That Pain Hurts More by Rabbi Benny Berlin

In this week’s Parasha we are introduced to the last three of the Ten Plagues that are visited on Egypt, and Moshe introduces the first Mitzvah to be given to Bnei Yisroel, to establish a calendar based on the monthly rebirth on the moon. It is incredible to come to this stage of the narrative. However, I would like to focus on something in Parashat Shemot. In the beginning of the story of Exodus, when the daughter of Pharaoh discovered baby Moshe in the wicker basket, the Torah relates that “she opened the basket and saw the child and behold it was a weeping boy (chap. 2 v.6).” The switched noun from child to boy is grammatically inconsistent! It should have stated “she saw the child and the child was crying” or better yet “she saw the child crying.”

The Ba’al Haturim explains that the nouns are referring to two different people. The child she saw in the basket was Moshe; the boy crying was his older brother Aharon, who was standing nearby. It was not just Miriam who was stationed by the Nile to discover Moshe’s fate. Aharon, too, followed his younger brother as he drifted down the river. When Moshe was found by the daughter of Pharaoh, his brother Aharon began to cry. Upon seeing one brother crying for another, Pharaoh’s daughter realized “this is one of the Hebrew’s children” (ibid.). Remarkable! The telltale sign of a Jew is compassion for his brother. So it was from the beginning of our nationhood, so it was throughout the generations, and so it should be today.

I heard a story from Rav Jake Vlidomlansky that exemplifies this point. The Tzaddik Rav Mordechai from Hornsteipel was sick. The doctors decided that in order to cure him they would need to sear his back with a hot rod. Obviously, medicine in Ukraine was different back in the 1800’s than it is today. There were three degrees of heat that the doctor would apply. If the patient failed to react to the first degree of heat the doctor would employ the second degree and if that, too, failed to solicit any reaction from the patient, the doctor would apply the third and hottest degree of heat. Rarely would the doctor move beyond the first rod.

The tzaddik Rav Mordechai was given the first degree of heat, but rather than cry out he remained silent. The doctor assumed Rav Mordechai did not feel the heat and put on the second rod. The tzaddik felt the heat scorch his body but again remained silent. The doctor then applied the third rod, and to his amazement, there was not a sound from the tzaddik. The Doctor had never seen anything like this in all his years practicing medicine and exclaimed, “He must be some sort of demon or angel.” The tzaddik answered the doctor, “Sometimes Jews come to me with a kvittel (a note with a name on it, asking the tzaddik to petition to God on that person’s behalf) and I am powerless to help…that pain hurts a lot more.”