Sharing Torah Insights

Moshe’s Judgment

Posted on כ״א בטבת ה׳תש״ע (January 7, 2010) | in Shmot | by

וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה, וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ; וַיַּךְ, אֶת-הַמִּצְרִי, וַיִּטְמְנֵהוּ, בַּחוֹל

“And he turned, this way and that and he saw that there was no person. He struck the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.” (Shemos 2:12)

This pasuk occurs after Moshe has left the luxury of Pharoah’s home and goes to see how his Jewish brethren are fairing as slaves. When he sees an Egyptian man beating a Jew, he is unable to bear the injustice and kills him. I have two questions about this pasuk: 1. Since Moshe Rabinu would not have killed someone without them deserving that punishment, why is he looking around to see if anyone will spot him? This type of cautious behavior is usually indicative of someone who is acting inappropriately, and fears he will be caught. Why should Moshe fear someone witnessing his actions when he is killing for just reasons?  2. The Torah never says that the Egyptian died; rather, it just says that he was struck and then he was buried. Is there an explanation for this omission?

The first question is answered by Rashi. He states that וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ means that Moshe perceived through רוח הקודש (divine insight) that there was no one among this man’s (possible) descendants would convert to Judaism. The Targum of Yonatan ben Uziel* gives a more poetic description: “Moshe gazed into his knowledge of the future, and carefully examined each generation: there would not survive from this Egyptian a person would convert…”  Therefore, Moshe’s wasn’t afraid of being caught, rather, the Torah is telling us that he carefully examined the Egyptian’s lineage to ensure that no Jews would be lost if he died.

While this addresses the “sneakiness” problem, none of the מפרשים (commentators) address the second question of why the Torah doesn’t say outright that the Egyptian died. Rashi’s comment on the previous pasuk however sheds light on this issue: Rashi explains that the Egyptian had, the previous night, committed a terrible sin (raping the wife of the Jewish man he was beating). The Egyptian, having realized that the husband knew what he had done, was now driving him to exhaustion and (hopefully) his death. It is an well-known idea that רשעים, those who use their potential solely for the bad, aren’t truly alive in this world. While they are alive in terms of breathing and having a pulse, they are not really living: they are not using their energies to grow and serve Hashem. This could be the reason why the Torah omits וימות (and he died); since, being a רשע גמר (completely evil person), he wasn’t spiritually alive when his physical body died.

In our generation, in Jewish law, we no longer enact the death penalty or even corporal punishment. In fact, we are not allowed to make even mental judgments or determinations about others which cast them in a bad light. We make every effort to judge for the good, even concocting bizarre stories to that effect. So what is to be learned from this incident, where an Moshe Rabinu judged another and acted upon it immediately? Perhaps the lesson is that only someone like Moshe Rabinu, someone with רוח הקודש is in a position to do that. Anyone lacking רוח הקודש  is by necessity missing crucial parts of the picture (i.e. what the person’s motivations are? what is Hashem attempting to achieve by this situation?) and thus unable to accurately judge someone. While we still have the right to hold others accountable for their actions, we cannot approach rebuke with the undue sanctimony that we completely understand the situation and its background/ramifications.

Credit: Mechon Mamre for the Hebrew text and Chabad Rashi for Rashi-help.

*This translation was made possible by the similarity of the Aramaic roots to the Hebrew.

TAGS: , , , ,

Facebook comments:

Leave a Reply

Recent Posts

What’s your goal on Seder night? What are we actually trying to do on Seder night? What is the goal of...

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Support myDvar