“It happened in those days and Moshe grew up, and he went out to his brothers and he saw their sufferings.” (Shemot 2:11)
Although Moshe Rabbeinu grew up as a prince in the palace of Pharaoh, he learned from his mother that he was not an Egyptian but a Jew. He felt a need to go out of his secure, comfortable surroundings in order to view the plight of his brethren.
The verse simply states that he saw their suffering, but Rashi reveals the depth of his emotional attachment to the slaves he saw struggling in the mud. “He put his eyes and his heart” into it. Our Sages teach that this is a trait called “nosei b’ol im chaveiro — carrying the load along with his friend.” It was the merit of Moshe’s excellence in this trait that earned him the position as savior of his people and gave us the leader who not only freed us from bondage, but also brought us the Torah and led us to the boundaries of the Promised Land.
Harav Chaim Friedlander, zt”l, says people are naturally “self” oriented. Even when individuals perform acts of kindness they may be motivated by selfishness. People who are uncomfortable seeing pain or suffering might help others, thinking they are acting in a “giving” manner, when they are actually subconsciously removing from sight that which bothers them. The act may benefit the one in need, but the motivation comes from the giver’s selfish drives.
In 1895, a fire destroyed many homes in the city of Brisk. The great leader of the Jewish community, Harav Chaim Soloveitchik, zt”l, tirelessly worked day and night to restore the dwellings of all those families who had lost their homes in the blaze. He also refused to go home to bed, but slept on the floor of the synagogue until every family had a place to live. He did not merely know about their plight and he did not merely help them out of their troubles — he felt their pain and could not rest until their suffering was relieved. He felt that they were really part of him.
Another story is told about the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, who cried and prayed constantly during World War I because he knew how much his brethren were suffering all over Europe. Many were subjected to pogroms, others were drafted into battle by the countries in which they lived, and large numbers lost their homes as borders fluctuated back and forth.
One night his wife woke up and found that he was not in his bed. She found him sleeping on a wooden bench with his head resting on his hands.
“Yisrael Meir,” she asked, “why aren’t you sleeping in your bed? Where is your pillow?”
“How can I sleep in a bed,” he replied, “when so many of our people are suffering the ravages of war?”
He, too, did not hear about the troubles of another without feeling as if the problem was his own.
Today, we are aware of a lot of Jewish suffering around the globe. We are all hungry for news from the battleground in Eretz Yisrael. But there are many Jews who are falling prey to assimilation even here in the United States. France has been showing an increase in anti-Semitic crimes. There are still Jewish communities in Muslim countries and in the Former Soviet Union. Many of our people have financial problems, while others cannot find a mate. Some who are married have no children and others who have children fall ill to horrible diseases. What does Hashem want? Perhaps He wants us to be nosei b’ol im chaveiro — to help in carrying the load — by praying, giving charity and assisting those in need. But most importantly, He wants each of us to feel that another Jew’s problem is our own. His or her problem hurts us like our own difficulties.
It was this attitude that made Moshe the leader of our redemption from Egypt. Perhaps, if we can truly evoke that unity in our people today, Hashem will bring the Final Redemption with the coming of Moshiach speedily and in our days. Amen.
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.