Weekly Torah Commentary – Va-eira January 12, 2018

Torah reading:  Exodus 6:2 – 9:35

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21

When Pharaoh shall speak to you, saying ‘Work a miracle, then, you shall say to Aaron, Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent. So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and they did just as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh, and his servants, and it became a serpent.” Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: and the magicians of Egypt did the same with their enchantments for they threw down their staffs, and they became serpents; but Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Exodus 7: 8-12

MosesAaron

This is one of the most interesting passages in the Torah. It opens our eyes to several deep spiritual truths and exposes certain things to us that may not be very clear to the way we moderns think.

There are only two major sources of spiritual power: The power of God and the power of evil.  Yes, my friends, there is Evil and it exists because of demonic forces at work in the world. From days of old, Satan has sought to mimic whatever God does.  That agenda was born in him when as the prophet Isaiah tells us, Satan sought to make himself equal with God.  The result was that he was thrown out of the heavens, out of God’s presence. (see Isaiah 14:12 – 20)

In this scripture passage we see two servants of the Holy One of Israel, a pagan ruler and his ‘magicians’.  By tapping into evil power, the magicians mimicked what Aaron did.  But realize this: the magicians’ power was severely limited.  Their serpents were quickly swallowed up by Aaron’s!  Pharaoh had several magicians so there were several snakes, but Aaron’s serpent did away with them in a moment. When a weaker power comes against a stronger power, the weaker power must of necessity bow to greater strength.

More than once in the Scriptures we see serpent against serpent: When serpents were biting the Israelites in the wilderness and Moses cried to the Lord, the solution was another serpent. God uses the coin of the enemy to pay back the enemy.

 

Spiritual warfare is not entertainment: It is real war.  The contest of the serpents was a violent one, ending in utter destruction of the magicians’ serpents.  Elijah dealings with the 850 prophets of Baal was no less violent. These two events among others in the Scriptures teach us that political correctness does not work with enemies of the most High God!

To accurately assess world conditions and international events we must be aware that there are spiritual forces at work in the world.  A great war between good and evil was launched centuries ago and continues to this day.  In the midst of this war we are too often ignorant of what the real issues are.  Instead of recognizing the implications of the contest between Moses and Aaron versus the magicians of Pharaoh, we stand and watch as if it were entertainment instead of warfare.

Mankind was created for one purpose: to know God and to enjoy fellowship with Him eternally.  Each of us has been given a span of years during which we are to learn about Him, come to know Him personally and live our days according to His principles and commandments.  The ‘sons of light’ and the ‘sons of darkness’ perspective of the Essenes in the first century addresses this clearly.

Life is made up of varying experiences.  We prefer the joys and blessings that come our way and if we could, would avoid life’s hardships, challenges and sorrows. However, a necessary part of life is its battles for it is through them that we gain maturity, wisdom and a closer relationship with our God, provided we make godly decisions in the midst of the battlefields of daily living.

In Tune with Torah this week = Thankfully, we know from the Torah and the Prophets that the Holy One of Israel triumphs. Knowing that the God we serve has secured the final triumph, it behooves us to live in such a way that our faith in His eternal victory is evident and guides our decision-making on a day to day basis.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Shemot January 5, 2017

Torah reading:  Exodus 1:1 – 6:1

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 27:6 – 28:13

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  Exodus 3: 1-6

Just like every other day, Moses was tending the flock. The morning was typical, calm, and cool with the dew hanging on the leaves while Moses walked along the path. Perhaps while walking in the still silence, Moses thought back upon his life, and what had led him here. He had grown up around the inner circle of Pharaoh’s cohort, raised by the princess as her own, but when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew he could not contain his rage and committed murder. Moses fled from the comfort, power, and prestige of Egypt because he was afraid. He eventually settled in Midian and married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro the priest.

Moses was tending the flock that belonged to his father-in-law when he led them beyond the wilderness and came to Horeb (“wasteland”), the mountain of God. Walking along the path, filled with thoughts from the past, Moses discovered a bush on fire, and even though it was blazing, it was not consumed. Rather than continue on his journey, Moses turned aside to look at the great sight, to see why the bush was not being burned up. Then God called out from the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he replied, “Here I am.” The Lord commanded Moses to stay put, and remove the sandals from his feet, for the place where he was standing was holy ground. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

It was just an ordinary, everyday journey for Moses. A normal routine with no “religious” intentions. He was not going out to find out what God was calling him to do with his life, he was not sitting in the great temple of Jerusalem, he was just doing his job.

God chose the mountain in the wilderness as the place of revelation and change for Moses’ life. The encounter took place far and away from the sights and sounds of the religious community. This holy moment took place in the least likely of situations and locations.

A burning bush appeared in the wasteland, but the fire did not consume it. Moses was not frightened away from the bush, nor was he repelled by the sight of something strange, but instead he was drawn toward it. His curiosity propelled him forward, not for religious reasons, but because it was unknown.

God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, loves to make use of human curiosity for his own purposes. Curiosity often leads to discovery, new life, and new vision.

Moses was the one who ran away from familiarity into the unknown. He had left behind his family and calling in Egypt because he feared for his life. He escaped to the place of Midian, found a wife, and a new calling and was settled. It happened in the ordinary and mundane moment of routine life that Moses was jolted into a new reality.

God is the one with the initiative in the situation. Moses was not begging on his knees for God to enter his life, instead it is God who confronts Moses and calls him to a task.

If the story of Moses and the burning bush is to come alive for us today, then we must prepare ourselves to be encountered by the living God when we least expect it.

Being called by God into a new season of your life is not something that applies only to clergy, nor is it something that happens exclusively in worship. We are all called in one way or another to live faithful lives for the honor and glory of God, whether we are teachers or students, engineers or musicians, writers or mathematicians. We are given incredible opportunities to respond to God’s calling in manifold ways in our daily lives by loving our neighbors as ourselves, by asking the hard questions that other people are afraid to mutter, by looking at the world through the perspective of the Scriptures.

We are not abandoned and left alone. We see how gracious God is toward us in the fact that God confronts us in his incredible holiness. He refuses to let us go our own way when we act and behave as if we were people who do not need His wisdom and instruction.

In Tune with Torah this week:  We, like Moses, are confronted by the Holy One when we least expect it. He searches deep into our souls and knows what we think, what we feel, and what we believe. God is not willing to allow us to wander off and be left to our own perspectives, but meets us in the ordinary and calls us by name: Moses, Moses; Taylor, Taylor, Marilyn, Marilyn, etc.

When God confronts you in the midst of life, how will you respond? Will you continue your journey and ignore the unexpected call? Or will you say, “Here I am, LORD”?

Weekly Torah Commentary – Bo January 23, 2015

In this week’s dramatic Torah portion, the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt is described for us.

Exodus 12:33-38

The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders.  The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.  A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. (ESV)

How interesting that the Egyptians could not wait to get rid of the Hebrews after the plagues had devastated their nation. Yet shortly after they left, Pharaoh experienced a change of heart.  His army of slave labor was gone; now his own people would have to do the work.  But even more, how humbling it must have been to Pharaoh, who believed himself a god, to be so utterly defeated by the God of the Hebrews!

In verse 38, it is noted that a mixed multitude left with the Israelites, most likely because they had witnessed what had happened and knew the Hebrews were blessed by their God. But let’s be frank: they had also seen the devastation of Egypt and the protection that surrounded the Hebrews.  Who wouldn’t want to align himself with those untouched by the terrible plagues?

Some commentaries opine that the mixed multitude were responsible for the sin of the Golden Calf later.  However, a closer look at the text begs the question:

Numbers 11:4-5 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. (ESV)

Note that we are specifically told the people of Israel were directly involved, so the blame cannot be placed solely on the mixed multitude. The mention of the mixed multitude here raises another issue – Judaism’s attitude towards the Gentiles.

Israel has received the covenant of Torah from the Lord at Mount Sinai through Moses, BUT there has always been room for people from the Nations (Goyim) to join the people of Israel. Ruth is a very prominent example of this, as is Rahab from Jericho. Caleb is from the tribe of Judah, but his father is described as being a Kenizzite in Numbers 32:12.  Throughout history, Judaism has taught that the ‘convert stands in a place before the Most High that the natural born Jew cannot stand.’  The Torah also enjoins us to ‘love the proselyte’ and show them kindness and respect.  In fact, the Torah admonishes us to respect all peoples.

Another lesson to be drawn from this week’s reading deals with education. Moses took pains to make the Hebrews understand that freedom is won, not on the battlefield, nor in the political arena, nor in the courts, national or international, but in the human imagination and will. To defend a country you need an army. But to defend a free society you need wholesome families and an educational system in which ideals are passed on from one generation to the next, and never lost, or despaired of, or obscured.

Lastly, true freedom is the ability to control oneself without having to be controlled by others. Without accepting voluntarily a code of moral and ethical restraints, liberty becomes license and society itself a battleground of warring instincts and desires.

This idea was first articulated by Moses in his words to the assembled Israelites. He was telling them that freedom is more than a moment of political triumph. It is a constant endeavor, throughout the ages, to teach those who come after us the battles our ancestors fought, and why, so that freedom is never taken for granted.

In Tune with Torah this week = there are many lessons in this week’s Torah reading. The few we’ve mentioned provide more than enough material for meditation and prayer.  Do we understand true freedom?  Are we grateful for it? Do we teach out children the high price that was paid by previous generations to win freedom? Most of all, do we treasure the freedom of soul that is the fruit of an intimate relationship with the God of all the earth? There is no greater freedom than that of the inner spirit.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Kedoshim/Shabbat Pesach Apr. 19, 2014

KEDOSHIM Leviticus 19-20 Exodus 12:21-51

This Shabbat falls during the festival of Passover and therefore, a specially chosen reading is heard in the synagogue service; i.e., the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. It is found in Exodus 12: 21-51 and I encourage you to read it during your quiet time.

However, for our purposes, I want to look at the Torah portion called Kedoshim which covers the 19th and 20th chapter of Leviticus. The opening words of the reading are an invitation that includes the entire congregation in a unique directive:

And God spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to all the congregation of the People of Israel, and say to them, ‘You shall be holy; for I, The Eternal and Almighty God, am holy. (Vayikra 19:1-2)

Since the customary “God spoke to Moshe, saying” is expanded with the words ‘speak to the entire congregation’, we can assume that the message about to be shared is of the utmost importance and concerns every child of Israel from the greatest to the least. The words that immediately follow are, “you shall be holy,” yet the Torah does not define holiness, or even tell us precisely what to do to achieve holiness.

Countless definitions of holiness — or what it means to be a holy person — have been offered through the centuries. One thing is absolutely certain: holiness is NOT a matter of perfectly executed external rituals, performed in rote fashion. G-d forbid! Rituals DO have their place as a way of expressing our love towards God – and towards others. Celebrating a family member’s birthday, for example, is a ‘ritual’. Giving your prospective bride an engagement ring is a ‘ritual’.

There’s nothing wrong with ritual correctly applied. There is EVERYTHING wrong with ritual when it is a substitute for personal relationship with the Receiver. In the classic work, THE WAYS OF THE TZADDIKIM, we read, “There is no form of Divine Service higher than serving God out of love.”

Holiness is all about the heart, the soul. Holiness is all about LOVE.

In the Shema, we repeat the commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources…” And in another place we are told, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

No one can achieve holiness in a vacuum. The Torah knows nothing of holiness outside of living in community with other people. How do we learn to love all men (‘your neighbor as yourself)? By giving of ourselves.

Perhaps one of the greatest exhortations to a life of holiness is found in a personal letter written by the Ramban (Rabbi Moss ben Nachman, also known as Nachmanides) to his son, Nachman. The Ramban was born is Spain in the year 1195 and was one of Judaism’s greatest Sages. A prolific writer of classic texts on the Torah, at the age of 72, he settled in Israel, in the coastal city of Acco (Acre). We do not know the exact date on which he wrote this letter to his son, but we do know it was sent from Acco to Spain, where his son lived. To this day, these words are studied by thousands of Jews, eager to learn how to live a life of holiness. Here is a portion of the letter.

“…Accustom yourself to speak gently with all people for this will protect you from anger, a most serious character flaw…Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of humility will enter your heart. This sterling quality is the finest of all admirable traits…Through humility, the fear of God will intensify in your heart for you will always be aware of where you’ve come from and where you are destined to go…. When your actions display genuine humility…then the spirit of God’s presence will rest upon you…Let your words be spoken gently….let all men seem greater than you in your eyes. If another is more wise or wealthy than you, you must show him respect. And if he is poorer than you…consider that he may be more righteous than you are. If he sins, it may be through ignorance, while if you sin, it is deliberate for you should know better….In all your words, actions and thoughts — at all times — imagine that you are standing in the presence of the Holy One…”

This isn’t even the entire letter but there is more than enough in these excerpts to give us pause and to nourish our thoughts regarding our personal growth in holiness. The exhortations of the Ramban to his son regarding how he should behave towards others is simply a pattern for developing not only a love for other people, but that holiness which God has called all of us to achieve.

In Tune with Torah this week = As this week is devoted to meditating on the miraculous deliverance from slavery which our ancestors experienced, it behooves us to ponder our own condition. Are we ‘delivered’ from slavery to selfishness, to arrogance, to haughtiness? Or are we growing in our ability to love others as we love ourselves and to love God with all our heart, soul and resources?

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach (A Joyful Holiday of Passover)

Weekly Torah Commentary — Vayakhel February 21, 2014

Exodus/Shemot 35:1 – 38:20

Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’S contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.” (Shemot / Exodus 35:4-9; ESV)

The children of Israel’s long journey through the wilderness prior to their conquest of the Promised Land was an amazing saga during which so much happened. No nation has ever encountered God as they did: they experienced his power, received his protection, were led his guidance, we taught his ways. Yet, though God made himself so dramatically real to them, they often complained and rebelled against him. But we sometimes forget that actually they did many things right and this week’s Parsha shows us that. We are privileged to learn from them so many centuries later.

Unusually, in this case, God does not speak in the words of ‘command’ but offers a voluntary mitzvah to whomever will respond from their heart. Through Moses, God invited the people to give of their possessions that which would be used for the various parts of the Mishkan. Not only did the people adequately respond, they gave so much that they were eventually told to stop (see Shemot / Exodus 36:6).

When the request for contributions was made it was directed to those “of a generous heart”. The Hebrew phrase translated as “generous heart,” is also rendered as “willing heart.” It could be that this has an implied meaning of “generous heart,” since that is what is normally understood when we speak of willingness when it comes to the giving of things.

But there is something more than generosity here. The wording also implied the ability to give. God wasn’t asking for general contributions of an unspecified nature. He lists exactly what was required and for what purpose. There were no doubt some people who did not own such items. It didn’t matter if they were generous or not. God was looking for people who were both willing and able to give these items.

This reminds us that we can only give of what we have. Knowing that God is first the provider of all we possess, it is from His very blessings that He asks a contribution from the people. This very principle is the basis for the Shema. We are told to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:5; ESV). This great commandment directs me to love God with my heart, my soul, and my might. I cannot do so with anyone else’s. We cannot give to God what we do not have, nor does He expect us to do so.

BUT… We can give what we do have, whatever that might be. It’s your heart and your soul that God is calling for you to give with all your might, willingly.

In Tune with Torah this week = let us not compare ourselves with others or our possessions with theirs – ever! God blesses your life with everything you need to grow in godliness. Don’t make the mistake of looking at what others are doing or not doing, giving or not giving. This is between you and your Creator. Give – all that you give – to Him with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul and with ALL your might because you love Him.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — BO January 3, 2014

Exodus 10:1 – 13:16

In this week’s parsha, the subject of children and the duty of parents to educate them is addressed three times. As Jews we believe that to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilization you need education. Freedom is lost when it is taken for granted. Unless parents pass on their memories, their values, their experiences and, yes, even their mistakes, to the next generation the children have no foundation to build their own future.

The way the Torah emphasizes the fact that children must ask questions is intriguing. Two of the three passages in our parsha speak of this:

And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'” (Ex. 12:26-27)

In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Ex. 13:14)

There is another passage later in the Torah that also speaks of question asked by a child:

In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. (Deut. 6:20-21)

The other passage in today’s parsha, the only one that does not mention a question, is:

On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ (Ex. 13:8)

You may recognize these four questions as those asked during the Pesach Seder each year.

Now, many traditional cultures see it as the task of a parent or teacher to instruct, guide or command. The task of the child is to obey. “Children should be seen, not heard,” goes the old English proverb. Socrates, who spent his life teaching people to ask questions, was condemned by the citizens of Athens for corrupting the young.

In Judaism the opposite is the case. It is a religious duty to teach our children to ask questions. That is how they grow.

Judaism posits that a faith based on asking questions, sometimes deep and difficult ones, is a faith that will grow. Consider: “Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?” asked Abraham. “”Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people?” asked Moses. “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” asked Jeremiah. The book of Job is largely constructed out of questions, and God’s answer consists of four chapters of yet deeper questions: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? … Can you catch Leviathan with a hook? … Will it make an agreement with you and let you take it as your slave for life?”

Judaism is not a religion of blind obedience. Indeed, did you know that in a religion of 613 commandments, there is no Hebrew word that means “to obey.” Instead of a word meaning “to obey,” the Torah uses the verb Shema, untranslatable into English because it means [1] to listen, [2] to hear, [3] to understand, [4] to internalise, and [5] to respond. Within the very structure of Jewish thought is the concept that our greatest responsibility and privilege is to seek to understand the will of God, not just to obey blindly.

Judaism views intelligence as God’s greatest gift to humanity. According to Rashi the phrase that God made man “in His image, after His likeness,” means that God gave us the ability “to understand and discern.” The very first of our requests in the weekday Amidah is for “knowledge, understanding and discernment.” In fact, to many peoples’ surprise, there is actually a specific blessing prescribed for when a Jew sees a great non-Jewish scholar because unlike the narrow-mindedness of some other religions, Judaism recognizes and acknowledges wisdom in other cultures.

Jews have always placed a very high priority on education and specifically on how parents are to teach their children. The Torah highlights this at the most powerful and poignant juncture in Jewish history – the Exodus – by instructing us tell our children in every generation about our liberation. Encourage your children to ask, question, probe, investigate, analyze, explore. Liberty means freedom of the mind, not just of the body. Those who are confident of their faith need fear no question. It is only those who lack confidence, who have secret and suppressed doubts, who are afraid.

It is essential as well to teach our children that not every question has an immediate answer and to learn to be comfortable with the “unanswered”. But in teaching our children to ask and keep asking, Judaism positions the next generation to progress, to seek, to inquire and to discover. This, some have said, is why there are so many Jewish Nobel Prize winners. It all started at home.

In Tune with Torah this week = are you afraid to ask questions about fundamental issues of life? Purpose this year to become a seeker; one who is not hesitant to ask, to consider opposing views, to see if in fact in many areas, there is truth hidden in the thoughts and wisdom of someone with whom you disagree. It’s a delightful and enlarging experience to be open to knowledge within the framework of your secure relationship with the God of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Shemot December 19, 2013

Exodus/Shemot 1:1 – 6:1

This week’s Torah portion, the first in the Book of Exodus, tells the story of the enslavement – and the beginning of the liberation – of the Jews in Egypt. At the time, the Jewish community had strayed from the path of the Patriarchs yet some aspects of tradition remained intact. The Jews persisted in their language, their names and in their mode of dress. Yet, curiously, it appears that Moses – the ‘savior’ – seems to be lacking in these same areas.

Moses was born into a family from the tribe of Levi. At that time there was an edict that all newborn males be thrown into the Nile River. Moses was found as a baby by the daughter of Pharaoh who adopted him and named him; thus Moses was not his Hebrew name.

And the child grew, and was brought to the daughter of Pharaoh, he became a son to her, she named him Moses, and she said (explained) “for from the water he was drawn out.” [Exodus 2:10]

When the daughter of Pharaoh named Moses what was she trying to communicate?

In order to understand the depth of her action, we must first understand who this woman was, and, for that matter who her father was. In the Book of Ezekiel the following passage appears:

Speak and communicate, thus says God, “Behold I am against you Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great crocodile that crouches in the midst of the streams who says the (Nile) River is mine, for I created it.” [Ezekiel 29:3]

Pharaoh believed that he was god of the Nile, that he created the Nile. This insight allows us to understand why the children were thrown into the Nile. When the midwives refused to kill the newborn males, Pharaoh suggested that they throw the babies into the water instead. In effect he said, “cast the children into the Nile, and the god of the Nile shall decide who will live and who will die”, as if the midwives would not be performing the act of murder.

This will also give us insight into the first plague — “blood.” Turning the Nile into blood was an act of war, perceived by the Egyptians as if someone had stabbed their god.

Not only did Pharaoh think that he was god of the Nile, but he named his daughter Bitya, “daughter of god.” This was the woman who saved, and named, Moses. Her father was “god of the Nile” she was daughter of “god”, and she pulled a son out of the Nile, and named him Moses. Therefore, Bitya, in naming Moses, was making a claim which had theological meaning as well as political implications. She was claiming that the Nile had given birth to her son.

Of course, she knew rationally, that one of the Hebrews had in fact given birth to Moses, but we must recall that casting the children into the Nile was not seen as murder, but rather as some type of judgment.

Moses emerged from the Nile alive, which had profound theological significance for Bitya. He was therefore declared “son of the Nile.” She is obviously positioning him to become the next Pharaoh, or at least to take his place among the pantheon of Egyptian gods. Therefore we see that not only does Moses have an Egyptian name, but his name is steeped with idolatrous connotations. How ironic that the savior of the Jews should be seen as a god by the Egyptians.

This insight also gives us a greater appreciation of Moses, for we now understand what is was like for him to leave the palace to “seek out his brothers.”

When Moses interceded and killed the Egyptian, he was in effect rejecting the entire way of life that was laid out for him. By killing the Egyptian, Moses forfeited his role in Egyptian society; he would no longer be seen as a god, but only as a Jew, and his chances of one day ascending the throne disappeared.
This self-sacrifice was the first step toward assuming the mantle of leadership of the Jews, though at the time Moses had no such idea.

The Jews also retained a different language, Hebrew, but here, too, Moses seems lacking. The Torah tells us that Moses had difficulty with speech: I am not an eloquent man … but I am slow of speech, and slow of tongue. [Exodus 4:10]

Moses also dressed in the manner of the Eyptians for when Moses escapes Egypt and makes his way to Midian, he is described as Ish Mitzri, an “Egyptian man” because of his manner of dress.

Later, Moses describes himself as v’ani oral sfataim — “I whose lips are uncircumcised.” [Exodus 6:12 and 6:30] If we take the literal meaning, it emerges that Moses does not feel that he has the right to represent the people because his tongue is uncircumcised. In other words, Moses is too Egyptian to represent the Jews.

If, indeed, the Jews are saved because they retained these three practices, then Moses seems an unlikely savior. Why is Moses chosen?

As we saw by Moses’ response to the oppression of his fellow Jew, he certainly did possess leadership qualities.

The model of leadership in the Jewish tradition is not the individual who is willing to subjugate others, rather the individual who is willing to sacrifice for others.

Despite his upbringing, Moses rejected his role in Egyptian society, as well as the culture and beliefs of Egypt. This is evidenced by the fact that after leaving Egypt, we are told:

“And Moses was the shepherd of his father in laws flock” [Exodus 3:1]

This seemingly innocent statement has great significance, if we recall that when Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt, Joseph warned them that they must delicately inform Pharaoh of their occupation:

“For every shepherd is considered an abomination in Egypt.” [Genesis 46:34]

Moses become a shepherd, the most detestable occupation in the value system of Egypt. It was then that God revealed himself to Moses for the first time, at the “Burning Bush.” The rejection of Egyptian life is what apparently allowed the Divine Revelation.

We can begin to understand why Moses deserved to be leader: He possessed incredible spiritual integrity.

From where did Moses take the strength to change his life? What inspired Moses to begin a spiritual quest, an odyssey which would take him from heir to the Egyptian throne to freedom-fighter for the disenfranchised slaves? From lowly shepherd to vanquisher of the Egyptian empire?

Moses embodied the chesed, “kindness” of Abraham, the gevurah, “strength” of Isaac, and emet, “truth” of Jacob. Moses was the most modest of men and became the finest leader and teacher that our people have had.

These aspects of Moses’ character became evident in his reaction to the beating of the Jewish slave. Moses felt kindness toward the victim.He displayed strength by holding back personal considerations and involving himself in the altercation. And finally Moses showed that he embodied truth by immediately discerning which side was right.

Moses certainly deserved his leadership role, but another question arises: Why did God choose a Jew brought up in the palace as the leader?

Evidently, in order for the exodus to take place precisely a person like Moses was needed.

A powerful lesson about the nature of the exodus can be learned from this. Had God desired for the Jews to leave Egypt, He surely could have simply “willed” it. Why go through the entire process of plagues and negotiations with Pharaoh?

The purpose would seem to be twofold — it was necessary both for the Jews and for the Egyptians.

After spending all these years in Egypt, the beliefs of the Egyptians would have made inroads into the Jewish mentality. What better way to show the bankruptcy of the Egyptian belief system than having one of the Egyptian “gods” revealed as a Jew? For the Jews this would eradicate any underlying belief in Egyptian mythology.

On the other hand, the message was also important for the Egyptians; they too needed to know that their religion was false. What better teacher than Moses, the ultimate “insider”? At one point he had dressed like them, talked like them, and they were even prepared to worship him.

This theme of educating the Egyptians is highlighted later in the book of Shemot where we are told that one day all the nations of the world will recognize the one true God.

The redemption of Egypt, which serves as a prototype for the final redemption, not merely illustrates the removal of the Jews from this foreign land, but it serves as a powerful challenge to the greatest civilization in the world at that time.

When the final redemption comes, it will be the greatest event in the history of the world. It will not affect the Jewish people alone, but every nation of the world.

In Tune with Torah this week = as we hope and look forward to the ultimate redemption, may we learn from Moses the power of humility, faith, kindness and integrity.

Shabbat Shalom