Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
The Rabbis’ writings contain brilliant insights, but they require analysis. They didn’t write in simple terms, or on the surface. Let’s take Rashi’s commentary on the following Biblical verses.
“And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. And he went out the second day, and, behold, two men of the Hebrews were striving together; and he said to him that did the wrong, ‘Why do you hit your fellow?’ And he said, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you think to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?’ And Moses feared, and said, ‘Surely the thing is known’ (Exod. 2:11-14).”
The plain explanation of “Surely the thing is known” refers to Moses concern that his killing of the Egyptian is known. Rashi provides an interesting alternative interpretation of Moses’ sentiment (ibid 2:14):
“The matter is now known to me that I always wondered: What is the sin of Israel from all the 70 nations that they are subjugated to backbreaking servitude? But now I understand that they are fit for this.”
The verse states, “And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian.” How then did Dassan and Aviram learn that Moses killed the Egyptian? A wise Rabbi once said the only explanation is that the Jew Moses saved had informed on him. Amazing! A man has his life saved, and he rats-out his savior? What generates such behavior?
According to Rashi, upon his learning that the Jew whom he saved had informed on him, Moses understood why the Jews were enslaved 150 years prior to this event. But how does this event explain the initiation of the Jews’ servitude to the Egyptians 150 years earlier?
Let’s understand the informant. Despite being beaten, he still viewed the abusive Egyptian as the “authority.” This ill-placed respect is none other than a need for approval. Ego is a base drive in us all. And at times, man sacrifices truth and real concerns, and opts instead for this approval, but his priorities are misconstrued. Nonetheless, we understand what motivated this Jewish informant, however skewed were his priorities.
The informant possessed the identical psychological makeup shared by all mankind. Moses readily associated to the Jews’ initial subjugation to Egypt 150 years earlier. What was Moses’ association? Moses must have discovered a similar scenario where the Jews as a nation acted as this informant. What significant event occurred 150 years earlier that could have precipitated the enslavement? Joseph. The Torah (Bible) teaches it was only after Joseph and his brothers died (Exod. 1) that Egypt subjugated the Jews. The prophet teaches servitude was a punishment for the Jews’ acceptance of idolatry…but why did they accept it? Perhaps this was due to the need for Egyptian approval. The Jews sensed the resentment Pharaoh and Egypt had for Joseph, a Hebrew prisoner attaining viceroy status. The Jews were then resented. Even Joseph, in his later years as viceroy, no longer had a direct channel to Pharaoh (Gen. 50:4). The Jews then adopted idolatry as a means to gain Egyptian acceptance. Moses understood this psychological phenomenon — the need for approval — displayed by the informant, was also the cause of the Jews’ acceptance of idolatry.
In the end, it is not a “Jewish” phenomenon that caused the enslavement, but a human one that merely grew into national appeal within the Jewish mindset. Those circumstances may have very well expressed themselves throughout history where 2 other nations of opposing cultural values lived side by side. But the sin of idolatry is uniquely inexcusable, warranting the Jew’s subjugation. Additionally, the nation of Israel already had a course chartered to lead the world back to Abraham’s monotheism. God’s plan of subjugating the Jew in the refining pot of Egypt perfected the Jews into a nation fit to accept God’s Torah 210 years later.
When Moses said, “I now see why the Jew is fit for this punishment,” he did not mean the Jew possesses some genetic distinction. For as Moses ridiculed such behavior — himself a Jew — he did not possess this trait. Rather, Moses pondered what “sin” — not trait — lead to their enslavement, as Rashi stated clearly.
It may also be true that when one culture strives to placate another, the latter senses superiority and engages it in the form of subjugation. A word to the wise regarding Israel’s attempts to appease the PA.