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October 9, 2015 / 26 Tishri, 5776
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Moses’

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.”

Why Not Stay in Egypt?

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Since in our weekly Torah reading, we’re right in the middle of the Exodus drama, getting ready to leave Egypt on our way to Israel, we can ask the question – why did the Jews have to leave Egypt? What was so important that they had to pack up all their belongings and go? Why make such a big tumult? Why couldn’t they have just stayed in America, I mean Egypt, where they were?

In fact, as we mentioned in our previous blog, four-fifths of them asked this very same question. They saw no reason at all to pack up and leave. After all, they had gefilta fish in Egypt, kosher bakeries, Empire chickens, plenty of shuls in the neighborhood, local Jewish newspapers, Jewish Community Centers, Federations, mikvahs, and rabbis who told them they didn’t have to listen to Moshe and make aliyah. Plus all of the fleshpots in Egypt were open to them for their enjoyment – what could be better? They enjoyed the best of both worlds. What did they lack?

In the eyes of 80% of the Diaspora lovers , it was one huge headache when Moshe showed up with the news that Hashem wanted them to leave Egypt and return home to the Holy Land. Moshe tried to explain, but they didn’t catch on. They didn’t want to listen. They wanted to stay right where they were in Egypt, and so they all died in the plague of darkness. Four-fifths of the Jews in Egypt missed out on the Exodus because they didn’t want to say goodbye to the exile. Four-fifths of them!

And so, we ask the question they asked – what was so bad with their life in Egypt that Hashem insisted they leave? True, they had to work hard in Egypt, but, from their point of view, they had everything it takes to be good frum Jews.

Well, it turns out that their understanding of being Jewish was different from the understanding that Moshe wanted to teach them. Their understanding of Torah was different from the Torah that Hashem wanted them to follow, a Torah that is not merely a list of private, ritual commandments, but the Constitution of the Jewish Nation, which, in addition to keeping kosher, includes serving in the Israeli army, going off to war, appointing kings and a Sanhedrin, listening to prophets, performing agricultural laws unique to the Land of Israel, and celebrating the Festivals three times a year at the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem. Hashem wanted the Jews to leave Egypt, because He doesn’t want His People to go to shul, eat glatt kosher, and build the economy of gentile lands. Hashem wants His People to go to shul, and eat glatt kosher while they are building their own land – and that can only be done in the Land of Israel, the special Holy Land that Hashem promised to the Jews. Hashem didn’t want the Jews to stay in Egypt under the rule of Pharaoh, because He wants His People to serve Him as an independent Jewish nation, in its own Jewish homeland, and not as scattered individuals and communities interspersed amongst the goyim around the world. Hashem doesn’t want His People to be frum Jewish Egyptians. Hashem wants them to be the frum nation of Israel in the Land of Israel because that is how His Name is sanctified in the world, when the Jews have their own powerful Torah nation – not when His People are scattered minorities in other people’s lands keeping the few mitzvot they can – even if a Jew is appointed to be Secretary of the Treasury for a few years – whoop-dee-doo!

That’s the meaning of the Exodus. Hashem chose us to be His special Holy nation, and took us out of the exile of Egypt, separating us from the goyim, in order to bring us to His Holy Land, just as He promised He would.

Is that so hard to understand?

Would American Jews Have Told Moses to Get Lost?

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Imagine if Moses were to come to America today with the mission of bringing the Jews to Israel. Chances are that his call would be met by deaf ears. Maybe he’d be stoned. Let’s face it – outside of a few weirdos, who would listen? He’d be interfering with their plans, their college degrees, their careers, their businesses, their golf games, and tennis lessons. Some would question his authority. Others would want to see proof that God had really sent him. Reform Jews, like Pharaoh, would say, “Who’s Hashem that I should listen to him?” Others would laugh at Moses’s biblical garments and staff. Probably most of them would tell him to get lost.

Not that it would ruffle Moses. After all, he had witnessed the very same scenario before, when he came to take the Jews out of Egypt. Back then, only a fifth of the Jews agreed to follow him to the Land of Israel. Four-fifths of the Diaspora-loving Jews died in the plague of darkness, as this week’s Torah portion reveals.

The Torah describes the plague as darkness that could be felt, darkness “mamash” (Shmot, 10:21). The darkness was so thick, you could literally reach out your hand and feel it. Rashi says that Hashem brought the plague of darkness upon Egypt “because there were Jews in that generation who were wicked and they did not want to come out of Egypt, and they died in the three days of darkness, in order that the Egyptians should not see their fall and say, ‘They too are smitten as we are’” (Shmot, 10:22). To avoid the great embarrassment that His people, the Children of Israel, did not want to go home to the Land of Israel, G-d brought a thick, tangible darkness over Egypt so that the goyim wouldn’t see this terrible disgrace.

Unfortunately this same dense darkness has enveloped Diaspora Jews today. It is a darkness so thick, you can actual feel it. Jews who have made aliyah, and who go back to America, or France, or England, to visit relatives, know what I mean. After speaking with fellow Jews there for a few minutes, you get the creepy feeling that they are totally out of touch with what’s really important. They think they know what’s going on, but they don’t know what’s going on at all. You can talk about aliyah until you are blue in the face, but they don’t understand a thing. Things that aren’t important at all, like the latest hit movie, their new car, their jobs, and the standing of the Knicks, are what really turns them on, not what’s going on in Israel. Whenever I have to go there, I get the feeling that I am in a gigantic Alzheimer’s ward, where the patients have forgotten who they are.

I’m not talking about the many devoted addicts of The Jewish Press, who click on every day to see what’s happening “b’Aretz.” I am talking about your average Haredi, Modern Orthodox, or assimilated Jew. For them, Washington D.C. is their nation’s capital. America is their homeland. Judaism is their religion, not their nationality. They are Americans first. Hearing the “Star Spangled Banner” at baseball games gives them goose bumps. Their children pledge allegiance to the American flag. Their forefathers are Betsy Ross and George Washington. If Moses himself came and tried to persuade them that the Land of Israel was their real home, they’d look at him like he was nuts.

That’s the meaning of darkness so dense you can feel it.

I am not blaming them. The darkness of materialism is so great, who can fight against it? And there is nobody there to teach them about true Judaism and the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Torah. So instead of working to bring an end to the exile, they endeavor to lengthen it by strengthening their local Jewish communities. That was all well and good before God established the State of Israel, but now that we once again can live in our own Holy Land, strengthening Jewish life amongst the gentiles in American, France, Mexico, Argentina, and South Africa, is darkness “mamash,” just like back in the days of Egypt when 80% of the Jews didn’t want to leave and follow Moses to Eretz Yisrael.

Where was God When Hurricane Sandy Struck?

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

What was G-d thinking when he sent Hurricane Sandy and what could have been its purpose?

In truth, I don’t much care, because our role as humans is not to understand G-d’s plan in the face of horror and tragedy, but to challenge God and demand that human life always be protected and preserved.

Did I say demand? Yes, humanity has rights before God. We are His children. He commanded us to preserve and promote life always. “Choose life,” Moses orders the Israelite nation in God’s name, on the last day of His life. And the Creator must abide by the same dictates He expects His creatures to.

Reading The New York Times story today about the approximately 39 people who died in the storm, I was sick to my stomach. I read it out loud to my kids over our candlelit dinner in a home with no electricity or heat. They could not listen any more. There was the Manhattan woman whose only sin was to walk her dog and was killed by a falling tree. There was the woman whose iniquity was to take a picture of a downed power line. She did not see the puddle in front of her. Her body, the Times reported, was on fire for half an hour before rescue workers could salvage what was left of her. There was the young Jewish couple killed walking a dog in Brooklyn. There were the two boys in New York state killed when they walked just outside their house to peer at the storm briefly.

Did any of these people deserve to die?

In the face of these natural disasters there are always those who are trying to divine the mind of God when really their role as humans is to argue with God. That’s exactly what the name Israel means, He who wrestles with God. Isn’t that what Abraham does in this week’s Torah reading where he raises his fist to the heavens and proclaims, in the face of God’s announcement that he is destroying all the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, “Will the judge of the entire earth not Himself practice justice?” Would God really allow the righteous to die along with the wicked?

Is this not also what Moses says to God after he is told that the Jews will be annihilated for the sin of the Golden calf? If you do so, says the great prophet, “then I beseech you, erase my name from the Torah You have written.”

And when God had earlier sent Moses to free the Jews from Egypt but Pharaoh had instead intensified their suffering and servitude, Moses, defiant, says to God, “Why have you behaved wickedly to this people, and why have you sent me… You have thus far not saved Your people.”

The role of human beings in the face of seeming divine miscarriages of justice is hold God accountable and demand clemency for humanity. God is all powerful. He does not need a defense attorney. But humans are fragile and vulnerable and they need all the protection they can get.

Today me, my family, and our campaign staff toured the devastation of our district. We saw cities deluged in flood waters, homes with trees crashed down on their roofs. We witnessed long lines of cars of people trying to buy gas, including tens of people with gas canisters waiting in line for hours. And as far as our campaign is concerned,, it has been reduced to me and our staff sitting in the Garden State Mall tonight plugged into a single outlet on the floor trying to charge our laptops and phones. All this is an inconvenience and, God willing, we’ll dig out. But the people who buried children, the residents who will never again see a spouse, the citizens will mourn parents, my God, my God, what are they to do?

I have grown weary of those who say that suffering is somehow redemptive, that it carries with it a positive outcome. I do not deny that this is at times so. Those who suffer can sometimes emerge humbler, wiser, gentler. But let’s get real. There is nothing beneficial that comes from suffering that could have not been achieved far more effectively through a positive means. To the contrary, suffering leaves us broken and cynical, disbelieving and forlorn, miserable and depressed.

It is time we human beings agreed to wage an all out war on suffering so that it is never excused as something blessed again.

Never again should we say that earthquakes in Haiti are caused by a compact the Haitians had earlier made with the devil. Never again should we say that Israeli soldiers die becauseKibbutznikim eat rabbit and other non-kosher meat. Never again should we say that innocent Palestinians, who are used as human shields by the terrorist monsters of Hamas and Hezbollah, die because of the wrath of Allah. And never again must we say that the Jews of the holocaust died because they wanted to be cease being Jewish, choosing to be German instead.

Because I am disgusted with this kind of thought, I wrote a full-length book that is to be published in November called The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. But I could not have divined, when I wrote it, that the place I live would have experienced such immense devastation.

The Bible in Deuteronomy is clear. “The hidden things are for G-d to understand, but the revealed things are for us and our children.” Why G-d allows good people to suffer is a secret known to him. But we human beings ought to have no interest in knowing the secret. What we want, what we demand, is that the suffering stop completely so that God and humanity can finally be reconciled, after a long history of human travail and agony, in a bright and blessed future, bereft of suffering, absent of tragedy, and filled with blessing.

Did You Know This About Mormonism?

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Did you know this about Mormonism?

…The Book of Mormon clearly states that Nephi built a temple modeled upon the temple of Solomon upon arriving in the Americas (2 Nephi 5:16).  In addition, the Book of Mormon says that other temples were built in the Americas (see 3 Nephi 11:1 and Helaman 3:14)…the Israelites in the Americas were trying to faithfully follow the law of Moses…

From a commentary:

Ne 5:16 I, Nephi, did build a temple

This temple was fashioned, as Nephi says, after the temple of Solomon. It is fair to conclude that they practiced the same forms of animal sacrifice that were performed in the temple in Jerusalem. The only difference between the administration of the temple of Solomon and Nephi’s temple is that the Nephites were not of the tribe of Levi, and therefore the priesthood they held was the Melchizedek priesthood (2 Ne 6:2). As Melchizedek priesthood holders, they could administer all the temple ordinances which were done according to the Levitical order.

And more.

Visit My Right Word.

Two Old Men

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

As the men danced around below us, I had a lot of time to notice the people who were there – many are friends and neighbors of mine; children and grandchildren of people I know. The rabbi that is so loved in this community; a woman who regularly collects food for needy people. This one has a child who is ill; a boy with Down Syndrome who is so loved and cherished. This family has more boys than I can count; this one just had a daughter who got married. She’s a grandmother now. Her son just got engaged.  That one there is married to her over there. And on and on – a community of people.

Around and around the dancing went as I pointed out different people and stories to my mother. The ages ranged from a newborn baby held in her mother’s arms, transferred to a young aunt, to the grandmother and back to the mother. The baby was at most a few weeks old, sleeping happily despite all the noise.

And back to the dancing – the boys playing on the side; several men sitting down to rest and talking (and they accuse women of gossiping too much!) and finally my eyes turned to two elderly men. One was the one I wrote about in A Torah and the second, not nearly as old, was in a wheelchair. Both were afforded so much respect; as the men danced around they were always so careful not to bump into these two older men.

When the older one walked with a cane, there was always someone who walked behind him; sometimes three men would join together and dance moving backwards, their faces towards the elderly man – almost clearing the path for him. When the other was pushed in his wheelchair, he was often given a Torah to hold and he too was often escorted by others. His voice was amazingly strong when he was given the honor of singing out the beginning phrases of one of the hakafot (circles) as he held the small Torah with the green velvet cover.

Later, after the dancing and the seven hakafot had been finished, each man was given a chance to say the blessing over the Torah on this special day that we end and begin again. Each Shabbat, the weekly Torah portion is divided into 7 sections. Seven men are called up each week to recite the blessing – one at a time. They recite the blessing, the section is read, they say another blessing, and then the next one is called up.

In a synagogue where there are 200 men – giving all 200 the opportunity to say a blessing could take many hours and so – they divide up into several areas – and still each section is read 10-15 times before each man finally gets his chance. For close to an hour, again and again, they began the section:

.וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה, אֲשֶׁר בֵּרַךְ מֹשֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים–אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: לִפְנֵי, מוֹתוֹ

And this is the blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.

The next to last chapter of Devarim (Deuteronomy) was read until almost all the men had been given the chance to bless the Torah. There were now two blessings left to be said – the one to say the blessing over the final section of the Torah, and the one to say the blessing over the beginning of the Torah.

One man came up and began a special prayer honoring the one who would be given the opportunity to say the blessing for the final section of the Torah for this year. Calling up the Hatan Torah (the one to receive the last blessing) is done with much fanfare, “Arise, arise, arise,” and then they call out his name Eliezer, son of….and come give honor to the God who is great and awesome.”

And then, four men raised a tallit, a prayer shall over a man as he was escorted to the central area where he would say the blessing and the final segment of the Torah would be read. Four men, perhaps even six, held the edges of the prayer shawl high above their heads to create a canopy…and under the canopy, in the center, about to be honored, was the man in the wheel chair who was rolled down the aisle as all stood and sang. His chair was gently lifted in reverse up to the raised platform where the Torah is read. Usually before saying the blessing, a man kisses the Torah.

Finding Moses (Part I)

Friday, September 21st, 2012

As the year draws to a close we have the book of Deuteronomy before us week after week, reviewing many of the halachos and reminding us of our harrowing trek through the wilderness. Moshe Rabbeinu is the stern narrator, guiding us to the very edge of the Promised Land, a final step he will never take. He pleads with God to let him enter the Land to no avail. Finally, “Moses, servant of Hashem, died there, in the land of Moab, by the mouth of Hashem. And He buried him in the depression, in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, and no one knows his burial place to this day. (Deut. 34: 5).” We complete our reading of the Torah with tears in our eyes for our faithful teacher, prophet and leader, whose life seems to end in angst and frustration. What was the inner life of our brave and tenacious leader?

Moses at the Red Sea (detail) (ca. 235) fresco at Dura Europos Synagogue
Courtesy National Museum, Damascus, Syria

He was everywhere and then mysteriously disappeared in early Jewish Art. In all of the ancient synagogue mosaics that have survived from the first 500 years of the Common Era, not one depicts Moses. And yet in the Dura Europos synagogue murals, created around 235 CE in what is now Syria, we see Moses depicted no less than eight times, easily the most represented figure in all the 28 narratives depicted. We see his rescue from the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter in extensive images at Dura featuring Pharaoh, his royal court, the midwives, Yocheved and Miriam, as well as a mysterious female figure fetching the baby Moses from his floating basket. Higher up on the synagogue wall multiple images of Moses are seen; heroically leading us out of Egypt, parting the sea and bringing the sea back to destroy the Egyptian army. Further along he proudly presides and towers over the Miraculous Well (Numbers 21:16-20) that sustained us after Miriam dies. Moses sustains us and then, in this ancient visual narrative, disappears. His poignant death is not even alluded to.

In Ravenna, Italy there flourished a school of Christian mosaic decoration between the 5th to 7th centuries that have yet to be surpassed in beauty and opulence. These churches and monuments formed the capital of the Byzantine Church in Italy, most notably the Basilica of San Vitale (548). These extensive and lush mosaics in the polygonal apse (altar) depict the Empress Theodora on one side and the Emperor Justinian on the other. Immediately adjacent to them are the biblical episodes of Abraham and the Three Angels and the Sacrifice of Isaac opposite the sacrifices of Abel and Melchizedech to God. Significantly, Moses is prominently featured three times. He is tenderly guarding his father-in-law’s sheep and right above that is removing his sandals before what appears to be the Burning Bush conflated with the fiery Mountain of Revelation. On the other side is Moses accepting the Law from the Hand of God. In each image Moses is smiling and clean-shaven, depicted with a halo and in typical Byzantine Roman garb that is, for that matter, much like many of the figures in Dura Europos three hundred years earlier.

Moses Tending Sheep and at the Burning Bush (548) mosaic at St. Vitale
Courtesy Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

While for us these narrative episodes depict the beginning of our redemption as a people and the Covenant at Sinai, for Byzantine Christians the meaning was considerably more complex, almost certainly colored by the interpretations of typology. This form of Christian biblical analysis seeks to synthesize events in the Hebrew bible with the Christian scriptures, notable the belief that much of the Tanach is but an allegory that predicts the life of Jesus. Therefore Moses tending sheep foreshadows Jesus as the Good Shepherd, a humble Moses called by God predicts Jesus calling his humble disciples and the giving of the Law at Sinai reflects the new Christian covenant. This was a prominent form of Christian exegesis to give Jewish subjects an explicit Christian meaning from the time of the early Church, flourishing in the Middle Ages and prevalent up through the Protestant Reformation. Parenthetically it should be noted that Jews have used typology as a means of exegesis from the time of the Mechilta of Rabi Ishmael, a 3rd century midrash on Exodus, not to mention the fact that the Ramban was quite fond of this method of analysis based on the maxim, “ma’aseh avot siman levanim.” But one example of this is on the verse; “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt 17 years.” …that Jacob’s descent into Egypt alludes to our present exile at the hand of the ‘fourth beast,’ which represents Rome.” (Ramban on Genesis 47:28.) The simple faith of Moses here depicted does not even hint at his tumultuous past nor the burdens of leading a stiff-necked people.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/finding-moses-part-i/2012/09/21/

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