SHEMOS (Exodus, 1:1-6:1) — “A Tale of Two Kings”

[TORAH TALK IN THE JEWISH PRESS:  This message from 2002, updated for the 2007 political season, appeared as an Op-Ed in the Jewish Press.] 

Joseph, the hero of Egypt, was dead. He had brought prosperity to a land that could have been devastated by famine. A grateful nation venerated him. They honored him in his lifetime and revered him after his death.

For a while, anyway. A new king arose over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph. (Exodus, 1:8) According to the Talmud, he wasn’t a new king at all.

The Egyptians were concerned about the growth of the Jewish population. The Israelites were increasing by leaps and bounds. There was a fear that Joseph’s nation might form a fifth column and join forces with Egypt’s enemies. The Egyptian people demanded that their king address their “Jewish Problem.”

The king, who at first had demonstrated a bit of integrity, refused. He couldn’t bring himself to take action against Joseph’s people. Joseph had been so good to Egypt. The masses wouldn’t take no for an answer. They ousted the king.

Spending three months as an ex-king was more than he could bear. Thus, a new king arose over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph. The “new” king with a new attitude conveniently “didn’t know,” or, at least ACTED as if he didn’t know Joseph. The persecution began.

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Moses worked for his father-in-law. Like his ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses was a shepherd. Impeccably honest, Moses went far away into the desert, to avoid grazing the sheep on someone else’s property.

The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah, 2:2) describes a day in the life of Shepherd Moses:

When our teacher Moses, may he rest in peace, was watching Jethro’s sheep in the desert, a lamb ran away. He ran after the lamb until he reached some bushes. Once the lamb reached the bushes, he found a pool of water, and stopped to drink. When Moses arrived there, he said, “I didn’t know you ran away because you were thirsty; you must be tired.” He placed the lamb on his shoulder and carried him. The Holy One, Blessed be He said, “You showed such compassion to a lamb … you will be the shepherd of My flock — Israel.”

Immediately after this event, G-d began to speak to Moses through the Burning Bush. He instructed Moses that he was to have the honor and privilege of leading the Israelites out of Egypt. He told Moses to gather the Elders of Israel and go to the Pharaoh and demand that the slaves be released.

Moses wasn’t interested in the job. He felt he wasn’t worthy. He argued that he wasn’t articulate. He claimed that no one would listen to him. “Please send the one you usually send. (Aaron)” (Ibid. 4:13)

Moses didn’t want to become the leader of Israel. His older brother Aaron had always been the leader and the prophet. Moses didn’t want to hurt his brother by taking an honor that should be Aaron’s. G-d told Moses that Aaron had already been informed of Moses’ appointment. Aaron was thrilled that Moses had been chosen for this sacred task. Only upon hearing that Aaron was happy did Moses reluctantly agree to become, in effect, the first king of Israel.

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There you have it.  Two kings.  Kings of nations. One was not a leader at all. He was a power- and glory-hungry slave to his own people. He had no character; he stood for nothing but his own selfish ambitions.

The other was nothing BUT character. He was a humble servant of his people. He felt he wasn’t worthy. He shunned honor and cared only about the feelings of others, be they man or animal.

One was a leader. One was a follower. Moses and Pharaoh.

Which one reminds you of YOUR elected leaders?

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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 From the Archives 

“My Grandson’s Bris – 2” (2010) 

Read More.

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“My Grandson the Priest” (2009) 

… Jethro recognized that Moses was an Israelite; he proposed a match with one of his daughters.

But there was a catch…Jethro would only agree to allow Moses to marry his daughter on the condition that the oldest son would be raised to be a priest of idol worship.

Pretty amazing, no?  Want to hear something even more amazing?  Moses agreed!! …

Read More.

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“Mrs. Moses: Certified Mohelet??!” (2008) 

Several years ago I was driving in the car listening to a discussion on the radio about circumcision.  Being a Mohel myself, I was, of course, very interested in the conversation.  I listened with curiosity and apprehension.

I get very uncomfortable when religious Jews call radio shows.  It is very difficult to explain a profound religious concept in a cogent and articulate manner when the host has his own ideas and can cut you off in mid-sentence.  Yet, the calls were coming in, and the host maintained that circumcision is done for health reasons.

Then an Italian lady called and said that she had her boys circumcised for health reasons, and was glad she did.  He said, “Thank you, dear,” and hung up.  Then he asked, “Hey, I wonder if a lady is allowed to be a Mohel.”

I braced myself for the responses.  A short time later, the host said, “Our next caller, from RocklandCounty, is Moysheh.  Hello, Moysheh.”

“Hello, Mr. Grant.  This is Moishe-the-Moyel from Monsey!”…

Read More.

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“Mrs. Moses Goes Home to Father” (2007)

… Moses was about to get a promotion.  He was about to become the Shepherd of Israel.   G-d assigned Moses the crucial task of leading his People out of Egypt.  There was, however, a problem.  There was the matter of his pre-nuptial agreement…

At one point, Zipporah decided to pack up the boys and go home.  There are various reasons given by the Commentaries.  The Chasam Sofer suggests that all was not well in the ben-Amram family…

Moses’ wife …went home.  … She would not accompany him to Egypt…

So what changed her mind? …

Read More.

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“The Secret Password” (2006)

What are the credentials of a savior of Israel? Imagine the scene:

The Sages of Israel have been summoned to a meeting. They have been enduring unspeakable horrors due to the agonizing slavery that his been placed upon them by their Egyptian taskmasters.  The meeting has been called by a fugitive, a wanted man.  Moses, the twelve-year-old son of Amram the Levite had absconded from Egypt to escape a murder conviction.  Now, as an eighty year-old man, he has returned to Egypt with an announcement…

Do we listen to Moses? Is he for real?  Is he on the level?  We haven’t seen this fellow in sixty-eight years! Suddenly he shows up with a Messianic proclamation, and he expects us to risk our skins by going to the Pharaoh with such an outrageous request!?

They bought it…

Read More.

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 “Pain in the Ukraine” (2004)

… A Mohel went to the Ukraine to usher Jewish men into the Covenant of Abraham.  As a fifteen-year-old Yeshiva student lay on the table, the Mohel read his medical chart.  The boy, as it turned out, was allergic to the anesthesia that the Mohel had brought from the U.S…  The Bris would have to be delayed… No, insisted the boy.  He wanted to have his Bris!  He would not get off the table.  He was adamant.  He was already fifteen years late; he would wait no longer!…The Mohel set out to do his holy work.  There was skin tissue to cut, and wounds to suture and cauterize.  The young man just lay there and endured it all.

He tried to be stoic and motionless.  Throughout the excruciating pain, he was silent.  But finally, he could be silent no more. It was just too painful.  He let out a blood-curdling scream…

Read More.

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“Watch Your Step!” (2004)

… I walked into my Bible class at one of the facilities where I am a chaplain, and presented them with a provocative question.  “How do we know,” I asked, “that G-d gave the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai?”

I wasn’t quite prepared for the response.  A little lady with a kerchief on her head — I’ll call her “Mrs. Cohen” — who almost always sat quietly through my various classes, called out, in a very German accent, “Because it says so in the Tow-raw!” (For those unfamiliar with the German pronunciation: Tow-raw — “Tow,” rhyming with “now”, and “raw,” rhyming with “saw.”)

I was frustrated.  She broke my momentum.  Sure, I thought, SHE believes that, but what about every one else?

“Yes, of course,” I continued, “it says so in the Torah.  But how do we know that the Torah’s description is actually what happened?”

“Because it says so in the Tow-raw!”

I gave up…

Read More.

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“A Tale of Two Kings” (2002) 

[TORAH TALK IN THE JEWISH PRESS:  This message from 2002, updated for the 2007 political season, appeared as an Op-Ed in the Jewish Press.]

…The Egyptians were concerned about the growth of the Jewish population. The Israelites were increasing by leaps and bounds. … The Egyptian people demanded that their king address their “Jewish Problem.”

The king, who at first had demonstrated a bit of integrity, refused. He couldn’t bring himself to take action against Joseph’s people. Joseph had been so good to Egypt. The masses wouldn’t take no for an answer. They ousted the king.

Spending three months as an ex-king was more than he could bear. Thus, “a new king arose over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph.” The “new” king with a new attitude conveniently “didn’t know,” or, at least ACTED as if he didn’t know Joseph. The persecution began…

Read More.

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“Mother Goose Lied to Us!” (2002)

Moses was pained over the status of his nation.  They were persecuted and afflicted.  The Israelites weren’t just slaves who were forced to work; they were treated like animals.  Moses couldn’t understand why the Children of Israel were suffering so greatly.  He couldn’t understand why G-d had not yet taken His People out of Egypt.  Was He angry with them?…

 Read More.

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“A Helping Hand” (2001)

…Bisya adopted the child and raised him in the palace.  She named him Moshe, “because I drew him (“MISHISIYHU” in Hebrew) from the water.”  (Exodus, 2:10) … the name “Moshe” seems to be grammatically incorrect.    A more accurate name would be “Mashui,” which would mean “one who is drawn.” …

Read More.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on December 26, 2002 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

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