Friday, January 13, 2012

Two-minute Torah: Moses Slays the Egyptian

You are probably familiar with the story of Moses killing the Egyptian overseer who was beating a Hebrew slave, which appears in Exodus 2:12. 
This act, of course, lead to Moses fleeing Egypt which then lead to his encountering God in the Burning Bush and his return to lead our ancestors out of bondage.

But Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin
, who lived in the early part of the last century, read this incident as an allegory of something far deeper: “And he looked this way, and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and buried him in the sand.” 

Rabbi Shapiro writes: " Moses learned about the oppressiveness of Egyptian culture when he went out among his brethren and saw their suffering. He understood the nature of Egyptian culture. “He looked this way and that way”: he turned to the Left and to the Right, to all the different parties and classes, seeking help from them; “and saw that there was no man”: and there was not a single individual willing to stand by the weak; “and he slew the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.” It was then that he killed the Egyptian within his heart, divorcing himself totally from Egyptian culture. "

In other words, according to R. Shapira, the “slaying” of the Egyptian was not literal but a battle within the soul of Moses. Rabbi Shapira of course lived in the early part of the 20th century but after the Communist takeover of Russia
. He understood that whatever differences might exist between the left and the right in Eastern Europe they were not very different in their attitudes vis-à-vis Jews and Judaism. He also understood that a society is judged on how it treats the weakest and most vulnerable members. Moses needed to slay the “Egyptian in his heart” to embrace his destiny and his role.

The hardest struggles are not external but internal. All of us have an "Egyptian" in our heart whom we constantly need to struggle against and kill off.

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