Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Shemot

In this week’s D’var Torah the Chief Rabbi explains how the Torah presents a true leader to us. 

What a surprise which awaited Pharaoh’s daughter. Parashat Shemot describes how she saw a basket on the waters of the River Nile. “She drew the basket towards herself – vatiftach – she opened it – vatireihu et hayeled – she saw there was a child in it.” “Vehinei na’ar bocheh – Behold, it was a lad who was crying.” “Vatomer – she exclaimed – miyaldei ha’ivrim ze – this must be one of the Hebrew children.”

I have two questions on this passage. First, in one and the same statement, Moshe is described as being a “Yeled” and a “Na’ar.” When she saw him he was a child, when he cried it was the cry of a lad.

And secondly, how did she know that this was one of the Hebrew children?

The Rebbe of Sochatchov explains as follows. When a baby cries, the cry is for itself. It’s hungry, it’s thirsty, perhaps it’s uncomfortable or in pain. At a later time, a child develops the powers of empathy, through which the child’s cry can be for the suffering or pain of others.

Pharaoh’s daughter had noticed something quite extraordinary about baby Moses. His was the cry of a “Na’ar” – of a lad. He had so much to fear and to be uncomfortable about, but he was in tune with the suffering of his people at that time.

And therefore she knew – “miyaldei ha’ivrim ze”– this must be one of the Hebrew children because she was aware that this was a hallmark of the Jewish nation – the capacity always to feel the suffering of others.

Later on, Moshe became a shepherd, and he cared for every single one of his sheep. At an older age, he had emerged from the palace of Pharaoh to seek his brethren when he saw a fellow Hebrew being struck by an Egyptian taskmaster. He was just about to be killed but Moshe saved his life. When he went to a wellsite in Midyan – he stood up for the rights and privileges of total strangers – the seven daughters of Jethro.

Moshe was somebody who empathised with others, who was there for their sake, who was willing to put his head above the parapet, in order to serve the needs of people around him. It is here that the Torah presents to us the makings of a truly great leader: people who care about those around them.

That’s the type of person that Moshe was, from the earliest stages of his infancy – that is why he became our greatest leader of all time.

A true leader is not somebody who is constantly concerned about his or her own power, but rather, somebody who is genuinely concerned about others, and that is why they are in their positions of leadership: to care for those around them.

Shabbat Shalom.

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