Thursday, January 11, 2007

Vayifen Ko VaCho -- Why Did Moshe Look Around?

Moshe goes out to see the state of his bretheren, and sees an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew. He looks around, this way and that way, sees that there is no one about, and smites the Egyptian.

Shemot 2:12:
יא וַיְהִי בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם, וַיִּגְדַּל מֹשֶׁה וַיֵּצֵא אֶל-אֶחָיו, וַיַּרְא, בְּסִבְלֹתָם; וַיַּרְא אִישׁ מִצְרִי, מַכֶּה אִישׁ-עִבְרִי מֵאֶחָיו. 11 And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren.
יב וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה, וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ; וַיַּךְ, אֶת-הַמִּצְרִי, וַיִּטְמְנֵהוּ, בַּחוֹל. 12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.

Why does he look around? The standard explanation is that he wanted to be sure there were no witnesses to his killing the Egyptian. This fits in with several other cues in the text. Thus, he hides the Egyptian in the sand. He hopes no one finds out about it, and when he intervenes the next day and they refer to his killing of the Egyptian, he knows the matter is known and so he flees. Thus, it makes sense that even beforehand, he is checking that there are no witnesses.

Yet there is another, albeit less likely, possibility, but with nice homiletic implications. He could be looking around to see if anyone else is going to intervene. The Egyptian was striking the Hebrew, and Moshe hoped that someone else might intervene. But he looked all around and saw that there was no ish -- there was no one intervening. Thus, he stepped up and smote the Egyptian. In the aftermath, he thought to hide the body.

This is reading the pasuk in keeping with Hillel's dictum in Pirkei Avot 2:6:
Hillel used to say: A brutish man cannot fear sin; an ignorant man cannot be pious, nor can the shy man learn, or the impatient man teach. He who engages excessively in business cannot become wise. In a place where there are no men strive to be a man.
When he tries to intervene in a similar situation the next day, between two Hebrews, he is asked what right he has to do so - who appointed him. But this for another post.


yingerman said...

uchane noda hadovor
now the thing is known

moshe looked to see. as you said if people were gonna help out, a egyptian was beating a jew to death
seeing as not, as Jews were presumed to be uncapable of any violence, he did what needed to be done to save his brother.
the next day he sees 2 jews about to beat each other, and he realizes that a jew knew how to hit his follow jew, so therefore says the posuk uchayne noda hadovor, I now know that jews lack the achdus therefore not yet deserving of the geula.

not mine
chasam sofer i think.

David Silverberg said...

Josh, if I recall correctly the Netziv says exactly your peshat. Baruch she'kivanta.


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