Thursday, January 20, 2011

Moshe Going Out to Meet Yisro

How would you feel if G-D gave you a task that forced you to separate from your family for years without being able to see them? This is exactly what happened to Moshe. G-D commanded Moshe to take leave of his father-in-law and travel to Egypt to save the Jews. Moshe, with his wife and children, went down to Egypt in order to fulfill G-D's command. During the trip, Moshe's wife circumcised their son, revealing to us the young age at which Moshe was forced to leave his son, since once Moshe arrived in Egypt, Aharon told Moshe to send his family back to Midyan because there was enough suffering of the Jewish people in Egypt under Pharoh and why should Moshe bring more people to suffer. This left Moshe and his wife in a difficult situation, let his children grow up without a father and fulfill G-D's words or ignore his responsibilities to the Jewish people and go back to Midyan with his family.(See Shemos 4:19-28 for the full details) Obviously, Moshe chose the latter and finally, after years of separation, Moshe is finally able to see his family again when Yisro, his father-in-law, brings them to see him as described in this week's Parsha:

ב. וַיִּקַּח יִתְרוֹ חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֶת צִפֹּרָה אֵשֶׁת מֹשֶׁה אַחַר שִׁלּוּחֶיהָ:
2. So Moses' father in law, Jethro, took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after she had been sent away,

ג. וְאֵת שְׁנֵי בָנֶיהָ  
3. and her two sons......

One would think that Moshe would be overjoyed to see his family and would want to go out and greet them. Therefore, it is curious that when Yisro sends word of their coming he states:

ו. וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל מֹשֶׁה אֲנִי חֹתֶנְךָ יִתְרוֹ בָּא אֵלֶיךָ וְאִשְׁתְּךָ וּשְׁנֵי בָנֶיהָ עִמָּהּ:
6. And he said to Moses, "I, Jethro, your father in law, am coming to you, and [so is] your wife and her two sons with her. "

Rashi here explains that Yisro was saying, through a messanger:

אני חתנך יתרו וגו': אם אין אתה יוצא בגיני צא בגין אשתך, ואם אין אתה יוצא בגין אשתך צא בגין שני בניה:
If you will not come out [to greet us] for me, do it for your wife, and if not for her, greet us for your children. 

Why did Yisro have to ASK Moshe to come out and greet them? Wouldn't Moshe be jumping for joy and be RUNNING to meet his long absent family?

One of the first related ideas, other than Rashi, that I saw on this subject bothered me. One of the opinions found in the Daas Sofrim seems to say based on how they understand the phrase "Your wife and HER two sons" that Tzipora and her children were not that great of people.  They say that the reason the verse calls Moshe's two sons HER sons is because the root of their souls never reached to the level of the root of Moshe's soul. This opinion in the Daas Sofrim seems to be saying that Tzipora did not do a good job raising Moshe's sons and therefore the Torah calls them HER two sons. Perhaps this can also explain why Moshe was not so excited to see them according to the Daas Sofrim.

The next thing regarding this idea can be seen in the Ibn Ezra and this really threw me off. He says:
ויצא לקראת חתנו -
בעבור כבוד יתרו וחכמתו. ולא לאשתו ובניו, כי אין מנהג לאדם נכבד לצאת לקראת אשתו או בניו.

[He went out towards his father-in-law] because of the honor of Yisro and his wisdom, but not towards his wife or sons because it is not the custom of an honorable man to go out towards his wife or sons.

These two ideas of the Ibn Ezra and the opinion in the Daas Sofrim is fundamentally different than the approach of Rashi. Rashi seems to be saying that Yisro is asking Moshe to come greet him, Yisro, in order that Yisro should be honored. However, if Moshe is unwilling to honor Yisro, Yisro then begs that Moshe honor his daughter. If Moshe is unwilling to do that, at least Moshe will honor his sons. This shows that Rashi understands that Moshe would PREFER to go out to greet his family for Tziporah's sake and his own children's sake more than for the sake of Yisro. The Ibn Ezra focuses on who is more grandiose, but Rashi sees Moshe as a man separated from his family and his love for his family being the most important thing above all else.

Rashi's approach reveals the humbleness of Moshe, but I am unsure what Ibn Ezra's approach shows other than haughtiness. If we follow Rashi's approach, then Moshe is a man who is going out of his way to show honor to his father-in-law even though he doesn't have to. The only thing that could compel Moshe to honor his father-in-law is Moshe's own humbleness and willingness to make others feel good about themselves. This is a trait we should all strive to acquire. However, the Ibn Ezra's approach would seemingly only show Moshe as an arrogant man that did not miss his family, or, at the very least, a man who is unwilling to be emotional with his family. According to the Ibn Ezra, Moshe was careful about his own honor and would not go out to meet his family, only Yisro. I don't know how else to understand the Ibn Ezra. Any suggestions are welcome.

Nonetheless, there is a good lesson to be learned from Moshe according to Rashi. Showing honor to others that deserve it should always be done. Yisro deserved to be honored, therefore, Moshe showed him honor. Even though Moshe did not have to show him honor since Moshe was, at this point, the king of the Jews, he still showed Yisro respect. This is a very important trait to learn, humbleness and a desire to always do the right thing.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your informative article on Parshas Yisro. I appreciate your working through both Rashi and Ibn Ezra, searching for the most accurate understanding of their respective viewpoints. Per your request, I would like to offer an alternative approach to the quoted Ibn Ezra.

We all find ourselves steeped in a broader culture that focuses relentlessly on the pursuit of pleasure. This goal, at its core, is at odds with the Torah value of Kavod, or dignity. For example, the Rambam asserts that an exceedingly base person is not permitted to testify in a Jewish court (Aidus 11:5). One can achieve this status by eating in a public market. In contrast, one who exercises restraint and waits until he can eat in privacy lives with a sense of self-dignity that is expected from every Jew. It would be a fundamental misunderstanding to construe such a person’s delay in eating as being borne of anorexia, or that he is simply not hungry while in the market. His healthy sense of human dignity counters his urge to pursue instant gratification, ensuring in the process, that his humanity is preserved. One who values instant gratification more than basic human dignity, is suspect of being willing to compromise his moral obligations, and cannot be trusted to testify truthfully.

Every created being has needs. This dependence is intimately bound to the very nature of having been created (Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 1:3). The transcendence of the mortal being, from the greatest of human aspirations, is the emulation of the Creator to whatever extent humanly possible, to become Godly. Therein lies the fundamental value of Kavod.
To the extent that ones creatureliness is apparent, there is a natural and uniquely human experience of embarrassment. Evidence of this can be found in the Halachic prohibition against staring at someone while they are eating, as it might be a source of embarrassment (Rambam, Brachos 7:6). Similarly, the term “Malbush” (rooted in “Busha” or embarrassment) for clothing evinces the same principle (see Shabbos 77b). A person who is so entirely engrossed in his needs and their pursuit is far removed from Kavod and risks compromising his humanity along with his dignity.

The role of desire is significant, and even necessary within the Jewish world-view (see Sanhedrin 64a); however, the natural tension between Taivah and Kavod is dynamic, shifting as a person grows. The transition from dependant to benefactor might begin with the first assertions of independence, starting with a fetal kick, and culminating with the honored pillar of society whose philanthropic contributions touch many. It goes without saying that distortions of both Taivah and Kavod can have catastrophic effects on a person (Avos 4:28).
Not everyone's level of Kavod is the same. In fact, contrary to the irreverent hue dominating the egalitarian culture in which we are immersed, the Torah's value system appreciates the many gradations of Kavod. To accurately reflect these distinctions socially is a praiseworthy goal that can be seen in numerous classical sources such as Meseches Derech Eretz.

It is difficult to suggest that the Ibn Ezra would accuse Moshe Rabbeinu of being arrogant when the Torah itself attests to his unparalleled humility (Bamidbar 12:3). To depict Moshe as emotionally challenged is evidently an inaccurate portrayal of the Ibn Ezra's commentary, and belies a fundamental lack of appreciation for the value of Kavod within the Jewish ethos. The level of Kavod an individual achieves in life is uniquely personal, and the consequences for his demeanor, activities, and interactions are likewise varied. Even if it is difficult to relate to on a visceral plane, the Ibn Ezra is describing the refined conduct that exemplifies a highly dignified person, such as Moshe Rabbeinu.

E-Man said...

I appreciate your taking the time to try and answer my problem. I can also appreciate your viewpoint and explanation. However, I do not see going out to greet your wife and children as a lack in modesty even for a king. I just don't understand how it could be a lack in modesty for him.

A lack in modesty, ascertained by ones level of importance as seen in many places by Rabbis in the Gemorah not being able to work in the eye of the public and other such cases, is when someone does a certain action that would be disgraceful for them. It used to be that eating in public was only done by those found among the lower class. There are many such examples.

However, what the Ibn Ezra is saying is that it would have been immodest, or inappropriate, for Moshe to go out and greet his family that he has been separated from for years. I don't understand why. Furthermore, it just makes Moshe appear to be arrogant because he thinks his own kavod is so important that he can't even go out to greet his wife and children. I do not think this is the Ibn Ezra's intent, just how it looks.

Obviously, I am familiar with the idea that certain people have higher requirements for modesty on them than others. But, I do not understand why Moshe would not be allowed to go out and greet his sorely missed family and why that is deemed inappropriate.