Shabbat Parashat Shemot| 5764
When a Word is a WordHarav Yosef Carmel
One of the accounts where we see Moshe Rabbeinu’s fine personal qualities shine through is when he saved the daughters of Yitro from the shepherds and gave their flock to drink. Moshe’s reward came promptly. “Vayoel Moshe to live with the man, and he gave his daughter, Tzipora, to Moshe” (Shemot 2:21). Moshe who was pursued for decades (see Ramban, Shemot 2:23), did not hesitate to take on the masses and, in return, received warm hospitality in a strange land.
The term “vayoel Moshe” is explained in different ways. Rashi’s first explanation is that Moshe agreed to live with Yitro. The difficulty with this explanation is that it should be self-evident that Moshe would agree to such a generous offer. The Midrash brings another couple explanations: 1. To dwell (based on Shoftim 19:6). 2. To begin, in this case, to watch the flock. These explanations also have the problem that they appear to be minor points that wouldn’t seem fit to merit the Torah’s attention.
Therefore, we will concentrate on Rashi’s other explanation, that vayoel comes from the root “alah,” which means an oath. Moshe swore that he would not leave Midyan without Yitro’s permission. One of the advantages of this explanation, which is found in Nedarim 65a, is the number of places in Tanach where the term has to do with oaths (see Shmuel I 14:24; Melachim II 5:23; Yechezkel 17:12). Another advantage is that it refers to a more significant event than do the other explanations. But, perhaps, of greatest significance is that it sets the stage for another glorious ethical characteristic of this future leader of our nation. Moshe showed reliability in fulfilling his promise to Yitro to the fullest extent.
The midrash (Devarim Rabba 11:2) stresses this idea in a most beautiful way. The famous p’sukim in Tehillim deal with the questions, “Who will go up on the mountain of Hashem, and who will stand in the place of His holiness?” (Tehillim 24:2). The answer is that Moshe is the one to have that distinction, and why? It is because he was “one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (ibid.:3) (namely, he didn’t steal and his heart was pure with fear of Hashem) The pasuk continues that “he didn’t raise up his soul for falsehood and did not swear in a deceiving manner.” The midrash says that this refers to Moshe’s oath to Yitro.
What is the result of the attributes of such a leader? “He shall carry a blessing from Hashem” (ibid.:4), which the midrash understands as causing a blessing to others. Moshe’s beginning as a man of chesed, who stood up for the weak, and his continuation as a pillar of trustworthiness, brought blessing upon him and the nation he led.
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