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It’s one of the classic stories of the Torah: Baby Moses is placed in a wicker basket, and sent floating down the Nile River. Discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, he is rescued and, well, you know the rest of the story.
This week’s Torah portion, Shemot (the first of the Book of Exodus), is somewhat of a gloomy portion. After all, it describes in detail the servitude of the Jewish people in Egypt. Yet even in the darkest of times, there is light: In this case, we also read of the birth of Moses.
Every time I read the passage of the birth of Moses, I recall the Talmudic debate concerning the words, “And she [Moses’ mother] saw him, that he was good” (Exodus 2:2).
What does the Torah mean that “he was good”? Aren’t all babies good?
The Talmud and the Zohar debate the issue. The two opinions offered are: 1. He was born circumcised; 2. The entire house filled with light.
Make up your mind, which one is it? What did Moses’ mother see?
The answer, of course, is both. The Talmud is not arguing about whatMoses’ mother saw; rather, the discussion surrounds which was his prime defining quality.
Being born circumcised represents a person who is on a lofty spiritual level. Filling the house with light, on the other hand, represents one’s ability to positively affect others.
So the Talmudic debate, then, is regarding which of these positive qualities made Moses the great leader that he was: his lofty spiritual level, or his unique ability to positively influence others.
While both are certainly indispensable (and go hand-in-hand), it is interesting to note that in his commentary on this verse, Rashi quotes only the second Talmudic opinion, that the house filled with light. Perhaps this alludes to a fundamental truth: While it is certainly critical to strive to become a better person, what truly makes one a leader is the ability to share that goodness with others.