Weekly Dvar Torah: Mind Your Own Business?

When Moshe and Aaron came to Pharaoh to plead on behalf of the Jewish people to release them from slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh responded;

וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לָמָּה מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן תַּפְרִיעוּ אֶת הָעָם מִמַּעֲשָׂיו לְכוּ לְסִבְלֹתֵיכֶם.
“Why are you Moshe and Aharon disturbing the people from their work? Go to your own labors.”

Pharaoh is saying to Moshe and Aaron go to your own labors [and mind your own business], busy yourself with your own work which is different than the people’s work. Pharaoh is distinguishing between their work and the people’s work. In other words, Pharaoh acknowledged that Moshe and Aaron were not slaves, rather that they had some other work to do.

The commentators, starting with Rashi, say that the Tribe of Levi was not enslaved like the rest of the tribes. The Ramban explains, that the work of Moshe and Aaron, like the rest of the Tribe of Levi, was the work of teaching Torah to the rest of the Jews who were slaves.

Pharaoh basically told them; be happy that you’re not slave laborers, go back to studying and teaching Torah, just mind your own business. Why are you mixing in to disrupt the work of the rest of the Jews, this is breaking the law of the land.

Pharaoh represented a weltanschauung which argues that the world has a certain natural order, and the fact that the Jews will be slaves in Egypt is part of that order as preordained by G-d for 400 years, so don’t rock the boat by trying to override this natural order.

Pharaoh also acknowledged that the Jewish people were entitled to having a division of Torah scholars and teachers, this too is within the order of the world, that every nation has their scholars, and the Jews are no different. But Pharaoh argued that the scholars should stick to their learning and stay away from whatever else is going on in the world. There must be absolute separation between Torah scholars and the rest of the world.

Moshe, however, had a completely different approach, a G-dly approach, the Jewish approach.

A Jew is not bound by the rules of nature, he rises above nature. Jews have to make every effort to override nature, and from 400 years of slavery they cut it short to 210 years.

Moshe also maintained that there is no such thing as an absolute separation between a Torah scholar and what goes on in the world. A scholar is obligated to try to influence nature and what happens around him. If a scholar sees that a Jew is suffering and he is being enslaved by Pharaoh, he must go and do all that he can to set him free.

Pharaoh and Egypt represent the world of nature which is dominated and controlled by rules and constraints. Making a living is dependent on you trusting and investing of yourself because your success is solely dependent on your own work.

Moshe and Jews are not governed by such rules, we live by the rules of Hashem, and our success is decided by Him only, so when we work it is because G-d commanded us to work. But we know that the success is not ours, but what Hashem decides.

Pharaoh and Egypt say that Torah scholarship shouldn’t interfere with the running of the world, it should stay entirely independent. Don’t try to influence world events.

Moshe and the Jewish people understand that everything in this world is influenced by the Torah. Therefore, if while you sit and study you hear that another Jew is suffering, materially or spiritually, you don’t stay locked up in Yeshiva. You don’t say this is not my business because I am a Yeshiva man, and I have nothing to do with the world, rather you go to Pharaoh and argue on behalf of the enslaved Jews.

When a fire breaks out no Torah scholar would say I’m not a fireman and therefore I won’t go see what I can do to save the people in that burning house. The same applies when you see that there are Jews around who are spiritually ignorant and low, you should not say that I have no obligation to save them and lift them up, but rather go educate them and bring them back into the fold.

Following Pharaoh keeps us in slavery and bondage, following Moshe changes the course of history then, and now, and it brings salvation and redemption to the Jewish people and the entire world.

Have a free and scholarly Shabbos,
Gut Shabbos
Yosef Katzman

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