We read in Parashat Shemot of Moshe’s experiences as a young man when he decided to leave Pharaoh’s palace, where he was raised, and observe the plight of the Israelite slaves. On the first day, Moshe saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating a helpless slave, and he promptly killed the taskmaster to rescue the slave. The next day, Moshe saw two Israelites quarreling with one another, and he tried to intervene, asking the guilty party, “Why do you strike your fellow?”
The man replied, “Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (2:14).
The Torah says that Moshe at that point realized that “noda ha-davar” – “the matter is known.” The simple meaning is that Moshe recognized, to his horror, that despite his attempts the previous day to ensure that nobody would witness his strike of the taskmaster, and his quick burial of the taskmaster’s remains, the incident was seen, and the news had likely spread. Moshe was thus forced to flee from Egypt.
The Midrash Tanchuma, however, as Rashi cites, finds a deeper level of meaning in Moshe’s exclamation, “noda ha-davar.” According to the Midrash, Moshe was saying that he now understood the reason why Benei Yisrael were deserving of such unusual persecution. Until then, the Midrash teaches, Moshe wondered why Benei Yisrael were singled out for such suffering, but now, upon seeing the way they treated one another, he understood.
Ketav Sofer offers a creative explanation of the Midrash’s comment. He suggests that the Midrash refers not to the general plight suffered by Benei Yisrael in Egypt, but specifically to the Egyptians’ suspicion of them. As we read earlier, the period of enslavement began when Pharaoh expressed concern that Benei Yisrael – whose population was rapidly growing – would support Egypt’s enemies, and they thus posed a grave threat to the empire. Pharaoh regarded this threat as so serious that he felt it necessary to enslave the nation in order to keep them at bay. Moshe wondered why Egypt looked upon Benei Yisrael with such suspicion, presuming that the people whose ancestors were welcomed by Egypt when they faced deadly famine in their homeland would be disloyal – and were so suspicious that they deemed it necessary to enslave and persecute them. Moshe found the answer, Ketav Sofer explains, when he saw how Benei Yisrael betrayed one another. In Ketav Sofer’s words:
We are considered among the nations as people of deceit and various schemes, people of quarreling and the like, because they see that people rise against each other to completely knock him down, to speak evil about him, and to hand him over to his foes. They conclude a fortiori, [figuring,] “If they mistreat their fellow, then certainly they would despise us and always devise plans against us how to deceive and mislead.”
When Moshe saw the way Benei Yisrael acted with hostility toward one another, he understood why they aroused suspicion among the Egyptians, who saw Benei Yisrael as people who could not be trusted. When we fail to treat one another properly, if we are dishonest and disloyal to other members of our nation, then it is only natural that other nations will distrust us and look at us with suspicion.