This week’s Torah portion is “Shemot” (Exodus 1:1 – 6:1), and with it, we begin the book of Exodus. As readers may be familiar, the book of Exodus focuses heavily on the Jewish people being made slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt followed by their liberation which was accompanied by open miracles. It goes without saying that the primary character of the entire book of Exodus is Moses.
Something odd occurs in our Torah portion. In chapter two, the Torah tells us that “Moses grew up.” Now that is not odd, of course. What is odd, however, is that the Torah repeats itself, and tells us yet a second time that “Moses grew up.” Why the repetition?
Some of the commentators explain that the first time the Torah tells us that Moses “grew up” it is referring to his physical growth, while the second time refers to his spiritual growth. Others suggest that the first “grew up” refers to physical growth (with some suggesting that both physical and spiritual growth are referred to in the first “grew up”) while the second refers to his “growth” in greatness, in leadership, and in prestige. This is because Moses was appointed as the head of Pharaoh’s household. He was a governor-of-sorts before his Jewish background was revealed and he was forced to flee Egypt (only to return as the redeemer of the Jewish people).
The sages teach us that Moses’s ascent to leadership was unlike the ascent of most other people in life. Unfortunately, when people become elevated or otherwise reach positions of authority and power, they often “forget” those they were once close with and dependent upon. This includes friends, coworkers, family, and everyone else. A person usually forgets his past, he forgets where he comes from, and his ego gets the best of him.
Moses was different, however. Moses not only did not become haughty or arrogant, he remembered and cared for the most simple Jew. Moses had it all: power, wealth, popularity, freedom. But when he realized who he was and what was required of him – he gave it all up in order to free his oppressed and enslaved brothers and sisters. He cared nothing for himself. His concern was for others.
This is true greatness: Greatness that is put to use for the benefit of the people. Greatness is where one’s ego does not get the best of oneself. This was Moses’s way from the very beginning to the very end. As the Torah tells us “Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3).
Every single person has the ability to become like Moses, in terms of leadership. We are all leaders somewhere, in some way, whether it is at home, work, or in the community. We must remember that true greatness is not caring for ourselves, but rather, it is caring about others, helping others, and putting other people’s interests above our own.
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Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
Rabbi Ari Enkin