Thursday, January 3, 2013

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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