There is really very little in last week’s Parasha that teaches us about what Rabbi Isaac Cardoso called “The Excellencies of the Hebrews,” the positive character of the Israelites that gave them the merit of becoming the Chosen People. After their liberation from their Egyptian masters, the people of Israel had to face several challenges: lack of water, food shortages, and war: Amaleq’s attack. Of course HaShem was with Israel, gave them water and food and helped them defeating Amaleq. We have seen that the people complained, protested and even expressed their desire to return to Egypt …. Where are the virtues of Israel that make them worthy of receiving the Tora?
There is an EXTRAORDINARY Pasuq in this week’s Parasha that if we read it carefully we would discover one of the most wonderful qualities of our people, that might have contributed to our merit of receiving the Tora.
וישב משה לשפט את העם ויעמד העם על משה מן הבקר עד הערב
“And Moshe sat down to judge the people; and the people waited [to see] Moshe from morning till night “(Shemot 18:13)
This pasuq, apparently refers just to Moshe and his incredible humility. Moshe judges the people, as arbitrator or mediator, from morning till night. Then Yitro arrives and tells Moshe that he is not acting well, and that he must delegate and assign more judges and minor courts. Moshe accepts the advice of his father-in-law and acts upon it. The unusual thing about this gesture is that Moshe could have told his father-in-law: “Mr. Yitro, thank you but I do not need your advice. Don’t you know that I SPEAK DIRECTLY TO GOD? “ Or something like that. This episode shows us why Moshe was called by the Tora “the most humble man on the face of the earth”, which can only be said of someone who acts with the utmost humility, having all the reasons to feel “superior” to others…
But if we stop to examine these words a little more carefully, we will discover something wonderful that will reveal to us the true character of Am Israel.
In the history of mankind there were many slaves that rebelled against their owners and escaped into freedom. In the days of the Roman Empire (70 BCE), for example, the great gladiator Spartacus led the rebellion that allowed some 70,000 slaves to free themselves from Rome. But once they were free, the slaves “among themselves”, behaved with anarchy. The rebellion of Spartacus failed because there was no internal discipline. Everything was chaos and the law of the jungle prevailed. With no Law and Order the rebellion collpaesed.
Now let’s see again what our pasuq says. Just a few days ago the Hebrew slaves obtained their freedom. We are not talking about 100, 1,000 or 70,000 people. Counting women, the elderly and children, it is estimated that there were at least 3 million individuals. “Chaos” and “anarchy” was expected and predictable.
However, the individuals of the people of Israel decided to resolve their disputes and problems “among themselves” in an incredibly advanced and civilized way: they came to Moshe Rabbenu for mediation! Imagine two neighbors, two physically strong slaves, used to the violence of slavery and to solving their differences with their fists. The two neighbors have a problem: “This chicken is mine!” says one. “No, it is mine” says the other one. Usually in a society without law and order, the chicken will remain in the hands of the strongest! But incredibly, spontaneously and without Divine Instruction (there is no report of a Divine command as to how the people should resolve their internal conflicts), these slaves decided to settle their disputes in another way: waiting patiently in line, from early in the morning, for Moshe’s arbitration.
This might be the most relevant Pasuq of the Tora in regard to the exceptional virtues of the people of Israel.
And it leaves me thinking: So far, the Tora mentioned that HaShem was going to deliver Israel from Egypt; to take Israel as His people and to bring them to the land of their ancestors. But the Tora did not mention anything about HaShem giving them a Law…
Is this Pasuq hinting that it was Israel who took the first step toward deserving the most extraordinary code of laws, the Tora, the law that comes directly from HaShem?
Something to think about during this special Shabbat.