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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Shemos 5773 "A Lesson Unlearned"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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The Rodazover Rebbe had a dedicated chassid who was childless. The chassid frequently begged the Rebbe to bless him that he merit a child. Although the Rebbe gave him numerous heartfelt blessings, they never came to fruition.

One time, the Rebbe’s brother, the Zhikover Rebbe, came to spend time with his brother in Rozadov. When the chassid met the Zhikover Rebbe he began to pour out his heart expressing all the pain and anguish he felt because he had not been blessed with children. The Rebbe listened patiently and then replied that if the chassid would join him in Zhikov for Rosh Hashanah that year he would be guaranteed a child. When the chassid recounted the conversation to his own Rebbe, the Rodazover Rebbe replied, “If my brother assured you that you will merit a child if you spend Rosh Hashanah with him, it will surely materialize. Do as he says!”

Yet on the first night of Rosh Hashana after davening the chassid stood on line to wish the Rodazover Rebbe a good year. “What are you doing here?” asked the Rebbe, “Why are you not with my brother in Zhikov?” The chassid meekly replied, “I was thinking that everyone is well aware that I have been bothering you for a blessing for children for many years now and I have still not blessed with a child. If I went to your brother for Rosh Hashana and was blessed with a child during the year, what would people say about you? They might say that your brother is greater than you and that his blessings are more potent. That might cause you some pain and embarrassment. Just because I am waiting for a child does not give me the right to cause the holy Rebbe pain.”

The Rodazover Rebbe was moved by the words of his chassid and guaranteed that he would merit a child that year. Within the year the chassid was the father of a baby boy.

When referring to this story, the Rodazover Rebbe explained that it was not his blessing that brought about that child. “Do you think I am a miracle worker? I am surely not one to interfere with the celestial courts. It’s just that when a person demonstrates such incredible selflessness and care for another even at the risk of forfeiting his life’s dream, there is no doubt that G-d will hearken to his prayers. It was the chassid’s own merit that granted him a son, not my blessing!”

Moshe Rabbeinu was raised in the lap of Egyptian luxury, on the lap of Pharaoh himself. But Moshe was not content in the opulence of the palace while his brethren were suffering mercilessly. He left the palace to witness the pain of his people. When he saw an Egyptian beating a Jew, Moshe killed the Egyptian, and hid his body in the sand. With uncanny ingratitude, the Jew whose very life Moshe had saved, reported what Moshe had done to the Egyptian authorities. It was only through miraculous intervention that Moshe escaped death and was forced to flee Egypt.

The Torah[1] states, “Pharaoh was informed about this incident[2] and he wanted to kill Moshe. Moshe fled from Pharaoh and dwelled in the land of Midyan and sat at the well.”

Truthfully, Moshe did not go directly from Egypt to Midyan. The Medrash relates that Moshe’s trek to Midyan was long and eventful. Moshe first fled south to Kush where he helped its king, King Kinkos recapture his kingdom from Bila’am, the infamous nemesis of Klal Yisroel.

After Kinkos died, Moshe was appointed king of Kush where he remained for forty years. He was given the given the young widow of King Kinkos as a wife. However, since she was a descendant of Canaan, with whom marriage was prohibited to Abraham’s descendants, he always maintained a certain distance from her.

Finally the queen complained to the councilmen that her son was the legitimate heir to the throne. When Moshe was informed of her complaint he cordially abdicated the throne. It was only then that he trekked northward and arrived at the well in Midyan.

This being true it is noteworthy that the Torah breezes over this entire sixty-year saga with nary a mention. It is incredible that in between the letter 'ה' of the word פרעה and the 'ו' of the word וישב sixty years have passed. By recording Moshe’s escape from Egypt as well as his arrival in Midyan in the same verse, there must be some connection between the two events.[3]

I once heard the following insight[4]: By juxtaposing these two events the Torah is demonstrating an important facet of Moshe’s greatness. Pharaoh wanted to kill Moshe because he had killed an Egyptian officer. Moshe had done so because he could not bear the sight of a Jew being made to suffer needlessly. The consequence of Moshe’s action was a prolonged exile away from his family and his people. He was forced to be a loner and a refugee for decades, all because he had tried to help a fellow Jew.

By the time Moshe arrived in Midyan, one would think he would have learned to mind his own business. Judging from what happened to him the last time he righteously meddled in someone else’s affairs one would think when he witnessed the shepherd’s mistreatment of Yisro’s daughters he would leave them to their fate. But Moshe would not do so. Ignoring his own welfare, he immediately jumped to his feet and came to their aid, endangering himself yet again.

Following this second incident too Moshe suffered for his good deed. The Medrash relates that when Yisro was informed of Moshe’s past he feared Egyptian reprisal for harboring an Egyptian refugee and so he promptly imprisoned Moshe. It was a number of years before Yisro released him and offered him his daughter Tzipporah as a wife.

Why was Moshe worthy to be the greatest leader of Klal Yisroel? Because he was selfless! Sixty years of exile not withstanding, Moshe was ready to help a stranger in need without hesitation. To Moshe it was as if there was no gap between his escape from Mitzrayim and his arrival in Midyan. In that sense, he did not learn his lesson; he refused to learn his lesson! He understood that there is a price to pay in order to foster kindness and achieve justice, and he was willing to pay that price.

It was that drive which made him worthy to be the leader of Klal Yisroel that would soon transmit G-d’s Holy Torah to His Holy Nation.

Recently I was talking to Ari, a young student, who told me that he has a classmate named Moshe that many of his peers, himself included, found very annoying. While many of his classmates shrugged Moshe off and kept their distance from him, Ari would occasionally invite Moshe to his home and spend time talking to him. Ari confided that it was hard for him to talk to Moshe and it would be much easier for him to shrug him off like many of his classmates had done.

I told Ari that others see him as a boy with fine middos, an example for his peers. That encomium comes with a price tag. I told Ari that he should be proud that he is willing to sacrifice of himself to help another. It may be easier for the other boys to ignore Moshe but it inevitably has a negative effect on their personality.

There is an old sarcastic quip that “No good deed goes unpunished”. One who strives for greatness has to be ready to pay that price. He must remind himself that it is par for the course of leadership.

“Moshe fled from Pharaoh…”

“…And dwelled in the land of Midyan and sat at the well”

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[1] Shemos 2:16

[2] that Moshe had killed an Egyptian

[3] It is not difficult t understand why the Torah does not relate this story. The Torah is not a story book. There are many similar fascinating accounts that are only mentioned in Medrash (e.g. Avrohom Avinu in the furnace of Nimrod). Only select stories are included in the Torah if they are timeless accounts.

[4] Heard from Rabbi Yosef Templer, Shabbos Kodesh Shemos 5765

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