We begin a new book this Shabbat. Exodus begins with the famous words that a new Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph. No doubt many colleagues will be preaching on this verse as the coincidence of this change in history takes place with Inauguration Day. Like wise, in Exodus 3, we have the famous verses that depict the “call” of Moses at the burning bush. There is the birth of Moses and the trauma associated with his rescue and rise to power within Egypt. Indeed, this opening portion is filled with drama and action on so many levels. Yet, there is a verse that I think also speaks to us in this era of change, the verse from Exodus 2:11.
The context is that Moses has grown and one day witnessed the toil of the Israelites, whom the Torah says he understood as his”brethren”. The verse reads: “Some time later, when Moses had grown up (va’yigdal”),he went out to his brethren/kinsfolk (“echav”) and saw their suffering/toil. (2:11) Please look at the word “va’yigdal”. The root of the word is known to us as the word for big: “gadol”. The sense is that this event took place when Moses became “big”. Translations see in it the sense that this took place when he had grown up. No age is given, however. Now notice the linkage between when Moses “grew up” and his seeing the suffering of his people. One commentator notes that”Moses bacame great when he went out to his brethren and saw their suffering.
How very relevant for all of us. This word, “va’yigdal” speaks to a moment when, we hope, we can grow emotionally to empathize with and respond to the suffering of others. It is part of a psycho-spiritual growth, we hope, that each of us exhibits. We become truly human when we step out of our own world and see and then get involved with those who need help. This is part of growth and maturity as a human being. This emotional maturity is contrasted to a physical maturity which is alluded to in Exodus 2:10. How interesting is it that Torah makes this distinction between physical growth and emotional growth.
One of the characteristics of Boomers has been the rise in the desire to “give back” something to the world. It is this desire to respond to the needs of people that marks one’s own maturity. The lesson from this one word in this week’s portion is a lesson that we all need to heed. When suffering exists, we “grow” as a person and as a society by witnessing it and then getting involved to correct it. There is much to do.
Rabbi Richard F Address