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Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5772

Parashat Hashavuah: These Are Slave Masters and These Are Slave Masters

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, pp. 168-170

After Moshe leaving the Egyptian palace to join his enslaved brethren, killing an Egyptian to save a Jew, and trying to break up a fight between two Jews, one of the latter said: “Who made you an officer and judge over us? Are you going to kill me, like you killed the Egyptian?” (Shemot 2:14).  Moshe responded: “Indeed, the matter was discovered,” which the midrash explains as follows: “There is lashon hara among them. How will they be worthy of redemption?”

It is fascinating to note that even though there was rampant idol worship among Israel at that time (Shir Hashirim Rabba 2:3), it was specifically lashon hara that Moshe saw as the big threat to redemption, even though it is not even one of the Noahide laws and the time was, of course, before the giving of the Torah. Furthermore, there is no direct indication that others were involved in lashon hara besides the quarrelers.

Let us take a look at what Moshe had recently experienced. He left a promising career in the Egyptian aristocracy to join his brethren in the fields of slavery, which he had ostensibly escaped. He probably was aware of the miracle that had taken him from slavery and allowed him to develop relationships with powerful people in the world’s superpower. He imagined that he could influence Pharaoh to lighten the load on Israel, as he had regarding the weekly Shabbat vacation (Shemot Rabba 1:28).

However, to make the most of the opportunity, the nation needed to develop some hope and confidence. The people also had to begin ridding themselves of the impurity of Egypt, in preparation for the day they would have total freedom. Moshe felt that he was in a position to gain the nation’s confidence and take part in this process. He went out to work among his brethren, including physical labor foreign to a prince, and he gained acceptance.

The event in which he was verbally attacked awakened him, though, to a cruel realization. Even among the slaves, there were various social strata. There were people with power, who intimidated others. Those who were appointed by the Egyptians to carry out Egyptian interests also had interests of their own. No one could point out their flaws. Maybe there were a handful of such people, but they had power, and the people did not stand up to them. The people did not stop them from tattling on Moshe to the authorities even with all the hope he represented for them. As Chazal tell us, one who accuses others does so in the areas in which he is guilty. It was they, not Moshe, who wanted to impose their will on others.

Moshe saw how futile his efforts were likely to be. Everything he said would have to be cleared by the power brokers, and he would not be able to motivate the people toward real positive change. Even if these people agreed to the idea of freedom, the price would be that they would be the new generals. To replace Pharaoh with Datan and Aviram might not be so worthwhile after all.

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