“Moshe spoke accordingly to Bnei Yisrael, but they did not heed Moshe …” (Shemos 6:9)
Hashem commands Moshe to inform the Jews that He is going to redeem them very soon. The pasuk tells us that the Jewish people did not take his words to heart. Our sages ask: Why does the pasuk have to repeat Moshe’s name? It could have merely said “but they did not heed him.”
The medrash tells us that when Moshe spoke to the Jewish people they said, “We are enslaved in this bitter exile, and every moment of every day we are oppressed and tortured. You grew up in the king’s palace and are accustomed to a better life. You do not work at all because you are a Levi. You are trying to comfort us and reassure us that our salvation is imminent?
Therefore, the pasuk emphasizes that the Jewish people did not listen to Moshe. If it had been someone else speaking to them of impending redemption, it is possible that they would have listened and believed that individual.
We read in the Haggadah, “R’ Elazar ben Azariah said … I have never succeeded in proving that the Exodus from Egypt should be mentioned at night, until Ben Zoma explained it …” Our sages ask: Why, in fact, was it only Ben Zoma – and not R’ Elazar ben Azariah – who succeeded in establishing that yetzias Mitzrayim should be spoken of also at night, not only during the days?
R’ Yaakov Meir Stern expounds that homiletically the nights allude to the exile, and the days allude to the redemption from Egypt. The legitimacy and credence of the person speaking is based on his personal identity and essence. R’ Elazar ben Azariah was an exceedingly wealthy individual. We learn (Shabbos 54b) that he was so wealthy that he would tithe 12,000 calves from his herd each year, i.e. 120,000 calves were born into his herds annually. If R’ Elazar would try to comfort the poor people suffering in exile, they would be unlikely to accept his words, for it could not be said that he could truly identify with their misery and hardship.
Ben Zoma, on the other hand, is the one who taught (Avos 4:1), “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot,” and his words were accepted by the masses.
In a similar vein, the mishna in Avos (6:9) relates that when R’ Yosi ben Kisma was offered thousands upon thousands of golden dinars, precious stones and pearls to move from his city of Torah scholars and sages he turned down the offer. The mishna then cites Dovid HaMelech (Tehillim 119:72), “I prefer the Torah of Your mouth above thousands in gold and silver.” What bearing does King David’s reference have here? The medrash states that Dovid HaMelech gave his money to the poor, as his sole desire was to study Torah and dedicate his life to the service of Hashem. The Talmud (Shabbos 30a) teaches that on the day that Dovid HaMelech was supposed to die, the Angel of Death was unable to take him because he did not pause in his Torah study. The Angel of Death resorted to climbing a tree and shaking its branches, at which point Dovid HaMelech went out to investigate. As he climbed the stairs it broke beneath him. Startled, Dovid HaMelech was silent and interrupted his studies for a moment, and died.
The great tzaddik, R’ Moshe Friedman of Boyan, was a legendary Torah personality. He was cherished by his community and followers, and his impact and leadership was notable.
When the Nazis incarcerated the Boyaner Rebbe together with thousands of other Jews, his supporters were deeply pained. They agreed to raise the sum of half a million German marks which they would offer to the Nazis as a bribe to release the Rebbe. The proposal was brought to Hermann Goring, one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi Party, and it was accepted.
One of the commanders was sent to find the Boyaner Rebbe, and when he came to the bloc where the Rebbe was being held, he called out, “Where is the Rabbiner Friedman?” All the inmates were certain that he had been singled out to be killed, but the Boyaner Rebbe proudly rose from his bunk and presented himself.
“Rabbiner Friedman, you are free to go,” stated the commander. “Your freedom has been bought by your followers.”
The Boyaner Rebbe looked around him and, pointing to his fellow prisoners, he said, “And how about all of these people?”
The Nazi commander barked, “What do these people have to do with you?” The Rebbe answered, “They are my brothers.”
Seeing the Rebbe’s hesitation, the Nazi commander actually offered to return the following day for the Rebbe’s final answer. The camp inmates begged the Rebbe to grab the opportunity and take his freedom, but he said, “I am among my nation; I share my brothers’ destiny.”
When the commander returned the following day, the Rebbe told him, “If I can save ten of my fellow Jews, and you will permit them to leave with me, then that will be a congregation. That is the only way I will leave.”
The commander radioed the general who responded in the negative. The great tzaddik was eventually killed al kiddush Hashem together with his brethren.
The fate of the Rebbe was unknown until a survivor later recounted this incident to the Admor M’Boyan, R’ Shlomo. The survivor was overcome, crying with intense emotion, as he recalled the devotion, faithfulness and piety of a true leader of the Jewish nation.