“A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son, and [when] she saw him that he was good, she hid him for three months.”(Exodus 2:1-2)
After Pharaoh’s decree that all the male children should be cast into the Nile River, a young Israelite couple have a third child secretly and become very concerned for his welfare. After three months, “when she could no longer hide him, she took for him a reed basket, smeared it with clay and pitch, placed the child into it, and put i into the marsh at the Nile’s edge. His sister stood from afar, to know what would be done to him.”(ibid:3-4)
The little basket is discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter who understood that “This is one of the children of the Hebrews”. Yet she was intent on keeping and raising this child. On the one hand this little baby was saved from extinction but it was clear that he was headed into spiritual exile form his family and his roots.
Yet the baby’s sister courageously steps forward and asks, “Shall I go and call for you a wet nurse from the Hebrew women, so that she shall nurse the child for you?”(ibid 7). Pharaoh’s daughter agrees and this baby is then nursed and raised and sung to by his own Israelite mother for over two years.
The rest of his adolescent years, Moshe (Moses) is raised up in the palace of the king. Yet it is clear that he did not forget his family, his people and his roots as is evidenced in the later verses.
“Now it came to pass in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers. “(Exodus 2:11). Moshe crossed over into trying to experience the lives of the oppressed because they were “his brothers”.
In his seemingly first personal encounter with the cruelty of slavery and oppression, he responds with the surety and determined power of a man raised in royalty. “He saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brethren He turned this way and that and saw that there was no man , so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”(ibid 2:11-12).
Yet his upbringing with all the honor and privilege he was accustomed to, caused him much frustration as well. The author of the HaEmeq Davar writes that the verse does not say “he did not see any man” but rather “he saw there was no man(eesh) .” He looked around and saw people, but there was no one that could or would stand up for justice. There was no one to stand up as a man. All around the area were the oppressors and the oppressed. He could not truly understand the pain or the sense of hopelessness that enveloped “his brothers”.
As a result he also could not understand how such oppression could turn the victims against each other. “He went out the next day and behold two Hebrew men were fighting. He said to the wicked one “Why should you strike your fellow. He replied “Who appointed you as a dignitary, a ruler, and a judge over us? Do you propose to murder me as you murdered the Egyptian?”(ibid 2:13-14)
It is at this point at the age of twenty (some suggest forty) that Moshe gives up on his people and attempts to escape into anonymity. We do not hear about him again until the age of eighty.
What happened during those sixty years of silence? What did he experience that would give him back the powers to be the leader that he needed to become?
We know of only four things. He became a “husband”, a “father” and a “shepherd”. It was these first three that would prepare him for the fourth event, that of “encountering the burning bush”.
Moshe could not understand the psychology of his oppressed brethren because he had grown up with the sense that everything was possible and within reach. He could not comprehend an experience wherein one’s time, one’s future and even one’s life was out of one’s control.
In the sixty years of silence he grew into deeper awareness and understanding. He grew to appreciate ‘the affection and empathy’ of a loving husband, the ‘willingness to sacrifice’ of a father and the painstaking ‘care and concern’ of a shepherd. With those three experiences at hand he was ready to understand the message of the fourth event, the burning bush.
After the age of eighty Moshe is confronted with the burning bush on Horev, the mountain of G-d. Moshe makes a determined decision to investigate this mystery: “And Moshe said: ‘I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” (Exodus 3:3). With that determined step out of anonymity, Moshe receives a clear message that just as this small burning bush was not to be consumed, the people of Israel, his people, were not to be consumed by the fires of slavery, either.
Moshe is clearly being told not to lose faith in his people. Moshe the husband, father and shepherd understood that they are capable of, and destined for, greater things.
LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved