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LIVING TO ONE'S POTENTIAL

by Daniel Lasar    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The Torah states, "It happened in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren.

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The Torah states, "It happened in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren. He turned this way and that and saw that there was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand" (Exodus 2:11-12). Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, comments on this latter verse that Moses prophetically foresaw that no future converts would descend from this Egyptian.

Here was an evil aggressor, cruelly attempting to kill a Jew. What moral scruples could possibly exist to give Moses pause in rightfully intervening? Nonetheless, before rushing to provide justifiable defense to the man being beaten, Moses first assessed whether the assailant's life deserved to be spared on account of potential Jewish offspring that would issue from him. Imagine, were he the ancestor of just one convert, even thousands of years later, he would not have been killed.

We derive an amazing lesson from this - a Jew is very precious. Indeed, later in the portion the Torah recounts, "You shall say to Pharaoh, 'So said Hashem, My firstborn son is Israel'" (ibid. 4:22). Rashi comments here that this indicates the greatness of the Jewish people. What may seem egotistical when looked at superficially, is really understood - when viewed from a mature perspective - to describe our defining characteristic. A Jew's innate skill is appreciating holiness and infusing it into the physical to elevate it, acting as G-d's spiritual ambassadors to the world. This is a Jew's mission on earth. So crucial is this service that the sages teach, "Every person is obliged to say, 'For me the world was created'" (Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 4:5). What a privilege it is to be Jewish! We play a unique role, a role in which each individual counts. You - dear reader - you are special, you are holy, the whole world was worth creating for your sake alone!

With honor, however, comes responsibility. How can one be expected to fulfill his duties if he does not know what they are? Therefore, it is incumbent upon every Jew to become knowledgeable, and on every parent to ensure that his child is properly educated. Too many people today dismiss Jewish observances from a position of ignorance. Would one presume to comment on the propriety of brain surgery without first consulting a qualified doctor? Surely not. Likewise, one who is reluctant to live a Torah lifestyle should at least query proper authorities to understand what the Torah asks of him and why.

Granted, the progression to an observant lifestyle may entail the relinquishment of long-held, deeply-engrained practices that are anathema to proper Jewish behavior. In the big scheme of things, however, giving up the temporal pleasure derived from a cheeseburger pales in comparison to acquiring a blissful eternity from following Hashem's laws. In order to actualize, and not merely theorize, Torah values, one must make sacrifices - as we do many times in life for things that we consider important. Sacrifices are simply an expression of doing what's right.

As mentioned above, Moses himself was prepared to make sacrifices in order to assist a fellow Jew. Moses grew up in Pharaoh's household. He had everything - wealth, glory, admiration. Yet, he was willing to give it all up. What was first and foremost in his mind was to do what needed to be done. This is the Jew. This is our essence. This is what makes us special. We have a job to do - let's do it.

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Daniel Lasar, a graduate of Emory Law School in Atlanta, is currently studying at the Center for Torah Studies at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

You are invited to read more Parshat Shmot articles.

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