Thursday, December 19, 2013

Moshe's reaction to his killing the Mitzri -- a lesson in bitachon

After killing the Egyptian who he saw hitting a Jewish slave, “Vayira Moshe,” was afraid, and he said, “Achein noda ha’davar – The matter is known.”  The Torah then continues that Pharaoh heard of the incident and wanted to kill him (2:11-15).

Rashi offers two interpretations of “Vayira Moshe”: 1) “k’peshuto” - the plain meaning is correct; 2) Midrash – Moshe was afraid lest the existence of talebearers in Bnei Yisrael be a sign that the people are not worthy of redemption.

Maharal explains that geulah = pnimiyus.  Redemption comes from within, from the depths of a person’s personality/soul that remains unspoiled and untainted having never been exposed to the outside.   People who go around revealing secrets and talking about things that should not be spoken of turn their pnimiyus into chitzoniyus.  There is nothing they hold back inside from which geulah can spring.

Again, on “V’chain noda ha’davar,” Rashi offers two interpretations that parallel his previous comments: 1) “k’mashma’o” – the plain meaning is correct [is there a difference between “k’peshuto” and “k’mashma’o?”]; 2) Midrash – now I know why the Jewish people suffer such harsh persecution.

Moshe of course knew that there was a gezeirah from Bris bein Habesarim that Bnei Yisrael would suffer galus, but until now he did not understand why the severity of their enslavement was so great (taz - Divrei David).

Why does Rashi offer Midrashim when the peshuto or mashma’o of the pesukim works?  What difficulty in the text does the Midrash help address that the peshuto does not?

The answer can be gleaned from the short comment of the Seforno, who writes on “VaYira Moshe” that therefore Moshe took precaution and fled.
וַיִּירָא משֶׁה. וּבְכֵן נִשְׁמַר לְנַפְשׁו וּבָרַח
The Torah is not a modern novel – we don’t usually have explorations of the inner psyche of characters.  If the Torah tells us Moshe was afraid, it does so only as a prelude to explaining some future action, in this case Moshe’s running away.

The Seforno’s comment glosses over the fact that there is an entire half a pasuk between “VaYira Moshe..” and his flight.  Before Moshe runs we first read that “Vayishma Pharoah… vayivakesh la’harog es Moshe” (2:15), Pharoah heard of the matter and set out to kill Moshe.  It was not fear alone which put Moshe on the road to Midyan – it was Pharoah trying to kill him! 

The Midrash avoids this difficulty.  Moshe’s fear becomes significant not as the motivation behind Moshe’s flight, which only takes place after Pharoah hears of the matter, but rather as a source of his understanding of the galus.  (It’s interesting that this one incident involving just two people was enough to shed light on why all of Klal Yisrael deserved such brutality and to cause Moshe to question whether the entire nation was fit for geulah.)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likutei Sichos vol 36) tries to explain derech derush how to read the "Vayira Moshe..." according to the k'peshuto of Rashi without jumping ahead to Moshe's flight like the Seforno does.  He develops a yesod in bitachon based on the Chovos HaLevavos, who writes:

 שיהי' מי שבטח עליו בתכלית הנדיבות והחסד למי שראוי לו ולמי שאינו ראוי לו ותהי' נדי­בותו מתמדת וחסדו נמשך לא יכרת ולא יפסק

Bitachon does not mean belief that there are no obstacles to G-d doing as he pleases – that’s emunah.  And it also doesn’t just mean trusting that however G-d works things out, it must be for the best.  Bitachon means trusting that G-d will deliver the goods, “tov ha’nireh v’hanigeh."  If, for example, c'v someone's car is stuck on the tracks and the train is speeding towards them, bitachon doesn't just mean trusting that even if the train hits that must be good because G-d made it happen -- it means trusting that G-d will stop the train or move the car or come to the rescue.  It will be a "tov" in the sense that we all use and understand that word.   
How is that possible?  This type of good outcome sounds like something only tzadikim can bank on, yet bitachon is for everyone?  If even Ya’akov Avinu worried, “shema yigrom ha’cheit,” how can you or I feel confident that we will merit this “tov ha’nireh v’hanigleh?”  What zechus would warrant such a response?

The answer is that it's thee zechus of bitachon itself.  If someone truly places all his trust in G-d bringing about a good outcome, that alone, irrespective of other merits or lack thereof, will bring about and cause the desired result to happen.  Bitachon elicits G-d's chessed. And to the degree that a person is not yet on such a level and lacks such trust, the result is that much less guaranteed. 

Of course we are speaking of very high levels of bitachon when we talk about Moshe, but still, the Torah itself tells us that he was afraid.  On some level Moshe's bitachon fell short of the level of bitachon a Moshe Rabeinu is measured against.  What happened as a result?  Vayishma Pharoah…  Pharoah took notice and set out to kill him.  There is a direct cause-effect relationship between Moshe’s fear and the negative outcome that immediately followed.

I’m always torn when discussing the topic of bitachon.  The Chassidic model, as reflected in this sicha of the Rebbe, inspires confidence that goodness will win out, but it is hard to escape nagging doubts whether such an outlook is realistic. It is easy to take refuge in the Chazon Ish’s view that bitachon is more a matter of belief that G-d is in control, but perhaps that is just an excuse for not rising to the demands of complete trust in G-d. 


  1. Perhaps this machloket in the definition of bitachon is part of the machloket R' Yishmael and R' Shimon Bar Yochai regarding whether everyone should learn full time or not.

    1. It sounds like a great sevara, but I'm afraid I have to disagree, and I hope you don't mind if I do it as a post instead of just a comment so more people can read it.

  2. ויואל. כתרגומו, (ס"א כמשמעו)

  3. So do you have a rule to go by when it's k'mashma'o and when Rashi says k'peshuto?

  4. Replies
    1. (from Chaim) maybe we need to have bitachon that the answer will come to us and then it will : )