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From Outsider to Insider

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Moses leaves the Palace and witnesses first hand the servitude of his brethren. The verse states “And he went out to his brothers and he saw in their suffering.” One is naturally bothered by the strange expression “and he saw IN their suffering.” Surely the verse should have stated “and he saw their suffering”. What does ‘IN their suffering mean’?

Our great medieval teacher Rashi says these words ‘he applied his eyes and his heart to feel their suffering.’ In simple terms, Moses saw things through their eyes and felt their suffering. His own thoughts, feelings and life situation was set aside completely to enable him to step into their shoes. The closest word in the english language describing this process is ’empathy’. When it states that Moses saw ‘IN their suffering’ in means he felt their suffering as an insider.

According to our Sages, Moses was chosen by God to lead the Jewish people based on this very character trait. Whilst shepharding Jethro’s flocks, a young sheep ran away. Moses ran after the sheep for quite a distance until the sheep eventually stopped by a stream of water and drank. Moses thought to himself ‘this poor sheep must have been so thirsty and is probably exhausted from all this running. He put the sheep on his shoulder and carried it back to the flock. Upon seeing this God decides that Moses will lead his nation, Israel.

True empathy requires shedding ones own personality completely to enter the world of the other. It is not coincedental that Moses is also described as ‘the humblest of all men.’ And lest one think that humility and empathy result in a passive, weak leadership, our Torah teaches us that the very opposite is true. The empathy felt by Moses makes him a true champion of social justice. He kills the abusive Egyptian torturer and confronts the mighty Egyptian empire for the freedom of his brethren. The opposite of empathy is an obsession with the self – often expressed by the term ego. Ego destroys our relationships, fragments our societies and results in social injustice. Let us ask ourselves more often ‘what does it feel like in their shoes?’ Let us make the important leap from ‘outsiders’ to ‘insiders’