By Ezra N. Rich
I dedicate this Jewish Thought in memory of my special high school rebbe, Rabbi Label Dulitz (HaRav Aryeh Leib ben Moshe), ZT”L, as today—20 Tevet—is his first yahrzeit. Rabbi Dulitz was a devoted disciple of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, ZT”L (1903-1993) and in his unique way looked out for his students during his nearly 50 years of teaching.
While humility and altruism are often in short supply in growing segments of the greater culture, they are center stage in this week’s Parshah (Torah Portion) Shemot. This year, the portion is further poignant as I mark my 25th Bar Mitzvah anniversary this Shabbat.
Opening the Book of Exodus, we have the first look at Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses). We are told of Moshe’s inspiring birth and the courageous acts by his mother, sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter, for him to just survive as a newborn and an infant.
Growing up in the royal court, Moshe could have spent his youth and early adulthood assimilating into the highest ranks of Egyptian society. Instead, he speaks and acts out against injustice in three instances: between an Egyptian taskmaster and an Israelite, between two Israelites, and then between shepherds and Yitro’s (Jethro’s) daughters in Midian.
The Torah reflects this maturity in two ensuing versus: “The child grew [VaYigdal], and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moshe, ‘because,’ she said, ‘I drew him out of the water. One day, when Moshe had grown up [VaYigdal], he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. And he noticed an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his bothers” (Ex. 2:10-11).
According to the preeminent commentator Rashi (1040-1105), the first VaYigdal notes Moshe’s physical maturity. The second VaYigdal, explains Rabbi Soloveitchik, ZT”L refers to Moshe’s character growth, as he ascends toward greatness by moving beyond personal concerns to those of others.
At perhaps the most famous and exhilarating part of the Parshah, the Burning Bush, Moshe initially comes upon this sacred ground because he was dutifully caring for his father-in-law’s sheep, taking them to a more private area and being sensitive to those that strayed from the flock. Again, he was not just concerned with what was easiest for him, but rather, with what was best for his father-in-law’s animals. Similarly, he doesn’t seek the staff of leadership, suggesting that his older brother Aharon (Aaron) is more qualified.
Every Pesach (Passover) as we read the Hagaddah at the Seder, I am fortunate to recite many verses from my Torah portion. Yet, as many know, Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) is absent from this sacred text that frames our most-practiced Jewish ritual, except for a passing mention.
Blessed with my father’s speech-writing assistance with my Bar Mitzvah Dvar Torah, I noted that we learn later in the Torah that Moshe was “more humble than any other man on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). Moshe was not focused on himself, rather he cared about others. VaYigdal, he grew up.
As we begin this new book of the Torah, may we always strive to grow up in Moshe’s modest path. Shabbat Shalom.
Ezra N. Rich, Marketing Communications Manager at Uniland Development Company, proudly serves of the boards of Buffalo Jewish Federation and Temple Beth Tzedek, where he will be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah anniversary on Shabbat morning.