This week we start a new sefer of the Torah, Sefer Shemot. In perek bet we learn of Moshe’s birth and adoption and eventually the story in which he goes out into the fields and kills an Egyptian he sees beating a Jewish slave. The pesukim describing that story have many nuances that may not be caught on the first reading. In pasuk 12 it says “vayifen ko va’cho – he looked here and there” before killing the Mitzri. Obviously, Moshe felt he was justified in killing the Mitzri or he would not have done so. Why does he feel he needs to check to see if the coast is clear? To understand this, the Midrash explains that we need to know who these two people (the Jew and the Mitzri) were.
The Midrash says that that the Jews in that time were known to be very moral in a land (Egypt) where promiscuity was prominent. It says there was only one woman who ever slept with a Mitzri. In that time, the Mitzrim would appoint certain Jews to oversee other Jews, and the Mitzrim would oversee these overseers. One day a Mitzri came by to wake one of the Jewish overseers in his charge as was his job each morning. He happened to look inside and saw the Jew’s wife, who was very beautiful. After the Jew had left for work, the Mitzri returned and slept with the Jewish woman and she in the dark thought it was her husband. The Jew returned to see the Mitzri leaving his home and said to his wife: “Did he touch you?” She said, “I thought it was you.” Obviously the Jew was very mad and the Mitzri knew that the Jew knew what he had done, so the Mitzri wished to kill the Jew so that he couldn’t reveal what he knew. He was beating the Jew in an attempt to kill him when Moshe walked by. Moshe, being the great prophet he was, looked into the man’s past and saw what he had done with the Jew’s wife and into his future and saw he was going to kill the Jew. So Moshe killed him. This is the meaning of “vayifen ko va’cho”
The next phrase is also awkward. It says, “va’yar ki ayn ish – he saw there was no man” usually the phrase would be “v’lo ra’ah ish – he didn’t see anyone.” But instead, the verb “ra’ah” is conjugated here as an active verb, “va’yar.” You can’t actively see noone when you don’t see anyone. So why then does the Torah decide to use this odd phrasing? There are many opinions. The Midrash suggests that “ki ben mavet hu.” That is, the Egyptian had a death sentence over his head for his crimes which we have already discussed. Another suggestion is that Moshe looked and saw that no one besides him was zealous enough to take a stand against this injustice. A third opinion is that Moshe saw that in heaven no angel would stand up to defend this man so clearly he had no redeemable qualities. Another idea is that he saw that no tzadikim (righteous people) would ever be descended from this man so he was not killing a future generation who deserved to live.
The Midrash says that Moshe killed the man by pronouncing one of G-d’s names. This is a sort of backwards midah k’neged midah (just reward). According to this Midrash, the Jewess became pregnant with the Mitzri’s child. Later, in Sefer Vayikra, the “mekalel” is a man whose mother was a Jew and whose father was an Egyptian. The Midrash says it was those people involved in the story just explained. He killed a man by pronouncing one of G-d’s names when he shouldn’t have. So it is fitting that just as he killed using one of G-d’s names, Moshe killed his father using one of Hashem’s names.
From these two phrases in pasuk 12 we learn that every single detail in the Torah is there for a reason and cannot be ignored, for there is something important we can learn from it.