I bought Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky’s אמת ליעקב largely for the following insight that Hilel Frankenthal pointed out to me. It’s a way of looking at Moshe and his time before יציאת מצרים that completely changes how I read this parasha, ספר איוב and some of תהילים. As a caveat, it is original to Rav Kamenetsky, and involves reading midrashim literally, so your mileage may vary.
When Moshe initially tells Pharaoh to “let my people go”, he refuses and makes things worse:
What does אל ישעו בדברי שקר mean?
ישעו is from the same root as שעה, meaning to “spend time”. The midrash connects it to שַׁעֲשׁוּעַ, ”pastime“, and specifically to the well-known pasuk:
Rav Kamenetsky speculates on these מגילות:
In this reading, מזמור שיר ליום השבת is literally true; it was a song for שבת, their only day of rest. And it doesn’t talk about the halachic שבת since that wasn’t relevant then; it’s all about hope. “Things get better”. The Jews needed that in the depths of their slavery, and then Pharaoh took it away from them.
And more than that; Rav Kamenetsky argues that Moshe actually wrote מזמור שיר ליום השבת for בני ישראל then:
Rashi’s source is מדרש שכל טוב; it’s not clear why those 11 psalms. The first is explicitly attributed to Moshe. The rest are:
תפלה למשה איש האלקים
ישב בסתר עליון
מזמור שיר ליום השבת
ה׳ מלך גאות לבש
א־ל נקמות ה׳
לכו נרננה לה׳
שירו לה׳ שיר חדש
ה׳ מלך תגל הארץ
מזמור שירו לה׳ שיר חדש
ה׳ מלך ירגזו עמים
Rav Kamenetsky similarly argues that איוב was also written by Moshe, and also is all about צדיק ורע לו, and was one of those מגילות:
Which is an incredible insight in understanding איוב. It’s a book in תנ״ך, but is it historical? The gemara seems to conclude that it is not:
But as Ibn Ezra points out, איוב is mentioned as a historical character in יחזקאל:
And the gemara brings stories of the historical Job:
So is ספר איוב historical or not? Yes. I would assume (based on the aggadah in סוטה) there was an advisor to Pharaoh named איוב, who had a good life then suffered (the basis of the textual introduction to ספר איוב). Moshe wrote the book as a parable, using the historical character who would have been familiar to בני ישראל, writing his extended essay on theodicy. It is similar to the Kuzari, which is an essay on Jewish faith based on the historical story of the conversion of Khazars.
What this model for the מגילות does is changes my image of Moshe. There’s a huge question of what Moshe is doing between the time he runs away from Egypt (presumably as a young man) and when he returns to Egypt, at the age of eighty. It’s not clear from the text when he ends up in Midian married to Zipporah. There are midrashim about him living in Kush and elsewhere. This, however, presents an image of Moshe, in exile from Egypt, still running samizdat documents to his enslaved brethren, doing his best to keep their hopes up. It changes how we read תהילים פרק צד:
Imagine it not as a prayer for the בית המקדש, but as an analogue of the spirituals of the African slaves in the US, dreaming of liberation. It gives new poignancy to the שיר של יום.
And is makes this pasuk almost tragic:
At this point, Moshe is giving up. He’s moving to Midian, starting a new family, realizing his loss (he names his son גרשם) but will do nothing more until he is called at the burning bush.