SALT - Monday, 18 Tevet 5777 - January 16, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Torah in Sefer Shemot tells of how Pharaoh’s daughter discovered Moshe in the river as she bathed.  We read that when she opened the basket in which Moshe had been hidden, she found a “na’ar bokheh” (“a lad crying” – 2:6).  Rashi, citing the Gemara (Sota 12b), notes that the Torah refers to Moshe, a three-month-old infant, with the term “na’ar,” which is generally used in reference to a teen or young adult.  The use of this term here, the Gemara explains, indicates that Moshe’s voice resembled that of a young adult, even while he was an infant.

            How might we understand this Talmudic teaching, that Moshe’s voice as he cried in his basket resembled the voice of an adult?

            An insightful explanation of the Gemara’s comment was offered by Rav Yisrael Alter of Ger, the Beit Yisrael (as cited by the Tolna Rebbe).  He suggested that the Gemara means to say that all the tears Moshe would ever shed during his life were shed during his infancy.  During his younger years, he cried the tears that would normally be shed in adulthood.  The significance of this description, the Beit Yisrael explained, is that a leader cannot “weep.”  Although he must certainly empathize with people’s suffering and feel their pain, he must remain emotionally sturdy.  The rigors and demands of leadership do not allow for emotional fragility.  When others cry, the leader must remain strong and provide encouragement, inspiration and practical guidance.  When others are too distraught to think clearly and rationally, the leader must bring sound, sensible and calculated solutions.  This, the Beit Yisrael suggested, is the meaning of the Gemara’s unusual description of Moshe’s cries as an infant.  He completed his lifetime of weeping during his younger years, as it were, such that he did not need to cry as an adult.  By the time he became the leader and teacher of Benei Yisrael, he had the emotional strength and fortitude to provide effective leadership even in times of crisis and anguish.

            The standard described by the Beit Yisrael might, understandably, strike us as unreasonable, or at least out of reach for the vast majority of people, and we might even question his theory in light of the fact that Yosef, a very successful leader, wept on numerous occasions.  Nevertheless, this insight points to the need to remain strong during trying times.  We must not break down whenever adversity strikes, and must instead make an effort to remain calm and clear-headed, and make sound, rational decisions during times of hardship.