The Enemy Within
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s parsha, Vaeira, continues the story of Moshe’s mission to Pharaoh. He was clearly a “reluctant leader” who argued with Hashem for 7 days that he should be excused from the mission. Moshe was the most humble of men and had no desire for the glory associated with power. Moreover, he was very realistic about his capabilities. As he saw it, he lacked all the talents, especially eloquence, that would have qualified him for such an exalted role.
One should not think that Moshe was indifferent to the plight of the Jews. In spite of his position in the palace of Pharaoh, he went out to assess the situation of his oppressed brothers and sisters. Perhaps he naively believed that he would be able to convince Pharaoh of the wickedness of his course and effect a change in Egyptian policy.
However, his investigation into the matter was cut short when he spotted an Egyptian beating a Jew. Apparently, there was no legitimate reason for the slavemaster’s behavior. This was a sign that the treatment of the Jews had no justifiable basis, but was an expression of hateful cruelty that, if unchecked, would lead to their decimation.
Moshe reacted to the danger that confronted him. He was witnessing sheer evil directed at his brothers. What was he to do? His love of justice and compassion for his people compelled him to slay the Egyptian. This was an act of extreme defiance and could have signaled the beginning of Jewish resistance against the oppression.
Unfortunately, no such movement took place. The next day, Moshe encountered 2 Jews who were fighting each other. Again, he intervened, this time rebuking the Jewish aggressor. They responded with hostile invective: “Who are you to judge us?” they said. “Do you plan to kill me, just as you killed the Egyptian?” And Moshe said, “I see the matter is known.”
There is a famous Midrash that interprets Moshe’s words as referring to another matter. “I had never understood, he said, why this people, of all the nations, deserved to become enslaved. Now, the matter is known.” In my opinion, this is a very serious Midrash that deserves our attention. We are in the habit of blaming our travails on the wickedness of others. There is no question that every brutal tyrant in history has, at some point, sought to inflict suffering on the Jews. We are the victims of choice for every aspiring butcher.
However, we must ask, is this the whole story? Can all our sufferings be attributed only to the enemy? Might we have something to do with it, as well? In the face of danger, do Jews put aside their differences to repel the enemy? Or are we prone to fight with each other over stupidities, rather than be single-minded in defending our people?
The willingness of some Jews to defend our enemies and undermine our own position is a tradition that dates all the way back to Egypt. Moshe, who fought against the oppressor, was condemned and reported to the authorities by his Hebrew “brothers” for
breaking Egyptian law. Today, there are many “Jewish organizations” who chime in with the chorus of Israel’s enemies to condemn her alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians. If all Jews were united and firmly asserted Israel’s exclusive right to the Land Hashem granted us, and which we have reclaimed through the blood of our heroic fighters, our position would be immeasurably strengthened.
After his encounter with the feuding Jews, Moshe was skeptical about their moral worth. When G-d charged him to lead the people out of Egypt, Moshe asked (according to the Midrash), by what virtue do they deserve to be redeemed? Hashem answered that, after removing them from Egypt, He would give them the Torah on Mount Sinai. Apparently, Hashem was acquiescing to Moshe’s position. At present, they were not worthy of Divine intervention, but their acceptance of the Torah would, retroactively, render them deserving of G-d’s miracles.
The Jews are a small people who can be very formidable when they are united “as one nation with one heart.” The road to true unity lies with our acceptance of Torah and adoption of the Divine moral absolutes that it teaches. Total trust in the righteousness of our cause is absolutely vital for us to meet the worldwide epidemic of virulent antisemitism that confronts us.
May we merit to attain genuine unity, so we may witness the true redemption of our people and the world.