Moshe – Shepherd of the Nation

The role of leadership is not an easy one, and Moshe Rabbenu was exhausted from the burden.  “How can I bear alone your troubles, your burden and your strife?”


by HaRav Shlomo Aviner, Head of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim.

  1. “And Moshe was a shepherd”
  2. “And he went out to his brothers”
  3. “And Moshe grew up”
  4. “But they will not believe me”
  5. Light from Darkness
  6. “How can I bear”
  7. Brothers and Friends
  8. Listen to Me, My Nation


  1. “And Moshe was a shepherd”

“And The Holy One Blessed Be He also tested Moshe with a flock.  Our Sages said that when Moshe Rabbenu, may peace be upon him, tended Yitro’s sheep in the desert, a kid escaped and he ran after it until it reached shelter.  Upon reaching shelter, a pool of water appeared, and the goat stopped to drink.  When Moshe arrived, he said to it:  ‘I was not aware that you ran away because of thirst.  You are tired.  He carried it on his shoulder.  The Holy One Blessed Be He said: You are merciful in tending mortals’ sheep, so will you tend my sheep, Israel.” (Shemot Rabbah 2:2).


This is the fundamental characteristic of a leader: self-sacrifice for the sake of his flock.  He is not a leader for himself but for the other.  Egocentric leaders are only concerned with themselves, as it says: “Be careful in your relations with the government, for they only draw a man close for their own interests.  They appear as friends when it is to their benefit, but they do not stand by a man in his time of distress” (Pirkei Avot 2:3).  But it says regarding dedicated leaders: “And all who are faithfully involved in the needs of the community, may The Holy One Blessed Be He pay their reward and remove from them any illness, heal their entire body and forgive their sin, and send blessing and success to all of the works of their hands, with all Israel, their brothers” (“Mi-Sheberach for the ruling government” recited on Shabbat morning after the Torah reading).


  1. “And he went out to his brothers” (Shemot 2:11)

“And he went out to his brother” – Pharaoh said to him: you are called my daughter’s son, and any you can name your position (Tanchuma).  What did Moshe Rabbenu choose?  Minister of the Interior?  Foreign Minister?  No, he chose to be the administrator of all of the Concentration Camps!  Moshe said to him: I request to organize your work force.  But Moshe’s intention was only to see the enslavement of Israel (ibid.) – perhaps he could help.


“And he saw their suffering” (Shemot 2:11) – And what did he see?  He saw their suffering, cried and said: I would die for you.  He would incline his shoulder and help each and every one of them.  If he saw an adult burden on a child, a child’s burden on an adult, a man’s burden on a woman, a woman’s burden on a man, a elderly person’s burden on a young man, a young man’s burden on an elderly person – he would put aside his royal rank and do all of the work as if he was aiding Pharaoh.  The Holy One said to him: You put aside your dealings and went out to see the distress of Israel and acted in a brotherly fashion, I will put aside the supreme ones and lower ones and talk with you (Shemot Rabbah :32).

Moshe did not exalt himself over the community and he did not say “Goodbye, my soul,” but rather, was concerned about the other.  He is a brother who feels the pain of his brothers.



  1. “And Moshe grew up” (Shemot 2:11)

“And Moshe grew up.”  “But doesn’t everyone grow up?!  This is to tell you that he grew not in the same way as the rest of the world” (Shemot Rabbah 1).  “We have a tradition that he lived for twenty years in Pharaoh’s palace” (ibid. 11:20).  But this is surprising – is this a place for the leader of Israel to grow up?!  Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for him to learn in a religious nursery school, Talmud Torah and then a yeshiva?  Why there, in the midst of impurity?


Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra explains that the thoughts of Hashem are deep. We cannot know his secrets. Only He can create circumstances.  It is possible that Hashem caused Moshe to grow up in the king’s palace in order for his soul to be used to being at a supreme level, and not used to being at a lowly level in a house of slavery.  After all, we see that he killed the Egyptian whole had stolen, and saved the daughters of Yitro from the shepherds who stole the water which the women had drawn for their flocks (Shemot 2:3 and see also Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra on Shemot 14:13).  Since he grew up as a free man, like the son of a king, Moshe Rabbenu learned how to stand at full stature with strength and courage.  In order to free themselves from slave mentality, the children of Israel needed to undergo a long process of forty years in the desert.  This follows what the Rambam wrote: that it is not a man’s nature to grow up enslaved with mortar, bricks, etc. and then to be able immediately to wash his hands of the filth, and wage war against the children of giants (Moreh Nevuchim 3, 32).



  1. “But they will not believe me” (Shemot 4:1)

Perhaps you will say: how it is possible to have a leader who is so different from the people, who grew up in a completely different way and did not grow up in the “neighborhood”?  Moshe Rabbenu was in fact concerned about this issue: “Moshe answered [Hashem] and said: But they will not believe me and will not listen to my voice, for they will say that Hashem did not appear to you.”


Ha-Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, the Netziv, explains that it is clear that Moshe did not say: “But they will not believe me” regarding the Redemption, since that is exactly what they were requesting.  Rather Moshe said, “But they will not believe me” that Hashem appeared to him.  The reason is that they did not know Moshe as a great Torah scholar, expert in the tradition of the forefathers, and he did not derive from holiness and righteousness.  After all, he spent his youth in Pharaoh’s palace, was engaged in different worldly wisdoms, and dressed and spoke like an Egyptian to the point that the daughters of Yitro thought he was an Egyptian.  People thought it was more proper that Hashem would appear to Aharon, who was already a prophet in Egypt.  This was Moshe Rabbenu’s claim: The people of Israel will say, “Hashem did not appear to you.”  If so, why was Moshe Rabbenu punished with Tzara’at (a skin disease) for suspecting that they would not believe him?  The Netziv answers that you should not second-guess Hashem, as the prophet Yeshayahu (55:9) says: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways.”


The Netziv concludes by relating to our time: Therefore, at this time, when we have seen that Hashem has done wonders for the Jewish settlement in Israel, and inclined the heart of the Sultan and his minister to agree to this, His sign is His word, and we should not be so wise as to say that it needs to occur in a different manner (Igrot Acharit Ke-Bereshit, Kovetz Shivat Tzion vol. 1, p. 17-18 and Ha-Emek Davar on Shemot 4:1 in brief).


And our Sages also wrote: “Moshe said to Hashem: The Children of Israel will say to me: you never learned Torah in your life and you were a shepherd to Yitro’s flock – what did you do to merit the Divine Presence revealing itself to you and becoming the redeemer?”  (Midrash, Torah Sheleimah – Shemot 4:3).  It later became clear that Moshe Rabbenu is the most supreme soul which appeared in the world.  “Never again has a prophet arisen in Israel like Moshe, who Hashem had known face to face” (Devarim 34:10).


Maran Ha-Rav Kook writes that Moshe possessed the most exalted receptacle which is the Divine light among a human soul (Olat Re’eiyah vol. 2, p. 159).


  1. Light from Darkness

“Pharaoh’s daughter raised the one who would exact retribution from her father, in the future, in her own house” (Shemot Rabbah 1).  The Maharal (Gevurot Hashem, chap. 18) explains that the reason that Moshe Rabbenu, peace be upon him, was raised in Pharaoh’s palace, is like the Messiah who will sits at the entrance to Rome, since if it were not for the absence that was found there, the different form which was to appear later who not have come into being.  The Nation of Israel was born out of the collapse of Egypt.  The light of Israel appears out of the blotting out of Rome and the West, from the destruction of the non-Jews to the love of Israel.


  1. “How can I bear” (Devarim 1:12)

The role of leadership is not an easy one, and Moshe Rabbenu was exhausted from the burden.  “How can I bear alone your troubles, your burden and your strife?”


Rashi explains: “Your troubles – teaches that they were trouble-makers.  One person would see another win in court, and would say: I have witnesses to bring, I have proofs to bring, I will add judges to you.”  Then why didn’t you bring them before?!  Why didn’t you immediately say that you do not trust them?!


“Your burden – They were heretics.  If he left home early, they said: Why did Ben Amram leave [home early]? Maybe everything is not okay in his house [i.e. he is arguing with his wife].  If he left home late, they said: Why did Ben Amram not leave?  What do you think?  They would sit and give [evil] suggestions and think [all types of] thoughts.”  So much ungraciousness and so many evil eyes!


“Your strife – teaches that they were ill-tempered,” constantly complaining.

Moshe Rabbenu therefore received instruction to appoint himself helpers.  But who would agree to be a leader under these circumstances?  How could he convince them?


  1. Brothers and Friends

“I will take the heads of your tribe” (ibid. 1:15).  Rashi explains that Moshe convinced them with words: Fortunate are you, who will be appointed over the Children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, over people who are called brothers and friends.


But how so?  I thought they were trouble-makers, heretics and ill-tempered?!  Answer: They were both trouble-makers, heretics and ill-tempered as well as brothers and friends!  There is no contradiction.  And even if there is a contradiction, life is full of contradictions.  A father is angry with his son, and at the same time he loves him.  It is his son, he has no other.  This is our Nation, we have no other.  It causes us distress and yet we still love it.


  1. Listen to Me, My Nation

Maran Ha-Rav Kook writes: “Listen to me, my Nation, I speak to you from my soul, from my inner soul, from the connection of life from which I am connected to all of you, and all of you are connected to me, from the feeling which I feel more deeply than all others: You and only you, all of you, all of your souls, all of your generations, you are the only meaning of my life.  I live through you, in you, in the entire constellation of all of you…Without you, I have nothing…I must love you with an eternal love.  It is impossible for me to feel any other feeling…You give meaning to my life, work, Torah, prayer, song, hope…with you – my people, my nation, my mother, source of life, with you I fly to the expanses of the world.  With you eternally, I live eternal life.  With your glory, I am full of splendor and glory.  With your affliction, I am full of pain.  With the pain that is in your soul, I am full of bitterness…your Land, the Land of your hope, is holy to me, her heavens are the source of grace…” (Orot Ha-Re’eiyah p. 54).





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