January 14 2012/19 Tevet 5772 Shabbat Shemot

It doesn’t take us long to get to know Moshe. In the very first episode we read of his adult life, we see he’s an activist. He’s not afraid to insert himself into a situation when he sees injustice. His impulsive response to seeing an Egyptian taskmaster beating an Israelite slave, his attempted intervention when two Israelites are fighting, and his defense of the Midianite sisters at the well serve as his resume. God takes note, and offers him the job of leading the Israelites to freedom.

But activism doesn’t always go as planned. The parashah is bracketed by two stories of activism that aren’t at all appreciated by those on whose behalf he acts. Upon intervening in the Israelite conflict, he is rudely rebuffed: “Who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” says the aggressor in that fight (Exodus 2:14). Such a negative reaction to activism makes it clear to Moshe that he can’t stay in Egypt.

Again, at the end of the parashah, Moshe goes with Aharon to demand from Pharaoh Israel’s release, only to see Pharaoh intensify the enslavement. Then, he and his brother are again accosted by frustrated Israelite foremen: “May the LORD look upon you and punish you for making us loathsome to Pharaoh and his courtiers–putting a sword in their hands to kill us” (5:21).

It’s enough to make Moshe critique God’s plan to hire him and send him to Pharaoh; he’s only made things worse.

How is it that the man who is so principled in chapter 2 can be so humbled as to consider himself hopeless by chapter 5? Apparently, not everyone loves an activist, then or now. What are the common critiques of those who pursue activism? And do those critiques fit the Moses story?

We’ll discuss this further in shul on Shabbat morning. Hope to see you there!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Wise