Shemot - Shake It Up

by Rebbetzin Malkah

As we enter a new book of the Torah, the history of our people will take a dramatic turn due to the destiny shift of one man - Moshe.  From a royal upbringing to shepherding the wilderness of Midian, one man will hurl himself from all the comforts of the known world to search the depths of his soul and embark on a spiritual quest that will not only transform himself, but lead to the ultimate salvation of his people.

Freeing One‘s Self Before Freeing Others

In this week's Parasha, we are introduced to a murderous plan by Pharaoh to bring about the death of the Jewish nation.  Despite the plan to prevent the savior of the Jewish people from arising, Moshe is born and saved under extraordinary circumstances.  Saved by Miriam's watchful eye and the pity of Pharaoh's daughter, Moshe is reared in the palace of Pharaoh after being weaned by his own mother.  He is immersed in the palace experiences and material splendor.  However, despite his lavish surroundings, the stirring in his soul for his people that was nursed into him as a child overwhelms him.  The cry of his people consumes him and his anguish can no longer be quieted.

"It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens; and 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."

Shemot 2:11-12

The voice inside cannot be silenced - he becomes a judge and a defender, for he knows unrighteousness is all around him.  Though Moshe lives as one of Pharaoh's elite, he takes no comfort in his status.  Instead, he identifies and allies himself with the misery of his people and their plight - a pain which is becoming his own as he sees the cruelty day to day.  Moshe realizes that he is virtually a slave to principles he does not hold fast to - looking in the eyes of the Hebrew slave mirrors this and shocks him into a new reality.  Within an instant, he changes his course in the kingdom as he acts out against the Egyptian aggressor by striking him dead.

But how can one who is considered a prince in Egypt depart from the only home he has ever known?  Why would he risk his status to defend the lowly in Egypt?  The change that was blossoming in Moshe's soul was beginning to be seen by Pharaoh as the very undermining of a dynasty that would have the same effect as a Jewish savior so long ago prophesied.  Moshe was starting to take on the qualities of a ruler, a thinker, and a judge - and for Pharaoh, there could only be one leader.

"He went out the next day and behold! Two Hebrew men were fighting.  He said to the wicked one, "Why would 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?'  Moshe was frightened and he thought, ‘Indeed, the matter is known!'  Pharaoh heard about this matter and sought to kill Moshe; so Moshe fled from before Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian. He sat by a well." Shemot 2:13-15

Why should Pharaoh aggressively pursue him and seek his life for what could be considered an "accident" if Moshe and Pharaoh wished?  What transformation did Moshe expose that led all those around him to see that it wasn't the side of the Egyptians that he was on, but the Hebrews?  And how is it that he wasn't able to make amends with Pharaoh?  Perhaps it was that he didn't desire to and Pharaoh knew that this would indeed be a threat inside his own kingdom. Moshe's role in the murder of the Egyptian meant more than just an outburst of careless emotion - this was an act done not by a boy, but by someone who sought to defy the very order of Pharaoh.  Because of this, Pharaoh would be forced to protect his kingdom against someone rising in the crowd.  Moshe had no choice but to run and save himself not only from Pharaoh's judgment but also from the lie that he was living in the courts of Egypt.

Quenching His Thirst

As he flees and departs from his known life and securities to find truth, he comes into the wilderness of Midian.  The root word of Midian means "place of judgment" - fitting for a man who is searching his core for answers and solace.  His desperate dash into the wilderness affords him not only safety from the pursuant Egyptian monarch but also the simplicity of the desert to collect himself.  He sheds all comforts to save his very life and soul and places himself by that which he is profoundly seeking - clarity and purification - the well.

"AND HE DWELT IN THE LAND OF MIDIAN; AND HE SAT DOWN BY A WELL (ib. II, 15). He adopted the practice of his ancestors. Three met their marriage partners at the well-Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. Isaac- as it is written: And Isaac came from the way of Beer-lahairoi  (Gen. XXIV, 62). Also Rebekah met Eleazar at the well." Midrash Rabbah - Shemot I:32

Thus begins the reviving of Moshe's soul - he knows that he must seek a wife and clarity - he must determine his purpose.  He knows the well will bring him his beshert, as it did for Yitzchak and Yaacov so long ago.  But in keeping with the course of his life, Moshe is not allowed to rest for long beside the well.  He instead is called upon to defend the young shepherdesses of Yitro against the wayward shepherds who are threatening them as they try to draw water for their flock.  As he did with the Hebrew slave in Egypt, he stands up against the oppressors and defends the young maidens.

"The minister of Midian had seven daughters; they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father's sheep.  The shepherds came and drove them away.  Moshe got up and saved them and watered their sheep." Shemot 2:16-17

By this we see that Moshe "got up" - he had renewed vigor to stand up and continue his calling - to stand against oppressors and defend the weak.  He, because of his time by the well, was revitalized and able to draw water for the shepherdesses - very symbolic of the healing of his soul.  He also is able to share his soul with his beshert, Zipporah - one of the seven at the well - and bring about life in the form of a family.

Encountering the Burning Bush, Awakening to the Collective of Souls

Following these events, Moshe spends a great deal of time in Midian as a shepherd.  Hashem ministers to Moshe during those years by nurturing his soul, restoring peace within him and preparing him for the task of his future.  It is when Moshe is healed does Hashem lead Moshe far beyond his usual shepherding grounds to a mountain - the Mountain of G-d.

"Moses was shepherding the sheep of Yitro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; he guided the sheep far into the wilderness, and he arrived at the Mountain of G-d, toward Horeb."          Shemot 3:1

While this initial picture portrays Moshe shepherding Yitro's flock, it is in the second part of the passage that we are clued into a beautiful prophetic vision of Moshe leading the sheep (the Children of Yisrael) far into the wilderness, arriving at Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments.  Coming upon the Mountain of G-d and before the burning bush, Moshe stumbles upon his defining moment - it is through this experience that he would reconnect to his people and set into motion the plan of salvation.  As Moshe approaches the burning bush, Hashem speaks to Moshe:

"And now, behold! the outcry of the Children of Yisrael has come to Me, and I  have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them." Shemot 3:9

The Children of Yisrael cried out - their slavery and suffering was so great that it was time for Hashem to lead Moshe to a burning bush, awaken his compassion, and set His plan in motion.  Hashem helps Moshe to understand that He has seen the oppression and heard the cries of the Children of Yisrael, just as Moshe has in the past.

"During those many days, it happened that the king of Egypt died, and the Children of Yisrael groaned because of the work and they cried out.  Their outcry because of the work went up to G-d.  G-d heard their moaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitzchak, and with Yaacov.  G-d saw the Children of Yisrael; and G-d knew." Shemot 2:23-25

R. Jose said: Just as the thorn-bush is the prickliest of all trees and any bird that goes into it does not come out unscathed, so was the servitude of Egypt more grievous before God than all other servitudes in the world, as it is said: And the Lord said: I have surely seen the affliction of my people." Midrash Rabbah Shemot II:5

He gently stirs the memory and the compassion inside Moshe and reveals that their plight is not only unchanged but even more burdensome. Hashem places Himself and the souls of the Children of Yisrael in the burning bush to show the life, the perseverance, the hope - for just as the bush is not consumed, neither are the Children of Yisrael.  Just as the bush is disdained, so are His people in Egypt.  As Moshe sees the souls of Yisrael, he does not turn away -  just as he couldn't let his stray sheep be lost in the wilderness nor the Hebrew slave suffer beatings.  Hashem helps Moshe to recall why he left Egypt, what he saw there, and gives him a reason to return.  He places before Moshe the challenge to participate in the salvation of not one Hebrew slave, but a whole nation.  The bush would symbolize the commitment and passion of not only Hashem, but of the soul of Moshe himself burning within the flame.  This would be for Moshe an image that would burn into his own soul and give him the strength to be part of a divine plan to save his people and future generations.   Moshe would not lead a life of privilege and security given by man, but a life given over to the servitude of his people and Hashem.  As our Messiah Yeshua denied the luxuries offered in life in order to procure salvation, so too did Moshe step out searching for greater meaning and purpose beyond his daily needs.

Beyond the Daily Bread

Ultimately, the life of Moshe was shaken up from the time of his birth. Moshe was not only a royal member of Pharaoh's household, a witness, a judge and elder, but a prophet and servant of the Holy One.  Moshe's discomfort with the surroundings in Egypt should cause us to question our own surroundings.  For although Moshe's material needs were met, his spiritual needs and the strength of his community were sorely lacking.  The deeper meaning in life was shrouded by Egyptian culture and religion - all of which did not point to the G-d of Yisrael.  The needs of his neshama could not be met in the midst of the suffering and torture of his people and the tyrannical reign of the Pharaoh.  Moshe bucked up against the looming spiritual death of himself as well as his brethren, knowing that there had to be more.  As we stride through each day, do we find ourselves connected to Hashem in our daily actions, or do we find ourselves contributing to building our own society's cultural and spiritual Raamses and Pithoms? Do we have the courage to challenge our own world of materialism and grandeur?  Do we find ourselves defending the cause of the needy, the poor and the downtrodden?  Or are we allowing ourselves to slip into a spiritual stupor, desensitizing ourselves to the cries for help around us in our communities and building up only our society's model of competitiveness and success?

The lesson of Moshe was that he was an active soul - he saw his own soul in the burning bush and found that he could not separate himself from his people, from his calling, from the Divine.  He saw purpose in righteousness and standing up against apathy.  He strove to find his destiny and reconcile the stirring within.  He wasn't content with the status quo and wasn't afraid to question his loyalties and react to his surroundings - even if it meant a complete overhaul of his life and walking into the unknown.

Are we at peace and certain in our spiritual life and surroundings, or do we find we are living a life of contradiction?  Only that deep searching inside will assure that we are truly in the place we are intended to be, and able to fulfill the destiny we were intended to fulfill in Hashem's economy.

Look deep within your life to see if  your soul is aflame with purpose, direction, and clarity ....otherwise, shake it up.

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