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Parashat Shemot – Kindness: The Essence of Greatness


“Moses grew up and went out to his people and saw their suffering.”  With this brief description, the Torah introduces us to the greatest personality of our entire history, “Moses the Lawgiver.”

Rabbi Elimelekh, the renowned sage from Lizhensk, finds in these few words the greatness of Moshe’s character as he interprets this verse to read “Moses became great when he went out to his people and saw their suffering.“ Moshe was an esteemed prince in the royal house of Pharaoh, he had access to all the comforts of royalty and could easily have spent his entire life in luxury. However, the fact that he was a Hebrew and that his people were suffering prevented his enjoying the comforts of his privileged position. In fact our sages state that he went out among the Hebrew slaves and physically assisted them in their hard labor.

The Talmud states in a similar vain that Rabbi Zeira, (3rd century sage) who was orphaned at a very young age, merited a very long life because he never rejoiced in the misfortunes of others. What is meant by obscure statement? It is hardly befitting to praise a great person by citing the virtue that he refrained from something so unbefitting as rejoicing in someone else’s misfortune. Instead it is meant to convey that he could never fully rejoice even in his own happiness as long as he knew that others were less fortunate.

The giving of charity has financial limitations as prescribed by the Torah.

Acts of kindness, however, have no limitations as is stated in a Mishna (Peah 1:1) and incorporated in our daily prayers:

“These are the things that have no limitation…acts of loving kindness”.

The very first description given to us of Moshe is the empathy and concern that he showed for the less fortunate and the selfless devotion he showed to alleviate their suffering, making him worthy to be “Moses our Teacher”.