SALT - Sunday, 15 Tevet 5776 - December 27, 2015

  • Rav David Silverberg

            As Moshe observed the plight of the Israelite slaves in Egypt, he came upon an Egyptian taskmaster beating a slave, whereupon he “turned this way and that and saw there was no man; he struck the Egyptian and buried him in the sand” (2:12). 

The simple meaning of the verse, of course, is that Moshe looked around him to ensure nobody would witness his act.  Rashi, however, citing the Midrash (Shemot Rabba 1:29), explains that Moshe prophetically looked into the future and saw that this taskmaster would not produce any offspring that would join Benei Yisrael.  Once he felt assured that no potential converts would be lost if this taskmaster would be killed, Moshe beat him to death.

            It appears that Chazal seek to clarify that Moshe did not react viscerally to the injustice that he saw.  He acted with prudence, carefully weighing the potential long-term consequences of killing the Egyptian.  Whereas the brevity of the text might give the impression that Moshe’s violent reaction was rash and impulsive, the Midrash insists that Moshe first thought carefully to ensure that this extreme course of action was warranted.

            Chazal here convey to us the vital message that before we “strike” another – even in the figurative sense of the word – we must very carefully consider the long-term repercussions of this decision.  Certainly, there are times when criticism and punitive measures are appropriate, but this decision must never be made as a visceral response to wrongdoing.  We must first consider how the harsh words or punishment might affect the child or student in the long-term.  Although we do not have the benefit of prophetic foresight as Moshe did, we must nevertheless use our common sense and sound judgment before “striking” to ensure that the desired effect will be achieved without long-term negative consequences.

(Based on an article by Rav Ron Yitzchok Eisenman)