By Yochanan Gordon

This Shabbos, Parashas Sh’mos, is the bar mitzvah of our nephew, Nison Hirsch. I realized months ago that the date of this lifecycle event intersects with the due date of our sixth child, G-d willing, which is just a few days away. Having been asked to speak at the bar mitzvah and at the same time aware that the birth of our child may preclude the possibility of my presence at the simcha, I am recording my reflections here as I have done on other occasions.

Parashas Sh’mos symbolizes the descent of the Jewish people into Egyptian exile, with the passing of Yaakov and Yosef at the close of last week’s parashah. Chazal likened the Jewish people in Mitzrayim to a fetus in its mother’s womb. However, we are also introduced, in this very parashah, to the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu who was brought up in Pharaoh’s palace and therefore never suffered servitude. In a sense, it was the cure prior to the plague, as Moshe would be the one to redeem the Jewish people.

The development of a child, beginning as a fetus in its mother’s womb until the point of maturity, is described in the books of Chassidus and Kabbalah in three stages: ibur, yenikah, and, moichin, which would be translated as gestation, nursing, and intellect. The fundamental difference between a fetus, which is completely dependent on its mother, and an adult is in the ability to look outside of him or herself and sense the needs of the surrounding people.

A fetus in its mother’s womb is completely attached by the umbilical cord to its mother. A fetus and an infant nursing from its mother are focused on their own survival, unable at that stage of their lives to discern the needs of others. Although infants are detached and moving along the path of development, they are still very much dependent on their parents to ensure their health and well-being. With the onset of maturity, the ability to think on one’s own and to discern the needs of those around oneself is what it means to be a grown-up.

We encounter two anecdotes about our leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, almost immediately upon being introduced to him that demonstrate what it means to be not only a mature and conscientious person but also a leader of a people. And although it isn’t the mission of everyone to grow into the role of being a Moshe Rabbeinu, on a national level at least, from the moment we step over the threshold of adulthood, it is incumbent upon us to learn to lead ourselves, our younger siblings, and ultimately a family of our own.

The verse introduces Moshe’s maturation as follows: “Sometime after that, when Moshe grew up, he went out to his kinsfolk and witnessed their labors. He saw an Egyptian hitting a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen.” The subsequent verse states: “He looked this way and that way, and saw that there were no men, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”

He went out on the second day, and he witnessed a Hebrew striking his fellow and he reprimanded him, saying: “Evil one; why have you smitten your fellow?” Moshe’s dedication to others, his innate sense of empathy and responsibility, demonstrated when he turns to take notice of the burning bush that was engulfed in flames but was not consumed, is what ultimately compelled G-d to tap him as the one who would ultimately lead the Jewish people out of Egyptian bondage.

Most of the Nisons I know possess a hypersensitivity to the needs and feelings of others. I was only eight years old when my grandfather, who for us was the original Nison Gordon, passed on. And although I feel like I knew him on some level, it wasn’t well enough to know whether he was predisposed to the sensitivities of others in the manner that our bar mitzvah boy is. One thing I know for certain, though, is that Moshe possessed a keen understanding of the needs of others and had a modest and dignified way of addressing them, a characteristic it seems our bar mitzvah bochur is well-suited to emulate in his life ahead.

The word in Hebrew that connotes adulthood is “gadol,” as we say at the bris of every Jewish boy, “Zeh ha’katan gadol yehiyeh…” The word “gadol” is often misunderstood. Greatness isn’t defined as the distance between one person and those under him or her. To the contrary, greatness lies in the ability of an exalted person to relate to others who are far inferior to him. As such, I see no more fitting blessing with which to conclude than to bless you to continue to develop this amazing characteristic, and that Hashem should bestow upon you the ability to always help those who are in need. You should be a continued source of nachas to your parents, rebbeim, and friends. 

Yochanan Gordon can be reached at ygordon5t@gmail.com. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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