Holy Hotel Hysteria

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Shemot empathy

“Walk a mile in my shoes” – Elvis Presley

God commands Moses to leave Midian and return to Egypt so he can redeem the Israelites. Just before Moses and his family embark on their journey, God instructs Moses to tell the Pharaoh that if he refuses to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt, God will kill his first born son.

Then we read an incredibly odd tale.

“And it came to pass on the way at the lodging-place, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.” Fortunately, Zipporah, the wife of Moses, saves the day by circumcising Gershom and the danger is averted.

Who is God trying to kill? And why?

It seems unlikely that God is trying to kill Moses. After all, Moses was just given a pretty important job. It is more likely that God was about to kill Gershom for being uncircumcised. Assuming Gershom is a very young child, that hardly seems fair to Gershom. God’s behavior demands an explanation.

I think there is an important lesson in this episode. Moses is expected to threaten the Pharaoh with the death of his first born son. That is a very severe threat and surely will frighten the Pharaoh. Ideally, the threat will work. But there is a proper way to deliver the warning and there is an improper way.

In order for Moses to deliver the threat properly, he must empathize with the Pharaoh. Moses cannot flippantly or dismissively tell the Pharaoh that his first born child will be killed unless he cooperates. That would be cruel to the Pharaoh. Moses must feel the enormity of the stakes. Moses must know what it would mean to lose a first born in order to warn the Pharaoh effectively and empathetically.

God teaches Moses about the fear of this loss in this incident. Gershom is nearly killed. Moses is frozen by the horror of it all. Now he is ready to speak to the Pharaoh about losing a first born son.

It seems that this is the lesson of the near death experience at the hotel. Whenever we are dealing others who have suffered or may suffer loss, we must be extra mindful to be sensitive and empathetic.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink is the founder of shulontheinternet.com.
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