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Share the pain!

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil
January 17, 2017

The Gemara Sotah (11a) tells us that Pharaoh had three advisers: Yitro, Iyov and Bilam. Pharaoh wished to decide how to deal with the Israelite “problem”. He sought the opinion of each of his three advisers.

Bilam, was an evil man and relished the prospect of eradicating the Jewish people. He advised Pharaoh to kill the male Israelites.

Iyov was opposed to any plan to destroy the Jewish nation. Rather than display his true feelings on the issue, he refrained from offering any opinion and he remained silent.

Yitro, on the other hand, vocally rejected Pharaoh’s idea of exterminating the Jewish people. Yitro believed it was wrong that these people should be made to suffer for no crime other than being Jewish. Yitro’s loud protests angered Pharaoh and Yitro had to flee Egypt in order to save his life.

The Talmud continues by telling us that each of the three advisers were rewarded or punished according to his deed. Bilam was killed by the very people he sought to exterminate. Iyov, who remained silent in the face of Jewish oppression, was afflicted with a life of pain and suffering. Yitro, who fled because of his opposition, sacrificing his position of leadership and life of comfort and wealth in Egypt, eventually became the father-in-law of Moshe and his descendants merited serving as prominent judicial leaders in the Sanhedrin.

Hashem dealt Mida Keneged Mida – measure for measure with all three of them.

On reflection one can understand both Yitro and Bilam’s reward and punishment, yet it is difficult to comprehend why Iyov’s punishment was so severe.

In fact, even if Iyov had objected, Pharaoh would have still enacted his decree. Iyov’s only sin was remaining silent. Why then did he have to suffer such a harsh life, where tragedy followed tragedy?

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot lists 48 ways to acquire Torah. We are taught for example that studying, listening and minimising one’s sleep are all ways of acquiring the Torah.

One of the 48 ways stands out. The 39th way is – Nosei Be’ol Chaveiro – participating in the burden of one’s fellow. Why should participating in the burden of one’s fellow, enable us to acquire Torah?

Hashem gave Am Yisrael the Torah as a nation. We were all there at Har Sinai, in fact all the future souls of our nation were there. The Torah was not handed down to one individual; rather it was handed to the nation. One of the intrinsic messages in this action was that in order to uphold and to learn this Torah, there needs to be unity. One needs to see himself as part of the other person; one big family.

Choosing a leader isn’t easy. When it came to redeeming Am Yisrael, Hashem chose Moshe from the tribe of Levi. What action reveals Moshe’s potential as a leader, and what was so special about the tribe of Levi?

When the Torah relates the lineage of Reuven, Shimon and Levi (Shemot 6:14-16) the Torah states the sons of Reuven… The sons of Shimon… yet when it comes to Levi, the Torah states “These were the NAMES of the sons of Levi…”. Why does the Torah emphasize the names of Levi, while those of Reuven and Shimon are seemingly ignored?

The Sh’lah HaKadosh (Rav Yeshayahu HaLevi Horowitz) explains that in Egypt the nation were subjugated to servitude. The tribe of Levi, however were not.

One might have expected them to enjoy this status and “forget” about their brothers. It is to this that the Torah emphasises the names of Levi’s children. He named his sons after his brothers’ bondage. “Gershon” — for they were “Gerim” (aliens) in a foreign land. “Kehat” — for they gritted their teeth (Kehat) in their suffering. “Merari” — for their lives had been embittered (Maror). Levi wished to actively participate in his brothers’ anguish, identifying with them in their times of stress and named his sons accordingly. It is for this reason the Torah stresses their names.

Similarly, the Torah relates that “Moshe grew up, and he went out amongst his brethren and he saw their suffering” (Shemot 2:11).

Moshe was a prince in Pharaoh’s palace. He had everything going for him. Yet he knew his identity and he yearned to relate to his people.

The Midrash comments that Moshe saw their suffering and cried: “How my heart goes out for your suffering! If only I could die for you, to spare you your suffering.”  Moshe removed his princely garments and went out into the field to try to help his brethren make the bricks and mortar, just so that he could be a part of their pain.

According to the Midrash, Hashem said to him: “You left your comforts to participate in the pain of Israel as an equal; I will leave the company of the Higher Ones so that I may speak with you.”

It is for this reason that Moshe was chosen as a leader. A leader must be able to see beyond the physicality to delve deep and feel the emotional suffering as if that suffering is happening to him. Moshe felt it, he was distressed and he acted accordingly.

The Alter of Kelm comments that later on we find the Torah relates that “Hashem Saw and Hashem Knew” (that the time had come for redemption) (Shemot 2:28).

Rashi, explaining this verse, uses virtually the same expression as he did concerning Moshe: “G-d placed his eye upon them and did not remove his heart from them.”  The Alter of Kelm explains that G-d was inspired – as it were – by the actions of Moshe. It was Moshe’s own similar actions that triggered G-d’s looking at and taking to heart, so to speak, the troubles of the Jewish people.

Such is the power of Am Yisrael, when we are together; when we truly feel for our brothers and sisters then Hashem’s redemption is sure to follow.


We can now understand why Iyov suffered for his silence.

Iyov, was not sure what possible good would come out of him voicing resistance to Pharaoh’s evil edict. He reckoned it would not change anything. Even if Pharaoh would not change the edict, he still should have voiced his opinion.

When Iyov personally suffered, then he did not remain silent, rather he raised his voice beseeching G-d.

Thus Iyov’s punishment stirred him to react in a manner that in turn demonstrated the error of his failure to raise his voice in protest against Pharaoh’s heinous plan.

I was once in Yerushalayim talking to a Gadol Hador, when an ambulance with its siren wailing whizzed by. The Gadol, stopped in the middle of talking to me, and with his eyes closed started to say a prayer. At first it didn’t hit me, but then I realised what had happened. The Rav didn’t see the ambulance as a piece of scenery in the background. He saw it as a person in distress, a person who is being rushed to hospital, a person in need of help. This is how we must approach the suffering of our fellow Jews.

Just as we share in our nation’s sorrow, so to may Hashem bless us to always share in our people’s Simcha Bekarov. Amen

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