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Parsha Shemot

12/27/2018 09:15:33 PM


Sefer Shemos introduces the character of Moshe Rabeinu, the first and quintessential leader of the Jewish people in their embryonic form.  As much as the Torah is the collective story and history of the Jewish people, it is also very much the story of one individual, Moshe, of his triumphs and vicissitudes in controlling and motivating a young and stubborn nation.  An obvious requisite for any leader is to connect to his subjects and relate to their needs.  Precociously displaying this capacity, Moshe left the affluence and luxury of the palace he found himself in to identify or at least relate to the suffering of his brothers in their servitude.  “And he saw in their pain” is explained by Rashi to mean that Moshe channeled the imagery of his brothers in slavery to the depths of his heart, a place where he too would vicariously feel the hardship and emotion of their affliction.  Moshe’s leadership skills were not contingent on adroit diplomacy or powerful oratory talents- they were skills of compassion and the subtle difference between sympathy and empathy that gave him the ability to overcome speech impediment and other odds to lead the Jews.       

Before writing “And (Moshe) went out to his brothers and saw in their pain,” the Torah prefaces “And Moshe matured.”  R’ Shimon Shkop, in his introduction to Sha’rei Yosher, writes that the implication of the Pasuk is that Moshe’s capacity to view his brothers’ pain was a display of maturity on his part, and the Pasuk is meant to be understood that Moshe’s maturity afforded him the ability to identity with the pain of his brothers.  The root of the word “Vayigdal,” and he matured, is g-d-l, the very letters which quite understandably spell the word Gadol, one who is big or great.  R’ Shimon deduces a very powerful insight into the true definition of “Gadlus” and maturity in general.  From our inception as babies, we perceive our identity and the world at large in the narrowest possible form.  A baby’s mindset is that they are the world and their needs, desires, or discomforts take precedence before anything else because there is nothing else to them at that point.  Missing the cognizance that someone wakes up when they cry, a baby will cry incessantly through the night because “I want something.”  When the baby grows a bit and develops sensitivity to their parents’ needs, their identity and scope of the “I” inside undergoes a metamorphosis in the sense that the parents become a part of their perception of life and their inner core self has grown.  With each person added to their perception- be it a sibling, a peer, and eventually a friend- the “I” is further expanded to include others in the person’s thoughts and feelings.   The perpetual cycles of life continue to incorporate others in a person’s associative identity- nationality, race, ethnicity, marriage, children, charity cases, and “students” of all forms.  This is known, says R’ Shimon, as the life-long process of maturity when the “I” inside is inexorably enlarged to let others in to the inner chambers of identity.   A “Gadol” is great specifically because he allows so many people into his personal self and shoulders their struggles to protect and help them.  This is perhaps the depth behind the saying at a Bris Millah- “Zeh Hakatan Gadol Yiheyeh.”    

There is another angle and perspective on the definition of “Gadlus” which stems from an understanding of the context for the first usage of the word g-d-l in the Torah.  On the fourth day of creation, the Pasuk says that God created two luminaries in the sky- “Hamaor Hagadol”- the sun to dominate during the day- and “Ham’or Hakatan”- the moon to dominate at night.  Simply understood, the sun is Gadol and the moon Katan because the sun is plainly larger in physical stature than the moon.  However, there are commentators who express another idea which points to the scientific disparity of how the sun and moon produce their light.  The sun is a source of light itself, constantly producing the energy to sustain the world, while the moon is merely reflecting the light produced from the sun.  The greatness of the sun is that its “actions” have ramifications far beyond the immediate result, and the smallness of the moon is that it can never be a source of life itself and is rather always dependent upon another producer.  This “cause and effect” capacity that is so inherent in Creation is the very capacity that each human being has before him to utilize in becoming a “great” person.  A person who acts as a “source” to inspire and kindle consequences far into the unknown is great, whereas a person who waits to be inspired and stimulated from another source is dependent and small.  

These two perspectives on Gadlus are similar and yet worlds apart from each other.  The first seeks to incorporate others in personal identity and thrives by having others involved in feelings and thoughts, while the second seeks stronger and deeper results from life.  The first is more personal, cozy, and visceral; the second a bit more aloof, goal-oriented, and intellectual.  People relate differently to each of these themes, and perhaps we all relate to both on some level.  A facet of our makeup craves connection to others in a way that the first theme advocates, and a facet of our makeup motivates us to achieve and strive for significance and enduring results from life.  We all wish for that perfect balance between family and career, relationships and attainment, goals and memories, time feeding off others and time feeding others.  The true leader exploits both of these ideas to feel the entirety of his subjects in his identity- their problems, needs, and wishes- and he also simultaneously provides his subjects with a source of vitality, inspiration, and spirituality for them to attach themselves to. 

Mon, November 29 2021 25 Kislev 5782