3 minutes to read
Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Shemos – Exodus 1:1-6:1
One of the traits Melanie and I most want to instill in our daughter is kindness. If you have a child you know that’s not an easy job. Fortunately, Parshas Shemos clarifies how to accomplish this feat:
"And these are the children of Israel who were coming to Egypt, with Jacob each man and his household came." (Shemos/Exodus 1:1)
In this Sabbath’s parsha, which begins the second book of the Torah, a new Pharaoh succeeds to the Egyptian throne and enslaves the Israelites. He declares all male infants will be killed. Moses is born and Pharaoh’s daughter raises him, nursed by his own mother. He flees to Midian after killing an Egyptian to save a fellow Hebrew’s life. There he meets and marries Zipporah, the daughter of Reuel, also known as Jethro, the priest of Midian.
Moses encounters an angel in a burning bush. G-d appoints him messenger to obtain release of the Children of Israel. Reluctant, Moses eventually bows to the Almighty’s will. He leaves Midian for Egypt and is met by Aaron, his older brother, who becomes his partner in dealing with Pharaoh. They have their first meeting with him and rather than agreeing to their demands Pharaoh makes the enslavement harsher.
Kindness vs. Justice
Hardly anyone would argue with the idea that people ought to be kind. But major disagreement arises over how to be kind. Since the Exodus narrative requires a nuanced understanding, its first line explains a subtlety often missed when defining benevolence.
In the above verse, it’s redundant to add, “with Jacob” to “the children of Israel were coming to Egypt.” We know this from a previous verse. The brevity of the translation obscures its true meaning. Not only did Jacob’s sons accompany him to Egypt, they were with him when expressing their values. In turn, Jacob embodied the greatness of Abraham and Isaac by uniting their two key traits, kindness and justice. It’s easy to see justice without kindness leads to mercilessness. But untainted kindness would seem to be ideal.
The Motivation for Kindness
Benevolence comes from two motivations. Some desire to help other people. Others cannot bear to see people suffer. On their face both are noble. Indeed the latter one seems to be the kinder source. After all, shouldn’t we strive to alleviate suffering?
On closer examination, being kind because your heart aches when others are sad or in pain belies selfishness. Your kindness alleviates your suffering but ignores the fact that sometimes others have to experience pain to be motivated to resolve an issue, make a change, or grow. You feel good because the person has avoided distress but at what cost?
If you are motivated by a desire to help people you’ll be willing to undergo heartache knowing that in the end the other person will be better off.
Later in Exodus, G-d hardens Pharaoh’s heart to give him the opportunity to truly change. It pains the Almighty any time one of His children suffers, but He is motivated only by our well being so He endures. When dealing with others, our kindness must allow for personal discomfort, even pain, so that others have the chance to truly improve.
How do you reconcile personal suffering with helping others? Please leave a comment below.
Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!