Commentary on the Parsha – Shmot

Moses is Not Pathetic, Marrowless and Weak
By Howard Singer

— The following is an excerpt from Bring Forth the Mighty Men: On Violence and the Jewish Character by Howard Singer which was originally published in 1969 by Funk & Wagnalls. —

The Bible tells us of only three incidents from Moses’ youth. In two of them Moses himself offers violence, but in reaction against another’s violence.

The first occurs when Moses sees an Egyptian smiting a Jew: “And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.” [Exodus 2:12]

The second occurs when Moses sees a Jew inflicting violence on another Jew: “A he said to him that did the wrong ‘Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow’” But the Jew “that did the wrong,” the violent one succeeds in defying Moses.

“Thinkest thou to kill me, as thou didst kill the Egyptian?” And Moses feared, and said, ‘surely the thing is known.’ ” [Exodus 2:13-14]

Moses flees Egypt and the third incident occurs in Midian: “Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. And the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. [Exodus 2:16-17] We are not told how he helped them but later the girls use a strong term to describe what he did. “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds.” There was a hint, perhaps a full threat, of violence.

That is all. With incredible economy – the three incidents are told in only nine verses in the second chapter of Exodus – the great point is made. Moses in not pathetic, marrowless and weak. He does not preach meekness because he is himself the perennial victim. Moses is the natural aristocrat with a ferocious hatred of injustice, and in the three incidents the Bible describes, injustice takes the ugly form of physical violence. And this is the man whom G-d decides is worthy of receiving the Divine revelation on Sinai.

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