Be a Mensch! – Parshat Shemot

Without being sexist, this phrase simply implores the individual to be an upright, responsible individual with civility and humility – no matter male or female  - who doesn’t stand idly by while others suffer. Although I did consider using "Be a Man", I decided that the title itself might keep people away. In addition, the word Mensch implies infinitely more than the word "man". (I add a tip of the hat to the "mensch on the bench" mascot of the Israeli national baseball team)

This week's parsha notes that Moshe saw a Jewish slave being smitten and looked around, apparently searching, for a Mensch to help out.1 When he found no one, he decided that he was being called upon to act in the manner of Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehuda the President dictum: "in a place where there are no Men, be a Man."2 Moshe then took action to save the life of the slave.

Rabbi Lamm, z'l, noted this behavior of Moshe and described it in the light of the comments made by Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi of Meklenberg. Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi said that being a Man is not simply a biological or zoological distinction.  It requires a good nature and that his spiritual dimension is often victorious over the physical. This person, specifically, may be called a Man by definition as well. He explains that the Hebrew word man "Ish" is formed from the root "Yesh" which means substance. An individual needs to have moral substance to merit being called Man.

Rabbi Lamm then adds that "being a mensch means having the civility that comes to a man when he realizes how great he can become and ought to become, and how little of that greatness he has achieved. This sense of limitation and inadequacy makes us more tolerant of the failings of others, and endows us with forgiveness and forbearance. The best criterion of a true Mensch is one who always has a healthy respect for other human beings"4

This is a high level to aspire to for men and women. To paraphrase Dostoevsky - may we be worthy of this aspiration.


  1. Shemot 2:11-12
  2. Haketav Vehakabalah - Bamidbar 22
  3. Avot 2:5
  4. Rabbi Norman Lamm, z"l, was a recent president of Yeshiva University and passed away this past year. His sermons are found in the Yeshiva University archives with this particular sermon at this link -

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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