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There Was No Man
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg

The first Jewish leader, Moses, was raised in Pharaoh’s palace. When he grew up and went out of the palace to see how his brethren were faring, he witnessed an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Jewish slave. The Torah describes Moses’ reaction thus: “He turned this way and that way, and he saw that no man was there, so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”

Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the legendary founder of the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva in Pre-World War II Poland, explains this verse homiletically:

“He turned this way and that way” is interpreted to mean that he turned to the right and turned to the left and discovered that “there is no man here.” This refers to the two competing ideologies hotly debated in modern society. Some argue that the political right cares more for freedom and human dignity. Others contend that the left is more concerned with the common man and for the well-being of all humanity.

Moses, upon seeing the injustice being perpetrated against one of his brethren, looks in both directions for guidance. Will the “right” show him how to address society’s ills and bring freedom, fairness and justice? Or, perhaps, one must look to the “left” for governance and relief.

Moses searches in vain for a man-made ideology that can solve the problems of the world and bring salvation. He looks this way and that in vain and concludes that “there is no man.” There is no one else here who cares or who is capable of accomplishing anything positive. Moses then “buries” the Egyptian culture and ideology in the ground.

Moses now recognized that constructing a perfect ideological system was beyond the powers of man. Only the G-d-given teachings of the Torah are pure and free from the intrusion of negative energy.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe relates that his father-in-law (the Previous Rebbe) was once asked by advocates of competing political ideologies which of their philosophies the Torah agreed with. The Previous Rebbe’s response was: “The Torah, since it is the absolute perfection of truth and goodness, contains within itself all of the best ideas which one may find in all ideologies.”

The Torah continues, “He struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” The “Egyptian” here alludes to the power of exile to oppress, confine and limit the Jew both physically and spiritually. The word for Egypt in Hebrew is “Mitzrayim,” which carries with it the connotation of constraints and limits; the hallmark of galut—exile.

As long as our approach to Torah is one-sided—because we view it from the perspective of one among many equally competing ideologies and disciplines—we and the Torah remain enmeshed in galut. When we realize the infinite and multi-directional level of Torah, we can gain access to its elevated essence and transcend all the manifestations of exile.

The lesson for us here in the last generation of exile and first generation of Redemption is that we must bury the exile constraints in the sand, i.e., to recognize that Torah, unlike other disciplines, is not a “man.” Torah is Divine. When we internalize and live by the Moses-model of humility we can access that Divinity, which enables us to break out of all the constraints of exile, with the imminent Redemption through Moshiach. 



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