23 Tevet 5777 – Shemot

With Donald Trump assuming the most powerful position in the modern world, we are all waiting to see what kind of a leader he will turn out to be and what his position will be towards Israel, Iran and the Middle East. Many say that Trump is and will be a true friend of Israel and I pray and hope that his policies and attitudes towards Israel will reflect those of a true friend. But regardless of the leader that he becomes, Israel – and the Jewish people – must realise that they have to always remain united. Because in unity there is strength.

In this week’s Parashah, Shemot, Moses assumes his role as leader of the Jewish people. Interestingly, he is introduced to us through two incidents:

  1. After witnessing an Egyptian man striking a Jew mercilessly, he strikes the Egyptian and buries him in the sand.
  1. He goes out the very next and sees two Hebrew men fighting. He says to the wicked one, ‘Why would you strike your fellow’? The man replied: ‘Who appointed you as a prince and leader over us? Will you kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ It is now that Moses becomes frightened. He flees Egypt and eventually returns as liberator of the Jewish people. 

But why does the Torah choose these two episodes to introduce us to the man who would become the greatest Jewish leader of all time?

The Jewish people have continually been threatened by two opposing forces – oppression from without and erosion from within. The former might be more painful, but the latter is more lethal. Now, let’s look back at our two stories and we will see something very interesting. You see, these two problems immediately confront Moses as he is growing into his position. 

On the most basic level, the Jewish story has been defined by the “Egyptian man striking the Hebrew”. From enslavements to persecutions, from expulsions to annihilations, the Jew has suffered from all the Pharaohs, Hitlers and rulers in whose countries we have tried to peacefully live. And every time we are threatened we look this way and that way and see no one. There is no one willing to come to our rescue, not the UN, not the world. 

Moses realises this so what does he do? He strikes the Egyptian and buries him in the sand. He understands that if we don’t take matters into our own hands, we will have no future. If we don’t take a strong, righteous stance and stand strong in who we are than we will loose whatever grain of dignity we ever had.

Now let’s turn to the next day. Moses is confronted by a new and much more difficult challenge – a Jew fighting a Jew. His attempt to create reconciliation gets thrown back at him. In a typical Jewish response, Moses is told: “Who appointed you as a prince and leader over us?” It is now that Moses becomes frightened and doesn’t know how to respond. It is in this scenario, that Moses fails. 

I think that within these two incidents at the beginning of Moses’ life, lies a powerful message that each of us – and especially our leaders – must understand. You see, anti-Semitism is dangerous, very dangerous, yet since the enemy is clearly defined, it is easier to identify the target and eliminate it, either through peaceful methods or through justified conflict. However, discord within the Jewish people – within our communities or within our families – this is where the real danger lies. If we are united, there is no force from without that can ever crush us. But if we become fragmented, this is when our future becomes dim. 

There have been only three periods of Jewish political sovereignty in four thousand years. Two ended in and because of internal dissension. The third age of sovereignty began in 1948 in modern day Israel and her future depends on us. Let’s ensure that our people always remain strong, by committing to strengthening our ties to each other and resolving, respectfully, any outstanding matters of conflict. Each of us is a leader in our own sphere of influence be that our homes, workplaces or communities. Let’s pick up from where Moses left off.

May the upcoming year and era prove fruitful, prosperous and peaceful – from without and within – for Israel, the Jewish people and all the nations of the world.  

Wishing you and your families Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yossi and Chana Raizel Friedman

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