“From Whence Shall Come My Salvation?”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Shemot, is the opening portion of the book of Exodus, also known as Sefer Shemot, the second of the five books of the Torah. The book of Shemot concerns the period of time during which the twelve tribes of Israel are transformed into a single nation through the common experiences of enslavement in Egypt, the exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea.

Parashat Shemot opens with the birth of Moses who is saved from the Nile River by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace. Despite being raised as Egyptian nobility, young Moses sees the Israelites as his brothers. (Shemot 5763-2002).

When Moses encounters an Egyptian smiting a Jew, and no one comes to the Jew’s aid, Moses kills the Egyptian and buries his body in the sand. The very next day, when Moses goes out, he sees two Jews fighting with each other. According to the Midrash Rabba (Exodus 1:28), one of the two men fighting is the very same person who was being beaten by the Egyptian, and whose life Moses had saved. When Moses tried to stop the aggressor, he cries out (Exodus 2:14): “Who appointed you as an authority, a ruler, and a judge over us? Do you propose to murder me, as you murdered the Egyptian?”

Once Moses’ deed became public, Pharaoh sought to kill Moses. The young prince fled to the land of Midian where he sat by the well waiting for the local people to arrive. Soon Moses was again confronted with injustice and felt compelled to intervene.

When Moses saw the shepherds of Midian harassing Jethro’s daughters, not allowing them to water their father’s sheep, he chased the shepherds away and personally watered Jethro’s sheep himself.

Surprised to see his daughters arrive home early, they explained to Jethro,(Exodus 2:19), אִישׁ מִצְרִי הִצִּילָנוּ מִיַּד הָרֹעִים, וְגַם דָּלֹה דָלָה לָנוּ, וַיַּשְׁקְ אֶת הַצֹּאן , thatan Egyptian man saved them from the shepherds, and he even drew water for us, and watered the sheep.

The fact that Moses is identified by the daughters of Jethro as an Egyptian, is not looked upon favorably by the commentators. After all, in Genesis 39:14, when Joseph rejected the advances of Mrs. Potiphar, she clearly identifies Joseph to the servants of Potiphar as a Jew who is mocking them, indicating that Joseph did not hide his origins and publicly identified as a Jew in Egypt. Moses, however, apparently allowed others to think he was an Egyptian and did not correct them. Because of this, says the Midrash, Joseph merited to be buried in the Holy Land, whereas Moses was buried in the Wilderness of Moab.

The Midrash Rabba, Exodus 1:32, raises concerns regarding the verse in Exodus 2:19, “and they [the daughters of Jethro] said that an Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds.” The Midrash asks, “Is Moses an Egyptian? Clearly, he is a Hebrew!” The Midrash then explains, that Moses is referred to as an Egyptian, only because his clothes were Egyptian.

The Midrash also offers an alternate explanation: The term אִישׁ מִצְרִי –“Ish Mitzri” (an Egyptian man), can be compared to a person who is stung by a viper and runs to the water to place his feet in the water to wash off the poison. At the river, he sees a child drowning and saves him. Says the child to his rescuer, “Were it not for you I would already be dead.” He responds, “I did not save you, the viper that stung me, from whom I fled, he saved you!”

When the daughters of Jethro congratulated Moses for saving them from the hands of the shepherds, Moses responded, “It was not I. It was the Egyptian man whom I killed who saved you!” That is why the daughters said to their father, “Ish Mitzri” an Egyptian man, meaning: The only reason Moses wound up coming all the way to Midian and wound up near Jethro was because of the Egyptian man whom he killed!

Very often in life, we find salvation, or an inordinate amount of good, coming from the most unforeseen and unexpected sources. The well-known Jewish writer, Rabbi Hanoch Teller, tells of a truly generous and righteous person who volunteered to donate a kidney to a total stranger. When preparing for the removal of his kidney, the doctors found a cancerous growth that they removed, saving his life.

How often do we hear of Holocaust survivors, who survived against all odds, and went on to achieve great success in business and in life, in no small measure, due to the fortitude and resourcefulness they had developed in times of adversity?

Many of us never realize or acknowledge the role that the “Egyptian man” plays in each of our lives, the hardships, and challenges, the struggles that strengthen our inner core, bequeathing us the power to succeed and prevail.
That is why it is so important to view each of life’s challenges, as opportunities to strengthen ourselves, to develop new talents and new approaches to future obstacles we will inevitably encounter. Sometimes this is achieved by working with the challenges, rather than succumbing to them in frustration.

Many of life’s experiences can be resolved through greater diligence and personal growth. We all need to identify our own “Egyptian man,” to see our challenges, not as roadblocks, but as fresh opportunities and blessings, that will undoubtedly result in ever-greater accomplishments.

May you be blessed.