Moshe (Moses) – Was He Born Perfect?

Over a century ago, in 5655/1895, Rav Chaim Yitzchok Aharon, the Maggid of Vilkomir, published an eleven-page booklet, “Klil Tiferes,” to explode what seemed to be an impossible story. “In this brochure,” Rav Chaim Yitzchok Aharon writes, “we have come to point out that the Torah testifi es that Moshe Rabbeinu possessed every good virtue at birth, as it says, ‘And she saw him, that he was good…’ (Shemos 2:2). “However, about fifty years ago, one of the gedolei hador, (the “Tiferes Yisroel”) cited an anonymous story in his sefer, at the end of Seder Nashim. The story testifies that Moshe was inclined, by nature, to have bad middos, such as pride and avarice… The gaonim of our generation agree that this letter must have originated in some journal… Therefore, I have written this brochure to prove that this story is a total forgery and absolute falsehood…”

The author requests that anyone buying this brochure attach it to his Mishnayos at the end of Seder Nashim so that the refutation to the Tiferes Yisroel’s letter should be close at hand.

The Tiferes Yisroel cites this story in order to explain the Mishnah’s puzzling statement that “the best of doctors are for Gehinom” (Kiddushin, Chapter 4:14).

“Based on a beautiful story I saw written somewhere, I think that this statement is not an insult of expert doctors but in praise of them,” he writes. “When Moshe took the Jews from Egypt… an Arab king sent a talented artist to draw a portrait of Moshe and bring it to him… When the king asked his wise men to describe the famous person [by looking at] his portrait, they unanimously replied that, according to the portrait, the great leader was afflicted with every character flaw.

“The king erupted in anger. ‘You are making a fool of me!’ he yelled. ‘I have heard from everywhere the exact opposite of what you claim!’

“An argument broke out between the artist and the wise men, each accusing the other of being in error. Anxious to know the truth, the king set out with his chariot and horsemen and arrived at Yisroel’s camp. When he saw Moshe from afar, he quickly took out the portrait and found that it portrayed Moshe perfectly. Extremely surprised, he entered Moshe’s tent, bowed before him, and told him everything he had done…

“Moshe replied, ‘Both the artist and the wise men were correct. Were I great by nature, would I be better than a dry chunk of wood, which is also incapable of having evil character traits? Would that make me beloved by G-d and man? I am not ashamed to tell you the truth. All the bad character traits your wise men saw in my portrait are correct and may be even worse. I overcame them through great effort and transformed myself into the opposite. That is what makes me beloved and honored in the heavens above and in the land below.’”

The Tiferes Yisroel concludes that the same applies to a good doctor. Because his expertise tempts him to be proud, arrogant, and over-confident in making diagnoses without asking for advice, he is headed for Gehinom. However, if he overcomes these evil tendencies, he will be all the greater!

The Klil Tiferes demonstrates the story’s falsity by proving that Moshe was righteous his entire life.

First, the Gemara (Sotah 12) states, “’She saw him, that he was good…’ R. Nechemiah says, ‘Fitting for prophecy.’ Others say, ‘He was born circumcised.’ And the Sages say, ‘At the time Moshe was born, the whole house filled with light. It says here ‘that he was good,’ and it says there, ‘And G-d saw the light, that it was good.’ [When Pharoah’s daughter found him it says], ‘And she saw him, the boy.’ It should have just said, ‘She saw him.’ Explained R. Yosi bar Chanina, ‘Because she saw the Shechinah with him.’”

The Zohar, too, points out a fundamental difference between Moshe and Avrohom. When the angel calls out ‘Avrohom | Avrohom’ at the Akeidah, the Torah places a p’sik (a vertical line that indicates a slight pause) between one ‘Avrohom’ and the next, whereas when Hashem calls ‘Moshe Moshe’ from the burning bush, there is no p’sik between the two mentions of Moshe’s name. Based on the concept that a person’s name denotes his full spiritual potential, the Zohar comments as follows: “Wherever a name is mentioned twice, a p’sik appears between them, such as ‘Avrohom | Avrohom,’ ‘Yaakov | Yaakov,’ ‘Shmuel | Shmuel,’ etc. But there is no p’sik between ‘Moshe Moshe’ because he was perfect from the day he was born, as it says, ‘And she saw him, that he was good, etc.’” (Volume III:138).

Similarly, the Zohar states later, “… Moshe was never separate [from his potential spiritual level] since the verse writes ‘Moshe Moshe,’ without a p’sik. [Not] as it writes ‘Avrohom | Avrohom’ with a p’sik. This is because, regarding Moshe, aspaklaria denahara (the highest level of prophecy) was with him immediately [at his birth], as it says, ‘And she saw him, that he was good.’ Moshe connected with his darga (spiritual level) immediately and, therefore, it says ‘Moshe Moshe’ without a p’sik” (Volume III:187).

However, certain people argue based on the medrash that Moshe ruled over Kush for forty years, as mentioned in the Targum Yonoson. How could he have remained a perfect tzaddik all that time? The Klil Tiferes answers that we find no less regarding Yaakov who, after spending twenty-two years with the wicked Lavan, instructed his messengers to tell Eisav, “I lived with Lavan and observed the 613 mitzvos.

The Yalkut Shimoni (Chapter 2, Remez 168) amply supports the Klil Tiferes’ answer by describing Moshe’s righteous reign in Kush:

“In those days, there was a war between Kush and the people of the East… Kukanus, the king of Kush, went out to fight against Aram and the people of the East, and left Bilam the sorcerer [who lived in Kush]… and his two sons, Yanus and Yambrus, to guard the town and the poor of the land. Bilam advised the people [of Kush] to rebel against the king of Kush [when he returned from the war] and not allow him to enter the town…

“During the [subsequent] siege against Kush, Moshe had fled from Egypt and came to the camp of Kukanus, king of Kush… After nine years [of siege], the king became sick and died… The people made a large podium, seated Moshe on it, blew shofars, and proclaimed, ‘Long live the king! Long live the king!’ They swore to give him the Kushis queen, the widow of Kukanus as a wife, and appointed him their king. Moshe was twenty-seven years old when he became king of Kush…

“After Moshe captured the town with his wisdom, they enthroned him on the royal throne, placed the royal crown on his head, and gave him the Kushis queen as a wife. But Moshe feared the G-d of his fathers and had nothing to do with her, as he remembered the oath Avrohom made Eliezer take when he said, ‘Do not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan…’ (Bereishis 24:3).

“Moshe ruled over Kush for forty years, and he succeeded in all his wars as the G-d of his fathers was with him. In the fortieth year of his reign… the queen said to the ministers and to the people, ‘During the forty years this person has ruled over Kush, he has nothing to do with me and has not served the gods of Kush. Listen to me… let my son, Muncham, rule over you as it is better for you to serve the son of your master than to serve a stranger who is a servant of the king of Egypt.’

“The people… gave [Moshe] great gifts and sent him away with great honor… He went to Midyan, as he was afraid to return to Egypt because of Pharaoh, and he came to Reuel [Yisro].”

This medrash supports the Klil Tiferes’ claim that Moshe was steadfast in Kush and refused to follow its people’s ways. Since he had adhered so steadfastly to his forefathers’ ways, Hashem was constantly with him there and blessed him with success.

The Klil Tiferes cites several proofs he heard from Rav Yehoshua Leib (the Maharil) Diskin that the letter is a forgery:

For example, the Zohar writes that Yisro advised Moshe to choose judges who were “G-d fearing, truthful men, who hated avarice, etc.” (Shemos 18:21). Moshe identified them through chochmas hapartzuf (by identifying these characteristics on their faces). If, as the letter claims, a person’s evil remains on his face even after he changes his ways, how could Moshe reject people from being judges on the basis of chochmas hapartzuf? Perhaps, they had changed radically for the better after Matan Torah?

The Klil Tiferes then discusses the problem raised by the Tiferes Yisroel. If Moshe was righteous since his birth, why should he receive any reward for his effortless mitzvos?

He answers with the following medrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Beha’alosecha, chapter 639):

“It is written, ‘And the man, Moshe, was more humble than any man on the face of the earth’ (Bamidbar 12:3). However, it is [also] written [that Moshe said to the men of Gad, Ephraim and Menashe who wanted the land east of the Jordan], (Bamidbar 32:14), ‘And behold, you have arisen after your fathers, disciples of sinning men, etc.,’ so we see that he was harsh? However, he ruled his inclination. The Holy One said, ‘Moshe is extremely humble and does not demand [anything] for his needs, as he demanded for My honor [when he said at the sin of the golden calf], ‘Whoever is for Hashem come to me. ‘ (Shemos 32:26). Therefore, I will demand his honor [and punish Aharon and Miriam for speaking against him].”

In other words, although Moshe was created absolutely perfect, he had one middah which could present him with trial and difficulty, his propensity to be intolerant of any wrongdoing (kapdanus). Indeed, many major events in his life center on this middah, such as killing the Egyptian who was beating a Jew and saving Yisro’s daughters from their persecutors.

Moshe thus had both good qualities. Although perfect from birth, he earned eternal reward by keeping his middah of kapdanus under tight control and becoming the most humble man on earth.*

It should be noted that agreement to the above conclusion is by no means unanimous.Some Rabonim have stated that the Tiferes Yisroel’s story could be genuine and have attempted to resolve its attendant difficulties.

(Main source: Chaim Yitzchok Aharon, “Kunteros Klil Tiferes,” printed by R. Moshe Lilienthal, Yerushalayim, 5655.) *Editors note: Rab Moshe Feinstein also disparaged the authenticity of this story as the whole basis for it is the testimony of an akum whose words have no standing in Beis Din.

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