Be a ManJanuary 2, 2013 - 5:00 am
“Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”—Exodus 2:12
This Torah portion for this week, Shemot, is from Exodus 1:1—6:1 and Isaiah 27:6–28:13; 29:22–23.
Moses’ life is filled with highlights — when God appeared to him in the burning bush; when he parted the Red Sea; when he brought down the Ten Commandments. However, perhaps the most defining moment of Moses’ life came in a lesser known episode when Moses was walking one day and saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite. What happened next would define his life.
Until that moment, Moses was on a path toward becoming the next ruler of Egypt. Sure, he had been born an Israelite, but once he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, he became heir to the throne. As providence would have it, Pharaoh’s daughter hired a nursemaid for her new baby, and not just any nursemaid – she hired Moses’ own mother! So Moses grew up with the values of his mother and a love for the children of Israel —a very un-Egyptian attitude.
Moses was conflicted, even if he didn’t know it. On one hand, he was a proud Egyptian. On the other hand, he felt connected to the Israelites. These feelings stayed buried until the day that Moses could no longer ignore them. As Moses watched an Egyptian unjustly beat an Israelite, these conflicting emotions bubbled over. How would he respond?
The Egyptian in him would look the other way and support the right of his fellow kinsman to beat a slave. But the Israelite in him screamed out for justice. Moses didn’t know what to do. The verse says that Moses looked “this way and that” and saw no one.
The Sages explain the verse thusly: Moses looked this way – toward his Egyptian self. And that way – toward his Israelite personality. And he saw no one – he didn’t see an identity! He wasn’t either of those! He didn’t fit the description of an Egyptian or an Israelite.
And in that moment, he made a decision. Moses chose his Israelite side and “killed the Egyptian” within him. And the rest is history.
In Judaism there is an expression that says, “In the place where there is no man, be a man.” This means that when no one will stand up for what is right, we have to assume that role. But it also means that when we haven’t taken a stand on something important, we need to step up and ‘be a man.’ Sometimes we need to choose an identity and take a side.