Despite his youth — according to some authorities he was only 12 years old — Moshe Rabbeinu had been appointed to oversee Pharaoh’s household. But his mind and heart were filled with concern for his people, so he left the safety and comfort of the royal palace to see for himself how they were faring.
It was not his immediate family on whom he went to check. Both his father, Amram, and his mother, Yocheved, stemmed from the shevet of Levi, who were exempt from the backbreaking labor forced upon the rest of Bnei Yisrael; to Moshe Rabbeinu all descendants of Yaakov were his brothers.
He witnessed the brutality of the Egyptian overseers and recognized the depth of suffering experienced by his brethren. But observing was not enough for him. He took the heavy burden that each of them was carrying and placed it on his own shoulder, so he could be of help and physically relate to what they were enduring.
When he spied a member of Bnei Yisrael being mercilessly beaten, he intervened. Moshe “turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian” — using the Shem Hameforash — “and hid him in the sand.”
The next day he once again left the royal palace to be with his brethren. When this time he saw two member of Bnei Yisrael quarreling, he intervened as well. The quarreling men — Dasan and Aviram — proceeded to inform Pharaoh what had transpired a day earlier.
When Pharaoh heard the story, he ruled that Moshe should be put to death — but the Ribbono shel Olam caused Pharaoh to refrain from ensuring that the sentence was carried out. Hashem also caused the king’s advisers to interpret Pharaoh’s words not as a royal decree, but only as a mere legal finding that a person who commits this sort of crime should be put to death. Since it was not transmitted to them as a royal decree, the executioners failed to watch him properly. In addition, Moshe Rabbeinu’s neck became as hard as marble, making execution impossible and alerting him to the miracle that was transpiring (Rashi, as explained by the Maharal).
Moshe Rabbeinu then fled the executioner’s platform and escaped to Midian.
For more than half a century he was unable to return to Egypt, the land in which his family and the rest of his people resided.
In light of the miracles he had merited, why did he flee? Why didn’t he rely on the mercy of Hashem to continue protecting him from all harm?
The Chasam Sofer gives the following powerful explanation:
Rashi informs us that when Moshe “turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man,” he was physically looking in all directions to see if there was anyone present. He also was “looking” — in a spiritual way — to see if any good would ever come out of this Egyptian. Only after concluding that if the man were to stay alive he wouldn’t have any righteous descendants, did Moshe Rabbeinu put him to death.
After discovering that he had erred in his physical surveillance and his actions had been observed by mortals, Moshe Rabbeinu became concerned that perhaps he had also erred when he had “looked” spiritually. Fearful that this Egyptian might have had a righteous descendant after all — and therefore he shouldn’t have put him to death — Moshe Rabbeinu accepted exile and fled the country.
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We often come to conclusions and decisions regarding others, without even recognizing that we don’t have all the facts regarding what happened — and certainly without a scintilla of knowledge about the future effect of these decisions.
Moshe Rabbeinu waited to slay the Egyptian persecutor until he “looked” to see what would possibly emerge from this man. Later, when he realized that here in this temporal world he had been observed — though a clear delineation could easily be made between a spiritual sighting and physical one — the fear that he may have erred sufficed for Moshe Rabbeinu to flee into exile for long decades.
Man is often reluctant to accept the extreme limits of his mortality and to openly admit just how little he knows about what is really transpiring now, let alone what will happen in the future. But this recognition is a vital element of living a truthful Torah life.
While we often have no choice but to draw conclusions and take actions based on the information we have at hand, we must always bear in mind how much we don’t know. This is especially true when we consider taking actions that have even a remote chance of having a negative effect on another person.
Even after making a decision, when we learn new details, we must never hesitate to rethink and reevaluate our conclusions, and, when necessary, act upon them.