This Shabbat begins the journey through the Book of Shemot. It is the end of the golden, good times in Egypt. It is the story of a descent into slavery and immense suffering that our sages tell us transformed us into a people.
We also hear about Moses for the first time. What an interesting story. What is it that qualified him to become the instrument of God’s redemption of our people? What is it that qualified him of all people to be the one person with whom God will have such a unique relationship, communicating face to face (so to speak), on such a consistent and ongoing basis?
The text gives us many clues, some involving his life story, some more subtle than others.
We read about Moses in Parshat Shemot 2:10: “The boy grew up (vayigdal hayeled)…” Yet, the very next sentence states, “It happened in those days that Moses grew up (vayigdal Moshe)…” Shemot 2:11. Rashi comments on the apparent redundancy of the word “vayigdal” [and he grew up].
The Torah is telling us that there is “growing up” and there is “growing up.” There is a growing that is physical and a growing that relates to wisdom, maturity, spirituality, sensitivity, compassion, humility, responsibility, accountability and so much more.
The words of the Torah that follow the second use of the word “vayigdal” include reference to Moses going out to see his brethren and their burdens…”
According to Rashi, “vayigdal hayeled” refers merely to Moses becoming a bigger child physically. However, the words “vayigdal Moshe” teach us that Moshe actually became a “Gadol” in the sense that we say an “eesh Gadol” – a great person. It is goodness, but not necessarily greatness when one acts to help others. Our Sages teach us that Moses’ greatness came in his willingness to risk everything to do the right thing. Raised in the palace with not a care or fear in the world, something in his DNA, his sense of justice could not let him rest. Our sources tell us that the extent to which a person can feel and sense of the pain of another is a mark of a person’s greatness. The Torah gives us multiple examples of Moses feeling and sensing the pain of others and acting at his own peril for others.
The message for us is that God expects us to keep growing throughout our lives.
We can certainly grow physically and many of us will resolve today to grow more muscle this year. Health is certainly important, but the growth our Torah is most concerned with is growth of a different kind. It is a growth in the values the Torah holds dear. It is growth in thinking and caring about others, in tzedaka, acts of loving kindness, in teshuvah, forgiveness, compassion and sensitivity.
That is the resolution we can all make today.
We will begin our Shabbat Torah Study again next week on January 9th when Rabbi Rachel Shere will teach us.
Best wishes to each of you for a Shabbat Shalom and a 2016 filled with positive mental, physical and spiritual growth. Is it a coincidence that opportunities for all of those things are available at Adat Shalom Synagogue? I think not.