader,(42) and not only against adversity.
These two basic qualities of leadership are what is being stressed in the preselection Moses stories. The biblical stories and the rabbinic embellishments of them characterize Moses as an individual who is incapable of standing idly by while an injustice is being perpetrated by one person or group on another person or group. Whatever consequences he may face, he nonetheless feels obligated to act to undo and correct the injustice. He is a man in a place where there are no men. And he always recognizes such situations. Others may say that they would help if they had recognized the need; Moses was uniquely sensitive to recognize the need. This is the aspect the Bible itself wants to stress in the four biblical stories. The rabbis added one additional test. They were pointing out that thai first attribute alone, no matter how significant, even if it looks like it was sufficient from the biblical narrative, does not truly suffice. Moses needed to prove his leadership abilities in a situation in which there was no oppressor, no enemy, other than nature, to overcome. He had to demonstrate that he could lead as a positive leader, not only as a leader who overcomes adversaries and enemies.(43) This is the quality that is tested by his being a shepherd. Passing both these tests, he became the chosen leader of the Israelites, leading them to freedom, to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai, and, after forty years of travail in the desert, to the edge of the Promised Land. It is these two qualities together, that of being an 'ish, by both knowing when and how to fight injustice, and that of being a positive leader, that define the archetypal Jewish leader.
1. Or, perhaps, the revelation of his selection--God did not make Himself known to Moses until he had proven himself in action. There are many rabbinic sources which deal with the foreknowledge of Moses' selection (see for example B. Sotah 11b and Targum Yonatan on Exodus 2:1-5). This foreknowledge does not preclude this discussion, for if Moses had not actually proven himself worthy, he still could have been rejected. This is similar to the tension that generally exists between God's foreknowledge and man's free will.
The eight years is based on Exodus 7:7. See Genesis Rabbah 100:22, where it states that Moses served the Jewish people for forty years, from the age of eighty to one hundred and twenty.
2. These four stories are those in which Moses takes an active role, in contrast to the many stories found in the Bible and Midrash regarding his birth and experiences in Pharaoh's palace.
3. Interestingly, the first three stories are almost never referred to again, either in subsequent biblical books or in the vast rabbinic literature describing Moses. The first one is mentioned in the Tisha be-'Av kinah (lament) of 'Ay Koh (where is [the merit of the word]), by R. Eliezer Ha-Kalir, in a positive light (Artscroll, Kinot, p. 192). Moses as a shepherd of sheep and of the Jews is frequently mentioned, including in another kinah by Ha-Kalir. 'Az ba-Halokh ("Then when [Jeremiah] went") (Artscroll, Kinot, p. 280). The traits of Moses depicted in these first three stories are also never again summoned (at least as far as biblical and rabbinic narratives are concerned). He is never again called upon to use deadly force. Even in the various wars which lake place under his leadership, he never uses force but rather remains standing, as leader, and not avenger on the mountaintop.
4. On Moses as an Empath see: S'forno on Exodus 2:10 where he discusses that the name Moses indicates or foreshadows that Moses will he a future helper of others: Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, 'Oznayim la-Torah (Israel, 1980, Hebrew) on Exodus 2:21, where he explains the unusual situation of the leader of the Jews spending the greater part of his first eighty years away from the Jews as due to his overriding quality of empathy. Had he been permitted to stay among the Jews he would have been unable to control his desire to do good and rectify wrongs, and it is clear what kind of trouble that caused him in his preselection period. Subsequent to the preparation of this article. I learned of a paper by Dr. William M. Frank with Rabbi Irving Greenberg, "Moses: An Interpretation," which discusses some of the ideas regarding Moses as an Empath. See Ruth Frank, ed., William M. Frank: A Torah and Renaissance Man, "Live, Laugh and Learn" (Jerusalem, B.A.L. Mass Communications, 1982), particularly p. 82.
5. Manuscript of Yalkut Kurdistan, quoted by Rabbi Menahem Mendel Kasher, Torah Shlemah. (New York, 1940, Hebrew).
6. As in Genesis 6:2, 9:22, and 28:8; Numbers 22:2 and 24:1; and Esther 3:5.
7. As in Genesis 18:2, 22:13, and 29:2; Exodus 3:2; and Numbers 25:7.
8. It is almost as if Moses is carrying on the legacy of his ancestor. Levi, as described in Jacob's blessing: "for in their anger they slew a man" (Gen. 49:6).
9. In Midrash Petirat Moshe, however, he is reprimanded for killing the Egyptian, and we are told it was a sin. It is also possible that Moses' living in Midian for so many years was his equivalent of the galut (exile) required of an accidental murderer (Num. 25:6) This idea is found in Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:29.
10. Pirke de-Rebbi Eliezer, Chapter 48.
11. The game verb, lehakot, is used in describing both Moses' and the Egyptian's actions
12. Exodus Rabbah 1:32.
13. As the father of the blasphemer.
14. The Tanhuma, taken alone and not in conjunction with other sources (notes 10 and 12), is problematic in that it would seem difficult to define as a legitimate act of zealotry the killing of the father of a blasphemer (i.e., idolater), even if Moses saw this filial relationship in a prophetic vision. On Moses acting as zealot at other times, see Tanna de-ve-Eliyahu (4:1), where the order to kill those who worshiped the golden calf (Exod. 32:27) is attributed directly to Moses, who then ascribed it to God. (For a discussion of this Midrash, see A. Zivotofsky, "Perspectives on Truthfulness in the Jewish Tradition," JUDAISM 42:3, Summer 1993, in particular, p. 283.) See also Numbers 24:5, where it again appears that Moses is ordering more killing than prescribed by God.
15. For Moses surely would not have been afraid of the Egyptians, as he knew that God would protect him for a legitimate action on behalf of the Jews. The Midrash bears this assumption out with its array of stories of how Moses survived Pharaoh's sword.
16. B. Sotah 11b. A parallel passage is found in Exodus Rabbah 1:33.
17. Compare also Isaiah 41:28, "For I behold, and there is no man among them and there is no counselor, that when I ask of them could answer a word," where "man" clearly means a man able and willing to respond. See also Exodus 2:2, 2:21; I Samuel 4:9; I Kings 2:2; Isaiah 63:5 and Jeremiah 5:1. In Proverbs 20:6 both words 'adam and 'ish are used to refer to man, with 'ish clearly referring to a man. See also piyut 'Omnam 'Ashamanu (by Yose ben Yose, sixth century), recited in the Yom Kippur evening service (p. 108 in the Artscroll Mahzor), which says, Tareh ki 'ein 'ish, 'asay 'imanu tzedakah (see that we have no champion [lit. man], act charitably with us), where 'ish clearly means man. (The note in the Artscroll Mahzor actually says that it refers specifically to Moses, although I could find no earlier source for this).
For more on this concept, see Benno Jacob, "The Childhood and Youth of Moses, the Messenger of God," in Essays in Honour of the Very Rev. Dr. J.H. Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday, Sept. 25, 1942, edited by I. Epstein, E. Levine and C. Roth (E. Goldstone, 1944). See also Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, II, 45.
18. The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 1:34) identifies this individual as either Datan or Aviram, part of the group that rebelled against Moses' leadership in the desert.
19. Exodus Rabbah 1:35 as well as Yalkut Shimoni (1:167), quoting the Midrash 'Avkir.
20. In Genesis 39:11, where the word 'ish seems strange, and in Genesis 6:9, where it appears redundant, the Midrash attempts to explain it (Genesis Rabbah 36:2).
21. It is interesting that the second century B.C.E. Hellenistic Jewish playwright, Yehezkel, in his portrayal of this scene, has the response as "Who sent you here to be a judge and a ruler," leaving out any reference to the biblically-used word of 'ish. See "Yeziat Mizrayim, A Tragedy in Five Acts," Y. Gutman, tr., Hasifrut ha-Yahadut ha-Helenisti (Mosad Bialik, 1963).
22. Other midrashim do list particular sins, for example slandering or informing.
23. From here, the Midrash (Mekhilta Shirah 1) derives just how passionately Moses strove for justice. He had run away because of attempting to administer justice, and he ran right into the need for it again. The Midrash explains that it is because of Moses' zeal for justice that justice is described as his in "Judges and officers you shall make for yourself" (Deut. 16:18). Like justice, the Mekhilta continues, the Jewish people are called Moses' people (Exod. 32:7) because he was willing to give his life for them. The Midrash ha-Gadol (Exod. 32:32) actually says: "Any parnas (Jewish leader), who would not readily destroy his life and fling it down for the Jewish people, is no parnas."
24. Tanhuma Yashan, Exodus 11.
25. Exodus Rabbah 1:38.
26. Tanhuma Yashan, Exodus 11.
27. In his response Jethro too use the term 'ish and asks them why they did not bring him home (Exod. 2:20).
28. The Midrash also spends considerable time on the idea of describing Moses as an Egyptian, but whereas that is, perhaps, a troubling description 'ish appears altogether superfluous.
29. Genesis Rabbah 36:2.
30. Lest it be said that the difference between the first two is insignificant (for does it really matter who the oppressor is when the oppressed is a fellow Jew?), Pirke de-Rebbi Eliezer (chapter 48) comments on the apparent redundancy in Exodus 2:11--"smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren"--saying that the one being beaten was "of the family of Kahat, who was his kinsman, of the tribe of Levi." Accordingly, the progression is even more apparent: A close relative, then another, more distantly-related Jew, and finally, non-Jewish individuals.
31. Similarly, in Leviticus Rabbah (34:8): "Our sages interpreted: He drew water for us for the sake of our father and for the shepherds for the sake of peace." Philo in Haye Moshe describes a lengthy dialogue that Moses had with the shepherds that finally persuaded them to do teshuvah, penitence.
32. On Moses being an 'ish, see also: Exodus 11:3 ("The 'ish Moses . . ."), where 'ish appears superfluous; Numbers 12:3 ("The 'ish Moses was very humble, more so than all men ['adam, not 'ish]"), where 'ish appears superfluous and incongruous; Tanna de-ve-Eliyahu Zuta 16:12 on Numbers 27:18; B. Sotah 14a, commenting on Deuteronomy 34:6, and Mekhilta on Exodus 18:7 (see also Torah Temimah there), which both state that 'ish can refer specifically to Moses. On 'ish as referring specifically to God see: B. Sotah 42b, Sotah 48a (second to last line), Sanhedrin 93a, and Sanhedrin 96b (based on Exodus 15:3). On 'ish in general, see: Sukkah 52b; Yoma 75b, last line; commentaries on Ruth 1:1; Numbers 27:18 (see also Torah Temimah)--when Moses asked God for a successor, he asked for an 'ish. (On that verse, Ray Mendel of Kotzk makes a beautiful comment. He says that a leader of the Jews must be, first and foremost, an 'ish, a mensch. Quoted by L. Scheinbaum in Peninim, Pinhas 1993.) See also the source at the end of footnote 17.
33. For more on this theme, see Israel Passover Haggadah, by Rabbi Menahem Mendel Kasher.
34. See B. Sotah 11a for a similar description of switching the work of men and women. A similar description of wrongly assigned work is also found in relation to the well story and the daughters of Jethro. In Avot de-Rebbi Natan (chapter 20) it is related, "He (Moses) rebuked them (the shepherds): Man usually draws the water and woman gives the flock to drink, whereas here the women draw the water and the men water the flocks! [It appears that the women drew the water before the arrival of the other shepherds, who then drove them away and used that water to water their own flocks.] This certainly is a perversion of justice." Josephus (Antiquities II, 258), however, states that both tasks were customarily undertaken by women. Interestingly, this is the only one of the three biblical stories mentioned by Josephus.
35. Li-re'ot with an 'aleph, as used in the verse, means "to see"; with an 'ayin it means "to be a shepherd." God saw that Moses turned to see and thus he was ra'ui (worthy, another phonetically-similar word) to be the shepherd of the Jewish people.
36. The Tanhuma (Exodus 10) adds one more reason why Moses was selected: Because Moses put himself in a position in which he was forced to flee to Midian due to his devotion to the Jewish people, he was chosen to be their redeemer. This concept of loyalty is reflected in the Midrash, in Exodus Rabbah 2:2, regarding Moses being tested as a shepherd, which is discussed below.
37. See texts accompanying note 7.
38. According to Shinan, it is not known on what earlier source this story is based. Midrash Rabbah, Exodus, Chapters 1-14, Avigdor Shinan, ed. (Israel, Dvir Publishing, 1984) (Hebrew).
39. The Tanhuma Yashan also adds Amos as having been tested as a shepherd, based on Amos 7:15. Other versions of Exodus Rabbah add Jacob, Ezekiel, and Amos. On leaders of Israel as shepherds see B. Sotah 36b commenting on Psalms 80:2. See also the last stanza of the Hanukkah song Ma'oz Tzur; Micah 5:4 and B. Sukkah 52b.
40. Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, 'Oznayim la-Torah (Israel, 1980) (Hebrew), on Exodus 3:1.
41. Another example of a leader whom the Midrash portrays as being selected twice is Gideon. The Midrash (Tanhuma in Ginze Schechter I, 131-133; also a shorter version in Tanhuma, Shoftim 4) says: "Said the Holy One to him, 'You fulfilled the commandment to honor your father, you are worthy that My children should he redeemed through you.'" (This may be parallel to Moses and the sheep.) The Midrash later states: "The Holy One replied: 'By your life, you are speaking in defense, and on behalf of my children, then you are worthy that I speak with you.'" (This may he parallel to God observing Moses 'turning,' and therefore speaking to him directly.)
42. Just as this explains why the rabbis added the second test, that of positive leadership, of which there is only the slightest hint in the Bible, this might also explain the story in Genesis Rabbah 100:22 that Moses ruled in Midian as king for forty years. Through the stories of Moses leading Midian and leading sheep as a shepherd, the rabbis are grooming him, in a Midrashic sense, for his true role, that of positive leader of Israel.
43. It is possible that the Bible discusses only the first quality, that of being a leader who can fight evil, and not the second, because Moses was actually weak in that area. It was the first quality that was needed to facilitate the Exodus and the wandering in the desert. Possibly, however, he was not as strong in the leadership quality of being able to lead in a positive sense, and, hence, was rejected from leading the Jews into the land of Israel. In a similar vein, see Nathaniel Helfgot, "Moses Struck the Rock: Numbers 20 and the Leadership of Moses," Tradition 27:3 (Spring 1993), pp. 51-58, for a discussion of Moses being the right type of leader for the Exodus generation but the wrong type of leader for the new generation about to enter the Land of Israel.
ARI Z. ZIVOTOFSKY, an ordained rabbi, is a doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University. The author wishes to thank Professor Avigdor Shinan, for whom an early version of this paper was originally written and who provided invaluable comments to further develop it.
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|Author:||Zivotofsky, Ari Z.|
|Publication:||Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1994|
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