The Medrash Rabba (Shemos 1:27) relates that Moshe grew up in a very unusual way. The Mahar”zu explains that by the age of 20 (and according to some opinions 40), he was ten amos [approximately eighteen feet] tall. The medrish goes on to tell us that Moshe went out to his brethren, genuinely felt and cried over their plight, and literally leant his shoulder to help each one of them at their back-breaking work in the cement pits. And all this was done while he was still prince living in Pharaoh’s palace. He knew he was a Jew because his mother, Yocheved, raised him after his sister, Miriam, volunteered their mother to be Moshe’s nursemaid.
Moshe was later forced to flee Egypt after he came upon an Egyptian taskmaster beating an innocent Jew and killed him, burying him in the sand. Despite being caught, he was miraculously able to flee from capital punishment. He then arrived in Midi’in, where he found a group of women shepherds, seven sisters, being harassed and prevented from using a well by some male shepherds. Moshe got up, saved the women, and gave their sheep water from the well to drink (see Shemos 2:11-17).
The lesson the Ralbag learns from Moshe’s heroics in saving the sisters is thait “it is befitting for a person to inspire himself to help the weak and save them from their oppressors, because they do not have the power to do it themselves. By doing this one will perfect the equity and goodness of society and will provide somewhat of needed security. For this reason Moshe Rabbeinu had to find in himself inspiration to save the daughters of Yisro from the shepherds and give there sheep water. He also inspired himself to save the Jew from the [taskmaster] beating him for the same reason.”
The Ralbag points out that Moshe stood up and saved his fellow Jew from being beaten by an Egyptian taskmaster, and the sisters of Yisro from being harassed by other male shepherds. The seemingly obvious lesson being, that one should feel obliged to protect the weak from those stronger than them, which, in turn, helps to make society a better place.
What is a bit perplexing is why the Ralbag felt the need to emphasize repeatedly that Moshe had to “inspire” or “arouse” himself to go through with these two heroic acts. As mentioned earlier, Moshe was a giant; he was very tall and very strong. He also had a gargantuan heart, which earned him the G-D-given role of redeeming the Jewish people from Egypt and leading them through the desert. He had such love and care for his fellow man that even as prince of Egypt he cried over the plight of his true brethren and physically got down and dirty with them, helping them with their forced hard labor. So why would someone, with all these amazing qualities, need to ‘stir within himself the courage to save them’ when it came to defending one of his enfeebled brothers from a beating by his superior taskmaster, or to saving damsels in distress?
We see from here an incredible lesson in human psychology. Even someone with such a natural and immense love for all creatures, needs inspiration when put into a situation where acting to defend someone else might potentially be life-threatening. Even if one knows it is for the betterment of society, it is still difficult to put one’s life on the line. A person requires inspiration, even if it is self-motivated inspiration; there isn’t a natural instincts to save the weak from their predators.
It is very easy for one to turn a blind eye to abuse and harassment. It takes strength and a building of fortitude to really do something about it.
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder