Parshas Shemos: Selfless Dedication

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

We are introduced to משה רבינו, our great teacher and leader Moshe Rabeinu, as one who passionately with compassion went to feel the pain of his people and later on, in his life, one who saved seven non-Jewish women (daughters of Yisro) from abuse, and one whose “vocation” was to be a shepherd of a flock of sheep. No mention whatsoever of his intellectual prowess, his Torah wisdom, his service of Hashem.

Chazal teach us that one of the reasons that Hashem orchestrated that he become a shepherd was to develop an innate trait of boundless mercy. The Medrash relates that prior to Hashem revealing Himself at the Burning Bush; one of Moshe Rabeinu’s sheep had ran away from the flock to a creek of water. Moshe ran after it and watched as it drank. He conjectured the sheep must have been dehydrated; now it must be exhausted due to its physical stress. I must carry it on my shoulders back to the remainder of the flock.

But we can ask: didn’t he already personify one that maintains a constant desire to absorb another’s pain, and in turn to diligently and thoughtfully aid another? The Torah teaches us (2:11), “…and he went to his brothers, to see and understand them…” Upon seeing an Egyptian smiting – and trying to murder a Jew – he intercedes, despite adorning royal garb – and puts to death the villain. 

The Medrash (Bamidbar, פרשת נשא) teaches us the in order to protect the dignity of the valiant women of Klal Yisrael, who remained chaste (צניעות) despite their husbands being incarcerated in concentration camps, he brought about the assailant’s death. If not for Moshe’s action, the heinous Egyptian would have vilified the Jewish women as immoral people, like all, thereby causing a belittling of the dignity of Klal Yisroel. A remarkable, profound lesson in the need to acutely be aware of the ramifications of people’s actions on the total population which can lessen another’s moral sensitivity and acuity.

The following day beholding an altercation between two Jews, דתן ואבירם, he reproaches them for their unacceptable behavior. “How is it possible that two stately people, two caring people, can act in such a manner? How can you harm another Jew?”

What prompted Moshe to get involved with another’s problem? Why not stay away? For Moshe Rabeinu could not exist with negative behavior; he detested the absence of honest, correct behavior to the level that one is obligated to selflessly, forcefully and immediately react.

It could be that despite this astounding trait, nevertheless there is always the chance that one will act in order to also attract attention to oneself. Every person needs recognition from others, for otherwise one is lonely, not being recognized as an individual who is an important member, segment of the community. But there is a fine line between recognition and acclaim, glory and attention. Once that line is crossed even slightly, one is in סכנה, danger that one will focus on oneself rather their obligation to Hashem’s world. 

A shepherd is one that is completely removed from others, taking care of the flock in open areas such as the wilderness. In this type of environment, one’s actions of treating the sheep with mercy is totally a selfless exercise, for no person is aware of one’s actions. In this manner one’s repetitive constant compassion creates an innate relentless passion for רחמים, altruism.

Another positive element of being a shepherd is that one is rewarded with the invaluable opportunity to constantly contemplate the beauty and majesty of the expansive world Hashem created. From sunrise to sunset, from a beautiful blue sky to a moonlit night of thousands of stars, from the verdant green grass to the glorious mountains, each and every day one is rewarded to view the absolute numerous gifts in the world.

When one with deliberation views and absorbs Hashem’s creation of thousands and thousands of different types of trees, bushes, flowers, animals, birds… one concludes that just as every inanimate or animate being has a sole, unique purpose, so too does every human. In turn the more a person appreciates this wonderful gift, the knowledge of one’s unique importance, one in turn obligates themselves even more to their benefactor, Hashem! The ultimate protocol of true gratitude is to selflessly subjugate oneself to focus all of one’s thoughts and actions to do the will of Hashem. This was Moshe Rabeinu. In this fashion one can protect oneself from deceiving oneself to do what seems correct, but in actuality is prompted by one’s innate desire for כבוד.

The need for fame can destroy a person. The prime example is המן הרשע, Haman, who despite his extraordinary wealth, very large family, numerous positions of power and glory, couldn’t tolerate that one Jewish man, Mordechai wouldn’t bow to him! כבוד, the need for fame and attention cripples a person to see the world with deception, even to the extent of destroying oneself!

רב שלמה וולבה explains:there are two categories; the one of outward appearance, the physical universe and the one of the inner rubric, spirituality. By definition if one desires to act spiritually, in a manner of drawing attention, then there is an essential contradiction of these two elements, which in turn can’t coexist!


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