Shmot (Exodus 1:1-6:1 )
This week’s Torah portion outlines the famous story of the birth of Moshe and how he was placed in basket on the River Nile and he was rescued by none other than the daughter of Pharaoh who brought him up as an adopted son in the Palace. The Ibn Ezra1 asks why Divine Providence determined that Moshe would grow up in this manner, in contrast to the rest of his brethren, who endured slavery.
The Ibn Ezra answers that the reason Providence brought Moshe to the palace was to create a future leader of Israel who would be raised in an atmosphere of royalty and power, rather than in an environment of slavery and submission. If Moshe had been raised as a slave, thinking like a slave and acting submissively like a slave, it would have been much more difficult for him to become the leader of a Nation.
The Ibn Ezra cites support for this idea from the fact that Moshe killed the Egyptian who was beating a Jew. A slave, who is always downtrodden and spat upon, would not have the forcefulness and the confident to protest injustice and to personally punish the perpetrator. There is no way we could imagine someone with a slave’s mentality doing such a thing. In contrast, someone brought up in the house of the king, believing he is a prince, automatically possesses a certain aura and confidence that allows him to intervene in situations that people with less self-esteem would certainly avoid.
The Ibn Ezra similarly notes Moshe’s intervention on behalf of Yitro’s daughters when they were being harassed by the shepherds at the well of Midian. Moshe was a stranger who had just arrived in town. Only a person who grew up in a house of authority and leadership has the courage and the assertiveness to take charge and administer justice wherever justice needs to be administered. These leadership abilities were much more easily nurtured in the palace of the king than in a house of slaves.
The Ibn Ezra2 makes expresses the same principle but in reverse, in Beshalach on his commentary of the events leading to the splitting of the Red Sea. He observes that there were a few hundred Egyptian soldiers approaching the Jewish people, whereas there were six hundred thousand Jewish men. Surely, the Jews could have easily overpowered their pursuers through sheer force of numbers, yet we see that they were very fearful of the Egyptians. He explains: “The answer is that this is because the Egyptians were the masters of Yisrael, and this generation that was leaving Egypt learnt from its youth to suffer under the yoke of the Egyptians and its spirit was lowly. And how could they now battle with their masters, and Yisrael were weak and not used to battle.”
He continues that this submissiveness was so embedded in their nature that this generation of men had to die out before they entered Eretz Yisrael because they would not have had the strength to battle the Canaanites. Therefore, a new generation, who was not subject to this subservience, and had a much higher spirit, could conquer the land of Israel. He then refers back to his words in Shemot regarding Moshe demonstrating how Moshe was able to act with great confidence due to his upbringing.
There is a constant debate in the world about the question of nature versus nurture. Does a person’s natural genetics primarily define his nature, or is it his upbringing? The Ibn Ezra lends weight to the point of view that gives great import to nurture in determining what a person eventually becomes.
In the same vein, Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz3 notes that two genetically identical twins will grow up to be very different individuals if they are exposed to different educations and different atmospheres in their formative years. This underlies the power of education, the power of environment, and the power of a nurturing home.
Rabbi Yissachar Frand discusses the ramifications of this issue in the modern word:
We look around today and unfortunately see the many ills that plague our society. What is happening to society? Why is this happening? Part of the answer is that there is no real home life for a large number of children growing up in our society. It is not the least bit surprising and it does not require a great social scientist to see the cause-and-effect relationship between how one is raised and how one turns out. The reverse is true as well. When one takes an individual and showers him with love and with confidence, giving him a sense of self and a sense of presence, chances are high that the individual will grow up to demonstrate far greater leadership capabilities than an equally talented individual who was not given the benefit of such an enlightened upbringing.
None of this is meant to take away from the fact that each person has the choice how to use his given situation in the most optimum way. But here the focus is on how a parent, teacher or anyone who can influence others. We learn from the Ibn Ezra, that one can have a massive influence on the self-image of his child or student and give a foundation that is conducive to success later in life.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
Reprinted with permission
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