December 29, 2015
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1002, Parsha Thought, Shmos


Moshe killed an Egyptian taskmaster, fled the wrath of Pharaoh and ended up in Midyan, where he saved the daughters of Yisro from some shepherds who harassed them.

When they returned home, Yisro asked them, “How could you come so quickly?” They responded, “An Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds and he even drew water for us and watered the sheep.”

Why did they refer to Moshe as an Egyptian?

The Midrash provides two explanations:

The first is that he was dressed in Egyptian attire.

The second is that they were actually referring to the Egyptian taskmaster who Moshe killed. The Midrash explains that when the daughters of Yisro expressed gratitude to Moshe because he saved them from the shepherds, Moshe said to them, “It was that Egyptian whom I killed that saved you.” Therefore, they said to their father, “An Egyptian man saved us,” meaning to say: Who caused Moshe to come to our aid? An Egyptian man whom Moshe killed.”

If not for the death of the Egyptian taskmaster, Moshe would not have been forced to flee to Midyan and Yisro’s daughters would not have been saved by him. Hence, indirectly, the Egyptian taskmaster was the one who saved them.


This explanation demands further explanation. How could one be thankful for the cruel, sadistic and evil taskmaster who was engaged in brutally attacking a helpless Jewish slave? Are we to conclude that we should be grateful to evil people generally because, occasionally, their evil elicits a positive response from others or has a ripple effect, which, in the long run, might put someone in the right place at the right time?

Imagine someone is drowning and a person fleeing from a terrorist jumps into the water and saves him. Should the one rescued from drowning express gratitude to the terrorist?

Obviously, one does not thank a criminal whose illegal behavior may lead to a positive outcome. If that were the case we would be singing the praises of as many evil people as we do of good people.


Rather, as Eitz Yosef (a Midrashic commentary) explains, Moshe, in his humility, sought to downplay his own role in saving the daughters of Yisro. Instead, Eitz Yosef writes, he sought to get the daughters of Yisro to express gratitude to G-d, who orchestrated these events.

The above explanation is based on the theological paradox that while we have free choice in deciding to do good or evil, everything that happens is by Divine Providence.

Hence, while the sadistic Egyptian taskmaster was fully responsible for his evil actions and received his just deserts, the entire episode was part of the Divine plan that lead to the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage.

Moshe alluded to the Egyptian taskmaster to impress upon Yisro’s daughters that their salvation, although directly the result of Moshe’s personal choice to perform a Mitzvah, was part of G-d’s plan. Moshe’s response was more a lesson in Jewish theology than an expression of his personal humility.


A question still remains though. Why would Yisro’s daughters repeat Moshe’s disclaimer that the Egyptian taskmaster was indirectly responsible for their salvation? By repeating Moshe’s downplaying of his role, they were denying him the credit he deserved.

Although one may answer this question by asserting that Yisro’s daughters were trying to demonstrate Moshe’s humility to their father, a question still gnaws: How can the Torah ascribe salvation of the Jewish people to the cruel and sadistic Egyptian taskmaster as he mercilessly beat a Jewish slave?

Some commentators explain that the reference was not so much to the taskmaster  as it was to Moshe’s act of saving the Jewish slave. Moshe was trying to explain to the daughters that saving people was his mission. It started with killing the cruel taskmaster and continued with saving strangers from persecution and oppression.

However, the Torah does not mention Moshe’s act of killing the taskmaster, just that the daughters described him as the “Egyptian Man.” Why does the Torah invoke the mention of an evil person and ascribe their salvation to him?


We must also realize that this event was a watershed event in Moshe’s life and by extension the lives of the Jewish nation with repercussions for all eternity. Through Moshe’s relationship with Yisro, he was chosen as the Liberator of the Jewish people:

First, while tending Yisro’s flocks Moshe ran after a stray lamb and found it at the site of the Burning Bush. It was at that moment that G-d determined Moshe’s worthiness as a leader, as one who cared even for the least significant of his flock. That was the time and place G-d first communicated with Moshe and selected him as the Redeemer of Israel.

Second, Moshe’s relationship with Yisro influenced him to join the Jewish people. Moreover, according to the Zohar, G-d waited to give the Torah until Yisro arrived. The Torah itself relates how Yisro was responsible for the structure of the judicial system, which would prove crucial for the implementation of the laws of the Torah.

Yisro, clearly, had a pivotal role in what happened to Moshe and the Jewish people.

This whole chain of events began when Moshe saved Yisro’s daughters and they reported this event to their father, characterizing him as an Egyptian. This suggests that Moshe’s ascription of their salvation to the Egyptian taskmaster was not just an expression of modesty. Rather, Moshe was presciently setting the stage for the Exodus from Egypt and for all our future redemptions, including the final Redemption from this exile.

Indeed, as our Sages state, Moshe was the first Redeemer and he will be the last Redeemer. This is explained to mean that the final Redemption will come through Moshe’s influence and that the seeds for it have already been planted by him.

Moshe, by attributing the daughters’ salvation to the Egyptian taskmaster, was trying to reexamine the negative events of the past and discover the good in everything that happened to him.


To be liberated one must be able to see everything in perspective. When one goes through a painful experience, it is impossible to fathom why it is happening. We must accept the fact that everything G-d does is for the good. This is a matter of faith; we cannot possibly comprehend the suffering of good people. When another person suffers we dare not look for rationalizations for their pain and suffering.

However, as we approach the era of our final liberation, this dynamic changes. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed of the Messianic Age: “You will say on that day, ‘I thank you, G-d, for you were angry with me, and now Your wrath has subsided and You have comforted me.’” Only when salvation occurs, can we go back and understand how all of the suffering and pains of the past were blessings in disguise. Until then, we must do everything in our power to fight suffering and never rationalize it.

As the Exodus from Egyptian bondage was about to begin, Moshe was given the “luxury” of seeing things in hindsight and gaining some modicum of understanding how they could be positive.

When Moshe liberated the persecuted daughters of Yisro, he sensed, consciously or subconsciously, that the time of the Redemption of the Jewish people had arrived. This meant that events were going to come into sharper relief.

Moshe now looked back and realized that had the taskmaster not beaten the Jewish slave, he would not have killed him and he would not have been forced to come to Midyan and would not have saved the daughters of Yisro, thus unleashing a series of events that would culminate with the giving of the Torah. Although he might not have known at that time how far the chain of events would take him, Moshe was able to see, however slightly, the positive energy that exists even in exile conditions.

This can be taken a step further. By ascribing their salvation, and by extension the subsequent Exodus and future Redemptions, to the Egyptian, Moshe revealed that the power of Redemption is contained within the exile itself. One does not have to look beyond the exile for salvation; the seeds for it are planted within it.


As we stand today on the threshold of the final Redemption – as the Rebbe revealed, “The time of the Redemption has arrived” – we are equipped with a better sense of appreciating the events of the past. Of course, it will not be possible for us to thank G-d for all of our exile conditions until we “open our eyes” and see how the Redemption is in front of us. As long as our eyes have not fully opened we must take a bifurcated approach to all the exile conditions.

On the one hand, we must still do everything in our power to resist evil and relieve pain from the world; we must fight exile with all of our might. Paradoxically, we must also try to see the positive in all that is happening in exile and recognize that the seeds for the Redemption are contained within it. All we must do is reveal the hidden dynamic of exile and introduce the aleph-Master of the World to the word gola-exile and we have Geula-Redemption.


We can gain another insight from Moshe’s crediting the episode with the Egyptian taskmaster for his rescue of Yisro’s daughters.

If, in the realm of evil, one can trace a positive event’s genesis to evil behavior, certainly we can and must also trace the genesis of positive events to good behavior.

When the final Redemption occurs, imminently, we will be able to trace that glorious outcome to the Mitzvos we do today. Each Mitzvah starts a chain of events that can lead to the final Redemption. And while there will be many people able to take credit for the Redemption, that will not detract from our own contributions, any more than the “credit” an Egyptian taskmaster received for saving Yisro’s daughters detracted from the merit earned by Moshe when he actually saved them.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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