Tuesday, January 05, 2021

more on who gets the credit for the good deed

Yesterday we talked about the gemara that says the braying of Yaakov's donkey that alerted Leah to Yaakov's arrival home is the "cause" of Yisachar being born.  There is a Midrash in our parsha that has a similar idea, i.e. credit is given to something/someone that seems far removed from the person taking action.

When Moshe first arrived in Midyan, he stopped at the local well where he saw the daughters of Midyan being prevented from watering their sheep by the local shepherds.  Moshe intervened to help them.  Yisro was surprised when his daughters returend home earlier than expected, and they explained (2:19) that  וַתֹּאמַ֕רְןָ אִ֣ישׁ מִצְרִ֔י הִצִּילָ֖נוּ מִיַּ֣ד הָרֹעִ֑ים וְגַם־דָּלֹ֤ה דָלָה֙ לָ֔נוּ וַיַּ֖שְׁקְ אֶת־הַצֹּֽאן׃  The simple pshat in the pasuk is that when they said "ish Mitzri" they meant Moshe, who they thought was an Egyptian.  However, the Midrash explains:

אִישׁ מִצְרִי – מָשָׁל לְאֶחָד שֶׁנְּשָׁכוֹ הֶעָרוֹד וְהָיָה רָץ לִתֵּן רַגְלָיו בְּמַיִם, נְתָנָן לַנָּהָר וְרָאָה תִּינוֹק אֶחָד שֶׁהוּא שׁוֹקֵעַ בַּמַּיִם, וְשָׁלַח יָדוֹ וְהִצִּילוֹ. אָמַר לוֹ הַתִּינוֹק אִילּוּלֵי אַתָּה כְּבָר הָיִיתִי מֵת. אָמַר לוֹ לֹא אֲנִי הִצַּלְתִּיךָ אֶלָּא הֶעָרוֹד שֶׁנְּשָׁכַנִּי וּבָרַחְתִּי הֵימֶנּוּ, הוּא הִצִּילֶךָ. כָּךְ אָמְרוּ בְּנוֹת יִתְרוֹ לְמשֶׁה, יִישַׁר כֹּחֲךָ שֶׁהִצַּלְתָּנוּ מִיַּד הָרוֹעִים, אָמַר לָהֶם משֶׁה אוֹתוֹ מִצְרִי שֶׁהָרַגְתִּי הוּא הִצִּיל אֶתְכֶם, וּלְכָךְ אָמְרוּ לַאֲבִיהֶן אִישׁ מִצְרִי, כְּלוֹמַר מִי גָרַם לָזֶה שֶׁיָּבוֹא אֶצְלֵנוּ, אִישׁ מִצְרִי שֶׁהָרַג.

The Midrash compares Moshe's situation to someone bit by a wild donkey who runs to the river to put the wound in water and save himself.  At the river, the person sees a child drowning and saves the child as well.  The child thanks the man, but the man responds that it is the donkey that deserves the credit, because had he not been bitten, he would never have run to the river.  

So too, Moshe said that he doesn't deserve credit for intervening to help the daughters of Yisro, but rather it is the "ish Mitzri" that he killed in Egypt which led to his being forced to flee who deserves the credit. 

Again, credit seems to go to the "alarm clock," if you will.  Moshe could have walked away and not gotten himself involved in Yisro's daughter's situation.  Why should the Mitzri that caused him to flee and find himself on the spot get any credit for Moshe's choice to act?

I suppose the idea Chazal are trying to teach us here is that events that look bad on the face of things can ultimately lead to positive results.  If you think about it, the whole story of how Moshe came to meet Yisro's daughters seems unnecessary -- we don't learn much about Yisro from the episode or about his daughters, and we already know that Moshe is the type person who intervenes when he sees injustice being done.  Why include it?  Perhaps the whole point is to show on a micro level the good that can come out of a bad situation, which in turn may be telling us something about on the macro level about the galus in general.  As Sefas Emes writes in connection with the burning bush:

 אך זה באמת רצה הקב"ה להראות לו כי אדרבה לפי גודל החושך והגלות נסתר בו אור גדול גנוז והוא בחי' הגאולה. כי הגלות הוא סימן על הגאולה. וכפי רוב קישוי הגלות מורה על תוקף הגאולה. וז"פ הכתוב וכאשר יענו אותו כו' וכן יפרוץ. פי' הכתוב מתרץ עצמו אשר לא יהרהרו אחר הבורא ית' איך הניח לענות את עמו כ"כ כי כפי רוב העינוי כן יהי' אח"כ תוקף הגאולה:

The greater the darkness and difficulty, the greater the light that will emerge in the end.


  1. a little decryption might be helpful here:

    when Yisro was advisor to Paro (alongside Bilam and Iyov), he once suggested that the Egyptian king give his taskmasters regular breaks from their relentless supervisory labors, both to pray, each to his household gods, and to avoid exhaustion (navol tibol). whence Moshe found the Mitzri alone and (seemingly) unobserved, and did kill him (by the Name of G-d, over against the idolatrous murmurs of the ish).

    thus it was Yisro's own enlightened counsel amid Paro's dark reign -- counsel encrypted in his daughters' report (2:19a) -- that 'caused' the eventual geulah shleimah miMitzrayim...

  2. -- "a similar idea" (paragraph 1)

    the two particulars* of the one idea, taken together, express an equation similar to "Yishmael [mother Egyptian]...was spiritually like a chamor" (DC, Sept. 21, '20).

    or is it another similarity that's in play? this latest Midrash tells us "don't lock the box!"** (DC, Dec. 4, '20) against the ish Mitzri-- the same Egyptian man caught whipping a Hebrew slave, might've been one to rescue the seven Midianite sisters from the shepherds, given the opportunity. maybe he'd have had an eye on one of them (Tziporah?), or on a few; or maybe he'd have wanted to play the hero. "salvation...may come from a completely different direction"...

    *an Egyptian man, and a braying donkey

    ** 'don't seal the sandy coffin!' [upon the ish Mitzri]