web analytics
August 27, 2014 / 1 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Moses’

Sprints And Marathons

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

It was a unique, unrepeatable moment of leadership at its highest height. For forty days Moses had been communing with God, receiving from Him the law written on tablets of stone. Then God informed him that the people had just made a golden calf. He was about to destroy them. It was the worst crisis of the wilderness years, and it called for every one of Moses’s gifts as a leader.

First, he prayed to God not to destroy the people. God agreed. Then he went down the mountain and saw the people cavorting around the calf. Immediately, he smashed the tablets. He burned the calf, mixed its ashes with water and made the people drink. Then he called for people to join him. The Levites heeded the call and carried out a bloody punishment in which three thousand people died. Then Moses went back up the mountain and prayed for forty days and nights. Then for a further forty days he stayed with God while a new set of tablets was engraved. Finally he came down the mountain on 10 Tishrei carrying the new tablets with him as a visible sign that God’s covenant with Israel remained.

This was an extraordinary show of leadership, at times bold and decisive, at others slow and persistent. Moses had to contend with both sides, inducing the Israelites to do teshuvah and God to exercise forgiveness. At that moment he was the greatest ever embodiment of the name Israel, meaning one who wrestles with God and with people – and prevails.

The good news is that there once was a Moses. Because of him, the people survived. The bad news: what happens when there is no Moses? The Torah itself says, “No other prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). That is the problem faced by every nation, corporation, community and family. What do you do in the absence of heroic leadership? It is easy to say, “Think what Moses would have done.” But Moses did what he did because he was what he was. We are not Moses. That is why every human group that was once touched by greatness faces a problem of continuity. How does it avoid a slow decline?

The answer is given in this week’s parshah. The day Moses descended the mountain with the second tablets was to be immortalized by turning its anniversary into a holy day, Yom Kippur. On it, the drama of teshuvah and kapparah, repentance and atonement, was to be repeated annually. This time, though, the key figure would not be Moses but Aaron, not the prophet but the high priest.

That is how you perpetuate a transformative event: by turning it into a ritual. Max Weber called this the routinization of charisma. A once-and-never-again moment becomes a once-and-ever-again ceremony. As James MacGregor Burns puts it in his classic work, Leadership: “The most lasting tangible act of leadership is the creation of an institution – a nation, a social movement, a political party, a bureaucracy – that continues to exert moral leadership and foster needed social change long after the creative leaders are gone.”

There is a remarkable midrash in which various sages put forward their idea of klal gadol ba’Torah, the great principle of the Torah. Ben Azzai says it is the verse, “This is the book of the chronicles of man: On the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God” (Genesis 5:1). Ben Zoma says that there is a more embracing principle, “Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Ben Nannas says there is a yet more embracing principle: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Ben Pazzi says we find a more embracing principle still: “The first sheep shall be offered in the morning, and the second sheep in the afternoon” (Exodus 29:39) – or, as we might say today, Shacharit, Minchah and Ma’ariv. In a word: “routine.” The passage concludes: The law follows Ben Pazzi.

Moses: the Heroic Model

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

“That very day the Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people …For you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 48-50, 52).

These words draw to a close the life of the greatest hero the Jewish people has ever known: Moses, the leader, the liberator, the lawgiver, the man who brought a group of slaves to freedom, turned a fractious collection of individuals into a nation, and so transformed them that they became the people of eternity.

It was Moses who mediated with God, performed signs and wonders, gave the people their laws, fought with them when they sinned, fought for them when praying for Divine forgiveness, gave his life to them and had his heart broken by them when they repeatedly failed to live up to his great expectations.

Each age has had its own image of Moses. For the more mystically inclined sages, Moses was the man who ascended to heaven at the time of the giving of the Torah, where he had to contend with the angels who opposed the idea that this precious gift be given to mere mortals. God told Moses to answer them, which he did decisively. “Do angels work that they need a day of rest? Do they have parents that they need to be commanded to honor them? Do they have an evil inclination that they need to be told, ‘Do not commit adultery?’ ” (Shabbat 88a). Moses the man out-argues the angels.

Other sages were more radical still. For them Moses was rabbeinu, “our rabbi” – not a king, a political or military leader, but a scholar and master of the law, a role that they invested with astonishing authority. They went so far as to say that when Moses prayed for God to forgive the people for the Golden Calf, God replied, “I cannot, for I have already vowed, ‘One who sacrifices to any God shall be destroyed’ (Exodus 22:19), and I cannot revoke My vow.” Moses replied, “Master of the universe, have You not taught me the laws of annulling vows? One may not annul his own vow, but a sage may do so.” Moses thereupon annulled God’s vow (Shemot Rabbah 43:4).

For Philo, the 1st century Jewish philosopher from Alexandria, Moses was a philosopher-king of the type depicted in Plato’s Republic. He governs the nation, organizes its laws, institutes its rites and conducts himself with dignity and honor; he is wise, stoical and self-controlled. This is, as it were, a Greek Moses, looking not unlike Michelangelo’s famous sculpture.

For Maimonides, Moses was radically different from all other prophets in four ways. First, others received their prophecies in dreams or visions, while Moses received his awake. Second, to the others God spoke in parables obliquely, but to Moses directly and lucidly. Third, the other prophets were terrified when God appeared to them but of Moses it says, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face-to-face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). Fourth, other prophets needed to undergo lengthy preparations to hear the Divine word; Moses spoke to God whenever he wanted or needed to. He was “always prepared, like one of the ministering angels” (Laws of the Foundations of Torah 7:6).

Yet what is so moving about the portrayal of Moses in the Torah is that he appears before us as quintessentially human. No religion has more deeply and systemically insisted on the absolute otherness of God and man, heaven and earth, the infinite and the finite. Other cultures have blurred the boundary, making some human beings seem godlike, perfect, infallible. There is such a tendency – marginal to be sure, but never entirely absent – within Jewish life itself: to see sages as saints, great scholars as angels, to gloss over their doubts and shortcomings and turn them into superhuman emblems of perfection. Tanach, however, is greater than that. It tells us that God, who is never less than God, never asks us to be more than simply human.

Moses is a human being. We see him despair and want to die. We see him lose his temper. We see him on the brink of losing his faith in the people he has been called on to lead. We see him beg to be allowed to cross the Jordan and enter the land he has spent his life as a leader traveling toward. Moses is the hero of those who wrestle with the world as it is and with people as they are, knowing that “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to stand aside from it.”

The Torah insists that “to this day no one knows where his grave is” (Deuteronomy 34:6), to avoid his grave being made a place of pilgrimage or worship. It is all too easy to turn human beings, after their death, into saints and demigods. That is precisely what the Torah opposes. “Every human being” writes Maimonides in his Laws of Repentance (5:2), “can be as righteous as Moses or as wicked as Jeroboam.”

Moses does not exist in Judaism as an object of worship but as a role model for each of us to aspire to. He is the eternal symbol of a human being made great by what he strove for, not by what he actually achieved. The titles conferred by him in the Torah, “the man Moses,” “God’s servant,” “a man of God,” are all the more impressive for their modesty. Moses continues to inspire.

# # #

On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King delivered a sermon in a church in Memphis, Tennessee. At the end of his address, he turned to the last day of Moses’s life, when the man who had led his people to freedom was taken by God to a mountaintop from which he could see in the distance the land he was not destined to enter. That, said King, was how he felt that night:

“I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

That night was the last of his life. The next day he was assassinated. At the end, the still young Christian preacher – he was not yet forty – who had led the civil rights movement in the United States, identified not with a Christian figure but with Moses.

In the end the power of Moses’s story is precisely that it affirms our mortality. There are many explanations of why Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. I have argued that it was simply because “each generation has its leaders” (Avodah Zarah 5a) and the person who has the ability to lead a people out of slavery is not necessarily the one who has the requisite skills to lead the next generation into its own and very different challenges. There is no one ideal form of leadership that is right for all times and situations.

Franz Kafka gave voice to a different and no less compelling truth:

“He is on the track of Canaan all his life; it is incredible that he should see the land only when on the verge of death. This dying vision of it can only be intended to illustrate how incomplete a moment is human life; incomplete because a life like this could last forever and still be nothing but a moment. Moses fails to enter Canaan not because his life was too short but because it is a human life.”

What then does the story of Moses tell us? That it is right to fight for justice even against regimes that seem indestructible. That God is with us when we take our stand against oppression. That we must have faith in those we lead, and when we cease to have faith in them we can no longer lead them. That change, though slow, is real, and that people are transformed by high ideals even though it may take centuries.

In one of its most powerful statements about Moses, the Torah states that he was “a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his strength unabated” (Deuteronomy 34:8). I used to think that these were merely two sequential phrases, until I realized that the first was the explanation for the second. Why was Moses’s strength unabated? Because his eyes were undimmed, because he never lost the ideals of his youth. Though he sometimes lost faith in himself and his ability to lead, he never lost faith in the cause: in God, service, freedom, the right, the good and the holy. His words at the end of his life were as impassioned as they had been at the beginning.

That is Moses, the man who refused to “go gently into that dark night,” the eternal symbol of how a human being, without ever ceasing to be human, can become a giant of the moral life. That is the greatness and the humility of aspiring to be “a servant of God.”

 

Moses Took the Right Turn after all, Says Netanyahu

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

“It turns out that Moses wasn’t such a bad navigator after all, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Israeli Presidential Conference birthday party for President Shimon Peres Thursday evening.

Negating the old joke that Moses could have turned towards Saudi Arabia and lead the People of Israel from Egypt to a land of oil instead of one of “milk and honey” and sand, the Prime Minister said, “We’re lucky enough not to have discovered gas in our first 65 years, or 60 years, because we could rely on our wits, on our ingenuity.

“And yesterday we decided to open up our gas fields for developing an export. We’re not going to make the mistake of those countries who said we shall not export, and the gas remained in the ground and in the sea. We’re going to develop the gas for our internal market and we’re going to fill up the coffers of the state with what we bring from exports for the benefit of all Israelis.”

Korach: Power Vs. Influence

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

The Korach rebellion was an unholy alliance of individuals and groups unhappy with Moses’ leadership. There was Korach himself, a member of the tribe of Levi, angry (according to Rashi) that he had not been given a more prominent role. There were the Reubenites, Datan and Aviram, who resented the fact that the key leadership positions were taken by Levites rather than members of their own tribe. Reuben had been Jacob’s firstborn, and some of his descendants felt that they should have been accorded seniority.

Then there were the 250 “princes of the congregation, elect men of the assembly, men of renown” who felt aggrieved (according to Ibn Ezra) that after the sin of the golden calf, leadership had passed from the firstborn to a single tribe, the Levites. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The Korach story is an all too familiar tale of frustrated ambition and petty jealousy – what the Sages called “an argument not for the sake of heaven.”

What is most extraordinary about the episode, however, is Moses’ reaction. For the first and only time, he invokes a miracle to prove the authenticity of his mission:

Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea. If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”

In effect, Moses uses his power to eliminate the opposition. What a contrast this is to the generosity of spirit he showed just a few chapters earlier, when Joshua came to tell him that Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp, away from Moses and the 70 elders. Joshua regarded this as a potentially dangerous threat to Moses’ leadership and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” Moses’ reply is one of the most majestic in the whole of Tenakh:

“Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit on them.”

What was the difference between Eldad and Medad on the one hand, and Korach and his co-conspirators on the other? What is the difference between Moses saying, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets,” and Korach’s claim that “The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them”? Why was the first, but not the second, a legitimate sentiment? Is Moses simply being inconsistent?

Hardly. There never was a religious leader more clear-sighted. There is a distinction here which goes to the very core of the two narratives.

The Sages, in one of their most profound methodological observations, said that “the words of the Torah may be poor in one place but rich in another.” By this they meant that if we seek to understand a perplexing passage we may need to look elsewhere in the Torah for the clue. A similar idea is expressed in the last of Rabbi Ishmael’s 13 rules of biblical interpretation: “Where there are two passages which contradict each other, the meaning can be determined only when a third passage is found which harmonizes them.”

In this case, the answer is to be found later in the book of Bamidbar, when Moses asks God to choose the next leader of the Israelites. God tells him to take Joshua and appoint him as his successor:

“So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua, son of Nun, a man of spirit, and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Elazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your splendor so that the whole Israelite community will obey him.’”

Moses is commanded to perform two acts over and above presenting Joshua to the priest and people. First he is to “lay his hand” on Joshua. Then he is to give him “some of your splendor.” What is the significance of these two gestures? How did they differ from one another? Which of them constituted induction into office? The Sages, in Midrash Rabbah, added a commentary which at first sight only deepens the mystery:

“Lay your hand on him” – this is like lighting one light from another. “Give him some of your splendor” – this is like pouring from one vessel to another.

It is this statement that will enable us to decode the mystery.

There are two forms or dimensions of leadership. One is power, the other, influence. Often we confuse the two. After all, those who have power often have influence, and those who have influence have a certain kind of power. In fact, however, the two are quite different, even opposites.

We can see this by a simple thought-experiment. Imagine you have total power, and then you decide to share it with nine others. You now have one-tenth of the power with which you began. Imagine, by contrast, that you have a certain measure of influence, and now you share it with nine others. How much do you have left? Not less. In fact, more. Initially there was only one of you; now there are 10. Your influence has spread. Power operates by division, influence by multiplication. With power, the more we share, the less we have. With influence, the more we share, the more we have.

So deep is the difference that the Torah allocates them to two distinct leadership roles: king and prophet. Kings had power. They could levy taxes, conscript people to serve in the army, and decide when and against whom to wage war. They could impose non-judicial punishments to preserve social order. Hobbes famously called kingship a “Leviathan” and defined it in terms of power. The very nature of the social contract, he argued, was the transfer of power from individuals to a central authority. Without this, there could be no government, no defense of a country and no safeguard against lawlessness and anarchy.

Prophets, by contrast, had no power at all. They commanded no armies. They levied no taxes. They spoke God’s word, but had no means of enforcing it. All they had was influence – but what influence! To this day, Elijah’s fight against corruption, Amos’ call to social justice, and Isaiah’s vision of the end of days are capable of moving us by the sheer force of their inspiration. Who, today, is swayed by the lives of Ahab or Jehoshaphat or Jehu?

When a king dies, his power ends. When a prophet dies, his influence begins. Returning to Moses: he occupied two leadership roles, not one. On the one hand, though monarchy was not yet in existence, he had power and was the functional equivalent of a king. He led the Israelites out of Egypt, commanded them in battle, appointed leaders, judges and elders, and directed the conduct of the people. He had power.

But Moses was also a prophet, the greatest and most authoritative of all. He was a man of vision. He heard and spoke the word of God. His influence is incalculable. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, in a manuscript discovered after his death:

…an astonishing and truly unique spectacle is to see an expatriated people, who have had neither place nor land for nearly two thousand years … a scattered people, dispersed over the world, enslaved, persecuted, scorned by all nations, nonetheless preserving its characteristics, its laws, its customs, its patriotic love of the early social union, when all ties with it seem broken. The Jews provide us with an astonishing spectacle: the laws of Numa, Lycurgus, Solon are dead; the very much older laws of Moses are still alive. Athens, Sparta, Rome have perished and no longer have children left on earth; Zion, destroyed, has not lost its children.

The mystery of Moses’ double investiture of Joshua is now solved. First, he was told to give Joshua his authority as a prophet. The very phrase used by the Torah – “vesamakhta et yadekha lay your hand” on him – is still used today to describe rabbinic ordination, semikhah, meaning, the “laying on of hands” by master on disciple. Second, he was commanded to give Joshua the power of kingship, which the Torah calls “splendor” (perhaps majesty would be a better translation). The nature of this role as head of state and commander of the army is made quite clear in the text. God says to Moses: “Give him some of your splendor so that the whole Israelite community will obey him … At his command, he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.” This is the language not of influence but of power.

The meaning of the midrash, too, is now clear and elegantly precise. The transfer of influence (“Lay your hand on him”) is “like lighting one light from another.” When we take a candle to light another candle, the light of the first is not diminished. Likewise, when we share our influence with others, we do not have less than before. Instead, the sum total of light is increased. Power, however, is different. It is like “pouring from one vessel to another.” The more we pour into the second, the less is left in the first. Power is a zero-sum game. The more we give away, the less we have.

This, then, is the solution to the mystery of why, when Joshua feared that Eldad and Medad (who “prophesied within the camp”) were threatening Moses’ authority, Moses replied, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets.” Joshua had confused influence with power. Eldad and Medad neither sought nor gained power. Instead, for a while, they were given a share of the prophetic “spirit” that Moses possessed. They participated in his influence. That is never a threat to prophetic authority. To the contrary, the more widely it is shared, the more there is.

Power, however, is precisely what Korach and his followers sought – and in the case of power, rivalry is a threat to authority. “There is one leader for a generation,” said the Sages, “not two.” Or, as they put it elsewhere, “Can two kings share a single crown?” There are many forms of government – monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy – but what they have in common is the concentration of power within a single body, whether person, group or institution (such as a parliament).

Without this monopoly of the legitimate use of coercive force, there is no such thing as government. That is why in Jewish law “a king is not allowed to renounce the honor due to him.”

Moses’ request that Korach and his followers be swallowed up by the ground was neither anger nor fear. It was not motivated by any personal consideration. It was a simple realization that whereas prophecy can be shared, kingship cannot. If there are two or more competing sources of power within a single domain, there is no leadership. Had Moses not taken decisive action against Korach, he would have fatally compromised the office with which he had been charged.

Rarely do we see more clearly the stark difference between influence and power than in these two episodes: Eldad and Medad on the one hand, Korach and his fellow rebels on the other. The latter represented a conflict that had to be resolved. Either Moses or Korach would emerge the victor; they could not both win. The former did not represent a conflict at all. Knowledge, inspiration, vision – these are things that can be shared without loss. Those who share them with others add to spiritual wealth of a community without losing any of their own.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, “The influence we have lives after us; the power is oft interred with our bones.” Much of Judaism is an extended essay on the supremacy of prophets over kings, right over might, teaching rather than coercion, influence in place of power. For only a small fraction of our history have Jews had power, but at all times they have had an influence over the civilization of the West.

People still contend for power. If only we would realize how narrow its limits are. It is one thing to force people to behave in a certain way; quite another to teach them to see the world differently so that, of their own accord, they act in a new way. The use of power diminishes others; the exercise of influence enlarges them. That is one of Judaism’s most humanizing truths. Not all of us have power, but we are all capable of being an influence for good.

Moses’ Gift: Natural Gas in the Mediterranean

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Golda Meir once quipped that Moses could have done the Jewish people a better service. “He took us 40 years through the desert,” she said, “to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil.”

Today, Golda Meir’s quip has lost its punch. Last week, natural gas began flowing out of the Tamar gas field, discovered off the coast of Israel in January 2009. Tamar and Leviathan, its neighboring gas field, discovered in June 2010, are among the world’s largest recent offshore natural gas discoveries. The Israeli companies controlling the fields are even considering exporting gas to neighboring countries.

Geologists assume that commercial oil reserves may lie beneath the gas find. Some analysts say that the Tamar and Leviathan fields might change Israel’s position in the geopolitical and energy world. But not just Israel’s.

The Israeli fields are adjacent to the Aphrodite gas field, discovered in December 2011, which lies in Cypriot territorial waters, less than 25 miles west of Leviathan. The government in Nicosia expects that the result of offshore drillings will confirm later this year that the island is sitting on vast amounts of natural gas worth billions of dollars. The recent banking crisis in Cyprus –the latest episode in the saga of the collapsing euro – came too early for the country to benefit from its future natural gas wealth. It is, however, indicative that Cyprus turned down the European Union’s demands that the gas reserves be used as collateral for the loans which the E.U. has just extended to Cyprus.

Brussels had demanded that a fund be created in which it was given a direct say over the revenues from Cypriot gas reserves, but Nicosia refused to do so. The Cypriots feel betrayed by the E.U. Hence, they are not inclined to let Europe share in the future wealth which they hope to derive from gas. Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus, said that Cyprus had no other choice than give in to the harsh demand of Brussels that it dismantle its banking sector. He, however, promised that savers who lost money in the Cypriotic banks would be compensated by being given shares in banks guaranteed by the future natural gas revenues.

Today, Cyprus is paying a very heavy price for its membership of the E.U.’s common currency, the euro. When by 2019 the gas proceeds are expected to start flowing, the tables will be turned. Then Cyprus will be in a position to leave the euro without facing the prospect of national bankruptcy.

To begin extracting the gas from the Aphrodite field by 2019, however, the virtually bankrupt Cypriot government will in the coming years need to make enormous investments. The Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, seems keen to get involved. So far, however, the Cypriots have kept the Russians at bay.

Europe is already to a large extent dependent on Russian gas, supplied by Gazprom, a company controlled by the Russian oligarchy around President Putin. A quarter of Europe’s of Europe’s entire gas consumption comes from Gazprom. As a new player in the market of gas exporters, Cyprus could reduce the European dependency on Russian gas.

What applies to Cyprus, obviously, applies to Israel as well. It, too, could use its gas exports to a political end. Bat Ye’or has argued that the pro-Palestinian positions of the European governments since the 1970s were to a large extent the result of Europe’s dependency on Arab oil. Israel has a unique chance of also using the Cypriot gas to its own geostrategic benefit. The Cypriot gas fields are located halfway between the Cypriot and Israeli coast. Israel, Cyprus and Greece are already collaborating in the EuroAsia Interconnector project, which is an undersea power cable linking Israel with Cyprus and Cyprus with Greece. A gas pipeline following the same route would balance the current pipeline on the Baltic seabed linking Russia with Germany.

Another opportunity for Israel might be the fact that some international gas companies are reluctant to get involved in the exploitation of Cypriot gas fields because they also operate in Turkey and do not want to upset the Turkish authorities who oppose the Cypriot gas extraction. Though the Aphrodite gas field lies in waters across Southern Cyprus, Turkey is demanding that all gas revenues be shared with Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus.

Passover Guide for the Perplexed 2013

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

1.  A central Passover lesson: Liberty entails responsibility, communal-awareness, blood, sweat and tears; not complacency, wishful-thinking or egotism. Sustaining liberty obligates free people to assume the cost, risks and sacrifice of self-reliance, including forty years in the desert and the defiance of great powers, lest they forfeit liberty and risk oblivion. The Hebrew word for “responsibility” – אחריות – consists of the word “liberty” – חירות – reinforced by the first Hebrew letter – א – which is the first letter of the Hebrew words for God, faith, Adam, human-being, father, mother, light, soil, land, love, tree, covenant, soil, credibility, awesome, power, courage, spring, unity, horizon, etc.

2.  The Passover-U.S.-Israel connection:  Moses, the U.S. Founding Fathers and Israel’s Founding Father, Ben Gurion, were challenged by the “loyalists,” who were intimidated by the cost of liberty, preferring subjugation to Egypt, the British King and the British Mandate.

3.  Passover (פסח) highlights the fact that the Jewish People were passed-over (פסח) by history’s angel of death, in defiance of conventional wisdom.  Non-normative disasters have characterized Jewish history ever since slavery in Egypt and the Exodus: the destruction of the two Temples, exiles, pogroms, expulsions, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, daily Arab/Muslim terrorism and wars, etc. The 1948 re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty – against global, regional, economic and military odds - constituted a modern day Exodus and Parting of the Sea.  Principle-driven tenacious defiance-of-the odds constitutes a prerequisite to Jewish deliverance in 2013, as it was during The Exodus some 3,450 years ago.

4.  Passover’s centrality in Judaism is highlighted by the first, of the Ten, Commandments: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The Passover ethos is included in daily Jewish prayers, Sabbath and holiday prayers, the blessing over the wine, the blessing upon circumcision, the prayer fixed in the Mezuzah (doorpost) and in the annual family retelling of the Exodus on the eve of Passover. Passover symbolizes the unity, interdependence and straight line/direction between the People of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the Land of Israel.  In Hebrew, Israel (ישראל) means “straight,” “overcoming” and the acronym of the names of the Jewish Patriarchs (אברהם, יצחק, יעקב) and Matriarchs (שרה, רבקה, רחל, לאה).

5.  David Ben Gurion, the Founding Father of the Jewish State, Passover and the reaffirmation of Jewish deed over the Land of Israel: “More than 300 years ago, a ship by the name of the Mayflower left Plymouth for the New World. It was a great event in American and English history. I wonder how many Englishmen or how many Americans know exactly the date when that ship left Plymouth, how many people were on the ship, and what was the kind of bread the people ate when they left Plymouth.

Well, more than 3,300 years ago, the Jews left Egypt…and every Jew in the world knows exactly the date we left. It was on the 15th of [the month of] Nisan. The bread they ate was Matzah. Up to date all the Jews throughout the world on the 15th of Nisan eat the same Matzah, in America, in Russia. [They] tell the story of the exile from Egypt, all the sufferings that happened to the Jews since they went into exile. They finish by these two sentences: ‘This year we are slaves; next year we will be free. This year we are here; next year we will be in Zion, the land of Israel.’ Jews are like that (The Anglo-American Committee, March 11, 1946,http://bit.ly/evSqbP).

Rabbi Gamliel, Head of the Sanhedrin, mid-first century: “In each generation, every individual must consider himself as if he/she personally participated in the Exodus from Egypt.”

6.  President Ezer Weizman, Passover and the avowal of Jewish roots in the Land of Israel, Jewish unity and collective-responsibility:

Only 150 generations passed from the Pillar of Fire of the Exodus from Egypt to the pillars of smoke from the Holocaust. And I, a descendant of Abraham, born in Abraham’s country, have witnessed them all. I was a slave in Egypt. I received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Together with Joshua and Elijah, I crossed the Jordan River. I entered Jerusalem with David, was exiled from it with Zedekiah, and did not forget it by the rivers of Babylon. When the Lord returned the captives of Zion, I dreamed among the builders of its ramparts. I fought the Romans and was banished from Spain. I was bound to the stake in Mainz. I studied Torah in Yemen and lost my family in Kishinev. I was incinerated in Treblinka, rebelled in Warsaw and migrated to the Land of Israel, the country whence I had been exiled and where I had been born, from which I come and to which I return…. And, like our forefather King David who purchased the Temple Mount, and our patriarch Abraham who bought the [Hebron] Cave of Machpelah, we bought land, we sowed fields, we planted vineyards, we built houses, and even before we achieved statehood, we were already bearing weapons to protect our lives… (German Bundestag, January 16, 1996, http://bit.ly/10aOcJr).

7. “Next Year in the rebuilt Jerusalem” concludes the annual reciting of the Haggadah, the Passover saga.  It reaffirms the ancient Jewish commitment to build homes all over Jerusalem, the 3,300 year old indivisible capital of the Jewish people.

8.  Passover’s centrality in the American ethos inspired the Puritans, the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers and contemporary American morality and state of mind.

The Pilgrims
 – beginning with William Bradford’s “Mayflower” and John Winthrop’s “Arabella” – considered Britain “modern day Egypt,” the British king was “the modern day Pharaoh,” the sail through the Atlantic Ocean was “the modern day parting of the sea” and America was “the modern day Promised Land.”

The Founding Fathers
 were significantly inspired by Moses and the Exodus.  In 1775, the president of Harvard University, Samuel Langdon, said that “the Jewish government [that God handed down to Moses] was a perfect republic.”  Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” (the cement of the 1776 Revolution) referred to King George as “the hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England.”

The term Federalism is based on “Foedus,” the Latin word for “The Covenant.” The Founding Fathers studied the political structure of the semi-independent 12 Tribes (colonies), which were governed by tribal presidents (governors) and by Moses (the Executive), Aaron (the Judicial) and the 70 Elders (Legislature). John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin proposed the “Parting of the Sea” as the official U.S. seal. George Washington and John Adams, the first and second presidents, were compared to Moses and Joshua. Washington was eulogized as Moses and Virginia was compared to Goshen.

Yale University President, Ezra Stiles stated (May 8, 1783): “Moses, the man of God, assembled three million people – the number of people in America in 1776.”

“Let my people go” and “Go down Moses” became the pillar of fire for the Abolitionists. “Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10) is inscribed on the Liberty BellThe Statue of Liberty highlights a Moses-like tablet. The biography of Harriet Tubman, who dedicated her life to freeing other slaves, is called The Moses of Her People. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was motivated by the laws of Moses, which condemn slavery. Martin Luther King was considered the Moses of his age.

Daniel Boone
 was referred to as “The Moses of the West.” 

A statue of Moses stares at the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is featured (along with Maimonides) in the U.S. House of Representatives Rayburn Building subway station, towers above the Supreme Court Justices (in addition to seven additional Moses statues in the Supreme Court Building) and is found in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress.  A Ten Commandments monument sits on the grounds of the Texas and the Oklahoma State Capitols. Cecile DeMille’s hit movie, The Ten Commandments, promoted U.S. liberty, morality and freedom of religion and expression, in contrast to Soviet oppression.

Theodore White wrote in The Making of the President: “It is as if Kennedy, a younger Moses, had led an elderly Joshua [LBJ] to the height of Mount Nebo…and there shown him the Promised Land which he himself would never enter, but which Joshua would make his own.”

9.  Moses, the hero of Passover, has been a role model of effective leadership, highlighting humility, faith, principle and endurance-driven leadership, along with human fallibility.  Moses’ name is mentioned only once in the Passover Haggadah, as a servant of God, a testimony to Moses’ humility. The only compliment showered upon Moses, by the Torah, is “The humblest of all human beings.”

10.  The Exodus is mentioned 50 times in the Torah, equal to the 50 years of the Jubilee, a pivot of liberty. Fifty days following the Exodus, Moses received the Torah (Pentecost Holiday), which includes – according to Jewish tradition – 50 gates of Wisdom.  Where does that leave the 50 States?!

11.  Passover highlights the centrality of spiritual, social and national Liberty. The difference between the spelling of Ge’oolah (“deliverance” in Hebrew - גאולה) and Golah(Diaspora in Hebrew - גולה) is the first Hebrew letter, Alef - א.  (Please see #1 above).

12.  Passover – the role model of liberty – interacts with Shavou’ot/Pentecost – the role model of morality.  Liberty and morality are mutually-inclusive.  The liberty/morality interdependence distinguishes Western democracies from rogue regimes.

13.  The Exodus took place around 1,400 BC, establishing the Jewish People in the forefront in the Clash of Civilizations between democracies and rogue regimes.  Passover is celebrated on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan ניסן – the first month of the Biblical Jewish year and the introduction of natural and national spring (Nitzan is the Babylonian word for spring and the Hebrew word for bud).  Nissan (Ness - נס is miracle in Hebrew) is the month of miracles, such as the Exodus, the Parting of the Sea, Jacob wrestling the Angel, Deborah’s victory over Sisera, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, etc.

14.  The 15th day of any Jewish month features a full moon, which stands for optimism – the secret Jewish weapon – in defiance of darkness.  It is consistent with the 15 parts of the Hagaddah (the Passover saga); the 15 generations between Abraham’s message of monotheism and Solomon’s construction of the first Temple; the 15 words of the ancient blessing by the Priests and the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat, Arbor Day – the “Exodus” of vegetation.  The Hebrew value of 15 corresponds to two Hebrew letters which are the acronym of God – י  and ה.

15.  Passover has four names:  The holiday of Pesach (“Passed-over” and “sacrifice” in Hebrew), the holiday of liberty, the holiday of Matzah and the holiday of spring.  The number 4 features in the Passover Saga, representing the four women who shaped the life of Moses (Batyah – Pharaoh’s daughter, his savior, Yocheved – his mother, Miriam – his sister and Ziporah – Jethro’s daughter, his wife); Joseph’s four enslavements- twice to the Midianties, once to the Ishmaelites and once in Egypt; the 4 times that the word “cup” was mentioned by Pharaoh’s jailed wine-butler when recounting his dream to Joseph; the 4 Sons (human characters) of the Haggadah; the 4 glasses of wine drunk on the eve of Passover; the 4 Questions asked on the eve of Passover and the 4 stages of the divine deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The 4th Hebrew letter (ד) is an acronym of God.

16.  Passover is celebrated in the spring, the bud of nature.  Spring, Aviv in Hebrew (אביב) consists of two Hebrew words: Father – אב - of 12 – יב – months/tribes.  The word spring is mentioned three times in the Torah, all in reference to the Exodus.  Passover – which commemorates the creation of the Jewish nation – lasts for 7 days, just like the creation of the universe.  Passover is the first of three Jewish pilgrimages, succeeded by Shavou’ot/Pentecost, which commemorates the receipt of the Ten Commandments, andSukkot/Tabernacles, named after Sukkota – the first stop in the Exodus.

“Next Year in the rebuilt Jerusalem”

Visit The Ettinger Report.

Reflections on the Divine Image

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Editor’s Note: The following sermon was delivered by Rabbi Lamm on October 15, 1960. What’s truly astonishing is how relevant his remarks remain more than 52 years later; indeed, had we not just noted the date on which the speech originally was given, readers likely would have assumed it to be of very recent vintage.

This and 34 other lectures and speeches given by Rabbi Lamm between 1952 and 1976, while he served as a congregational rabbi in New York and Massachusetts, appear in a new anthology, “Drashot Ledorot: A Commentary for the Ages,” published by Maggid, a division of Koren.

The concept of man’s creation betzelem Elokim, in the image of God, is one of the most sublime ideas that man possesses, and is decisive in the Jewish concept of man.

What does it mean when we say that man was created in the image of God?

Varying interpretations have been offered, each reflecting the general ideological orientation of the interpreter.

The philosophers of Judaism, the fathers of our rationalist tradition, maintain that the image of God is expressed, in man, by his intellect.

Thus, Saadia Gaon and Maimonides maintain that sechel, reason, which separates man from animal, is the element of uniqueness that is in essence a divine quality. The intellectual function is thus what characterizes man as tzelem Elokim.

However, the ethical tradition of Judaism does not agree with that interpretation.

Thus, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his Mesilat Yesharim, does not accept reason as the essence of the divine image. A man can, by exercise of his intellect, know what is good but fail to act upon it. Also, the restriction of tzelem Elokim to reason means that only geniuses can truly qualify as being created in the image of God.

Hence, Luzzatto offers an alternative and perhaps more profound definition. The tzelem Elokim in which man was created is that of ratzon – the freedom of will. The fact that man has a choice between good and evil, between right and wrong, between obedience and disobedience to God, is what expresses the image of God in which he was born. An animal has no freedom to act; a man does. That ethical freedom makes man unique in the creation.

But how does the freedom of the human will express itself? A man does not assert his freedom by merely saying “yes” to all that is presented to him. Each of us finds himself born into a society which is far from perfect. We are all born with a set of animal drives, instincts, and intuitions. If we merely nod our heads in assent to all those forces which seem more powerful than us, then we are merely being passive, plastic, and devoid of personality. We are then not being free, and we are not executing our divine right of choice.

* * * * *

Freedom, the image of God, is expressed in the word “no.” When we negate that which is indecent, evil, ungodly; when we have the courage, the power, and the might to rise and announce with resolve that we shall not submit to the pressures to conform to that which is cheap, that which is evil, that which is indecent and immoral – then we are being free men and responding to the inner divine image in which we are created.

The late Rabbi Aaron Levine, the renowned Reszher Rav, interpreted, in this manner, the famous verse from Ecclesiastes (3:19) which we recite every morning as part of our preliminary prayers. Solomon tells us, “Umotar haadam min habehema ayin,” which is usually translated as “And the preeminence of man over beast is naught.”

Rabbi Levine, however, prefers to give the verse an interpretation other than the pessimistic, gloomy apparent meaning. He says: “And the preeminence of man over beast is ayin, ‘no.’ ”

What is it that gives man his distinction? What is it that makes man different from the rest of creation, superior to the rest of the natural world? It is his capacity to say ayin, his capacity to face the world and announce that he will not submit to it, that he will accept the challenge and respond “no.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/reflections-on-the-divine-image/2013/02/06/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: