Climbing Complacency

Climbing Complacency

Shelach-Lecha 5777

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt is rumoured to have said “whether you say you can or you can’t, you are right”.  So much in our world is dependent on mind-set and attitude. Capability and strength have a massive role to play, but a negative manner can cancel all of our raw talent in one fell swoop. And no one is immune.

 

The above, I believe, answers a difficult question from this week’s Sedra. Even before the spies set out on their disastrous mission Moshe changes Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua ‘in order to save him from the evil design of the spies’. Yet at this point those 12 men were all honest and upright religious leaders of the Jewish Nation. Similarly, as soon as they enter into the land, Calev the only other spy not to get caught up in their hysteria, detours to Hebron in order to pray at the Cave of Machpela that he too should not be part of their nefarious plan. Again, at this point Calev’s fellow spies were not yet speaking negatively about the Land of Israel. Nothing bad had happened yet, so why did Yehosua and Calev need the extra protection?

 

I would like to suggest that the root of their negative report about the Land, was sown at the very outset of their journey. This wasn’t a conscious decision, and at the start they were indeed all righteous men, worthy of that name, but they looked at the task ahead of the Jewish Nation and they gave up.

 

Moshe saw this defeat in their eyes and blessed his student Yehoshua that he shouldn’t be similarly affected, Calev recognized it as well and prayed for assistance. Defeatism is a most contagious disease and is not easily conquered. Once infected it runs rampant through an entire group and can destroy hopes and aspirations.

 

At this point I have to thank a group of 100 Frum bike riders from North Manchester for the inspiration for the above Torah thought and lesson. Once a year I join them as they remove their long black coats, stop eating cholent (albeit only for one Shabbat) and creak their legs over the crossbars of the most eclectic collection of bikes you have ever seen, most of which are old, heavy and fit for the scrap heap. Last year they were raising money for a special needs school and this year it is for a fertility charity, both here in Manchester. Last night we were given the route for the ride this Sunday, and a great big groan went up, for it is going to be hard. Never mind the distance of 100k, which is about 95k more than they have ridden since last year’s ride, it is the climbing involved. For this year, it starts North of Preston in the Forest of Bowland and includes over 1500 metres of climbing. To put that in perspective, on our hardest day in Israel, when we were a confident and fit group of riders all on full carbon fibre bikes with the latest in cycling technology, we only climbed 1300 metres! So this group of overweight riders, who are cycling on nothing more than enthusiasm alone started to groan.

 

I watched the rapidly and exponentially growing sense of defeat and was more than slightly alarmed, and being the only Rabbi on the group (yes, even when I ride with the Frummies of North Manc, I am still the only Rabbi!!), I stepped in and shared the above thought. I reminded them that if the couples whom we are trying to help looked at the difficult road ahead of them with the same defeatism they would never get married in the first place. If they knew that there were going to have months and years of anxiety, tears and frustration as their hopes for children were dashed month after month, then they would most definitely give up even before they began. And who could blame them.

 

The same is true of our life journey in general. If we saw all of our ups and downs, all of our difficulties and misfortunes before we set out on our life, then we could be forgiven for giving up. Yet, the Almighty tells us to just take the first step. Don’t be complacent, don’t pretend for a moment that it’s going to be a walk in the park, but don’t get caught up in the climb coming your way. At times we will need the extra help such as our Moshe blessing his student or Calev praying and seeking out the protection of our ancestors, but don’t give up before you’ve taken the first step.

 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom

 

Rabbi Dovid

 

p.s. the tone on the rider’s WhatsApp group has taken a 180 degree turn and now they are so fired up that I am probably going to be the last one at the top of that mountain!

Free Food – Beha’alosecha and the unique complaint

Free Food

The Unique Complaint of Beha’alosecha

 

Rabbi Yisroel Ruzhin, was one of the pre-eminent Chassidic Rebbes of Ukraine and ran a Court that was the envy of Tsar Nicholas. Amongst his contemporaries, he was known as ‘Der Heliger’ – ‘The Holy One’ and is still regarded today as one of the leading lights of the Chassidic world and pre-war Europe, including by Rabbi Shimson Hirsch, the architype Modern-Orthodox intellectual.  At his instigation, the Tifferet Yisrael Shul, which received praise and funding from Kaiser Wilhelm, was built in the Old City of Jerusalem.

 

After he passed away his 6 sons all wanted to inherit his Tefillin, which were a much-treasured family heirloom going back to the times of the Baal Shem Tov, and they decided to make a silent auction. Before looking at their respective ‘bids’, the oldest son suggested that actually they should follow the time honoured Jewish custom and have a Gorel – a lottery. After the 5th son, Reb Dovid Moshe’s name was pulled out of the hat, they then (out of curiosity) looked at their ‘silent bids’. Unsurprisingly they saw, that Reb Dovid Moshe had bid: ‘everything I have’!

 

After my father told me that story this morning, I realised how appropriate it is for my weekly message. And no, its nothing to do with politics, although the analogies are simple to see.

 

Whether it is the statement in Ethics of the Fathers, ‘according to the pain is the reward’, or the old English saying, ‘the harder I practice, the luckier I get’; it is an unavoidable truth that we only get what we work for. {Let’s leave alone the minority whom we all complain about, for in truth everything washes out in the end – especially when we believe in an after-life!}

 

This is a theme that runs through our Sedra this week and is highlighted in particular when the Israelites complain about their food and wellbeing. Only this time the complaint leads to Moshe pretty much giving much and asking Hashem to take his life. (See Chief Rabbi Sacks’ article)

 

The uniqueness of this complaint was that we referenced all the good food that we ate in Egypt, ‘for free’. The Manna from Heaven and the water from Miriam’s Well were the perfect food, absolute nutrition and uniquely suitable for everyone, but it came with a price. The food in Egypt was accompanied by slavery, but there was no real price to it; we were being fed the same way that a farmer feeds his plough horse. In the desert however, Hashem was feeding us as a mother feeds her children; its free but it comes with a price. That price has no sticker or label on stating how much it costs, but it has a value that is beyond rubies; our commitment to our parents.

 

Moshe felt so much despair not at our complaint about food per se, but the fact that we weren’t committed to the cause. We weren’t prepared to put our effort into this relationship; we wanted it served to us on a silver platter. And that is what caused him to complain so bitterly to Hashem. Reb Dovid Moshe deserved his father’s Tefillin not because he was any better than his siblings, but because he understood that in order to inherit such a precious possession he had to be willing to give everything for them. These Tefillin had no financial worth, it was their intrinsic value of what they represented; a commitment to a way of life.

 

What price are we willing to pay to ensure that our children’s children will inherit our faith?

Freg a Sha’aloh

“Freg a Sha’aloh”

Lessons in prejudging from one little letter.

Tazria Metzora 5777

“freg a sha’aloh – is ez treif” – ask a question, and its treif. Thus have Anglo Jewry always believed, but what is the basis for that?

 

We could in fact argue that actually the opposite is true, and indeed the Talmud tells us that “koach d’hitayroh odif” – the power to permit something is greater. In other words, anyone can say that something is treif or forbidden, but it takes a knowledgeable authority to permit it and declare it Kosher etc. So freg a sha’aloh, you never know, it may yet turn out to be Kosher!

 

I mention this because of one little letter in this week’s Sedra. “When you will come to the Land……and the owner of the house will say to the Kohen, ‘there appears to me to be something like a Tzara’as lesion in my house.’ – כנגע נראה לי בבית” (Vayikra 14:34-35.) It is the ‘something like’, in Hebrew it’s the prefix ‘kaf’, that interests me.

 

The owner of the house, even if he were to be the most learned Rabbi or Prophet was not entitled to declare his house impure. Instead he had to call in the expert and get an official diagnosis; he had to freg a sha’aloh!

 

The reason for this is two-fold: 1) no one should ever be that quick to condemn themselves – or indeed anyone, leave it to the unconnected, third party, expert. 2) even if you were sure of the matter, and indeed you turned out to be correct, if you told the Kohen that you had a Tzara’as lesion in your house, rather than ‘something like a lesion’, you were in effect asking him to merely ‘rubber stamp’ your opinion!

 

I see here a powerful lesson for each and every one of us. Too often we follow the adage; if it quacks like a duck, if it waddles like a duck, if it looks like a duck – it’s a duck. It looks like someone has Tzara’as, it smells like they have been struck by Heaven – they must therefore be guilty.

 

We are therefore taught that even when we see it on ourselves (how much more so on someone else, when we definitely do not know all the facts), we are not allowed to pre-judge. Call in the expert and wait – you never know, it might not be Treif.

 

Oh, and don’t just go through the motions to get the expert/Kohen/Rabbi to confirm your ‘suspicions’ about the other person – wait for them to declare. This isn’t an exercise in proving you right, it’s a journey to discover the truth and to avoid declaring something, or even worse, someone Treif.

 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Dovid

History Avoidance – Shemini, Post Pesach 5777

History Avoidance

Listening to the radio on Thursday I heard Nigel Farage declare that he would not be standing as an MP in the forthcoming general elections. What was interesting, were the phone calls that followed, with a number of his ‘Chassidim’ (although, he might use a different term!!) exhorting him to reconsider. Their contention was: this is what you are needed for, this is your calling.

 

Not to draw parallels, but it did remind me of a conversation, recounted by Rashi, between Moshe and Aaron at the dedication of the Tabernacle in the opening verses of this week’s Sedra.

 

Having served as the Kohen Gadol for seven days of installation, Moshe now called Aaron forward to begin the actual Service in the Dedication ceremony and take his dutiful role as the permanent Kohen Gadol. But Aaron held back, he felt that he was not worthy of the position, primarily due to his involvement with the Golden Calf. Moshe responds and says: ‘Why are you embarrassed? You were chosen for this role’ – לכך נבחרת.

 

We have just celebrated Pesach, when in essence we became the ‘Chosen Nation’.  It is important to stress at this point, that this term does not denote a negative aspect about other nations, but rather an acceptance of a responsibility for our nation. It’s not about them, it’s about us.

 

The order of the Hagaddah follows the same route; first we mention that we were slaves, then it describes our origins as idol worshippers. On a night when we are celebrating our freedom, our birth as a nation, why do we make any mention at all of our ‘shady past’?! Sweep it under the carpet and move on. Celebrate the power of freedom and the heights of spirituality, not the lows of slavery and paganism.

 

But the message of last week’s Hagaddah and this week’s Sedra is that there is no avoiding our destiny and stepping off our chosen path of responsibility. We cannot claim unworthiness because of any past history. We can pretend, we can try to hide in the shadows, but if this is our route in life then the only person we are in fact hiding from is ourselves. In the words of my father: ‘you are only fooling yourself – and anybody can fool a fool’!!

 

It was true of Aaron, it was true of our Nation and it is true for each and every one of us.

PhotoBombs, Yellow Cars and Streaks of Red

PhotoBombs, Yellow Cars and Streaks of Red

Shabbat Hagadol 5777

It started back in 2015 when a tourist complained. It escalated this January with vandalism. Then this week 100 protectors took to the streets in support.

 

All over a yellow car.

 

The offender, a car painted an alluring yellow, was accused of ruining the photo-shoots of tourists who had travelled for miles to see the picturesque village of Bidbury, home to the 14th century Cotswold cottages on Arlington Row.

 

The problem was that the owner, Mr Maddox, lived in the cottage and had simply parked his car outside his own home.

 

The tourists complained, vandals keyed the car and smashed the windows writing it off!

 

In support and solidarity, 100 owners of yellow cars (in all shapes, sizes and shades, from a Mini to a Lamborghini) processed through the village and Vauxhall have renamed that shade of paint to ‘Maddox Yellow’!

 

(Unfortunately, the 84 year old widower, has since given in to the vandals and replaced his car with a non-descript grey one!)

 

Pesach gets its name because Hashem passed-over our houses during the plague of the first-born. To ensure our protection we were commanded to paint the doorposts of our houses in red! We ruined the picturesque beauty of ancient Egypt with our splash of incongruous colour. But that was something that we had been doing for quite some time; standing out from the crowd. The Talmud tells us that we refused to change our dress, names or language throughout the entire two centuries we were in Egypt – including during the century of servitude and oppression.

 

Chief Rabbi Sacks summed it up brilliantly when he said (I believe it was just after the terrorist attack on 7-7) “Jews have always learnt to integrate but not assimilate”.

 

If Pesach teaches us one thing it is that our freedom cannot be bought by fading into the background and ignoring our heritage and customs. It is the Chag that raises Minhagim (ancient and new, authentic and bizarre) to a whole new level, and teaches us that what has given us the strength to survive is by respecting our surroundings, but not being drowned and suffocated by them.

 

Wishing you all a Chag Kasher v’Sameach,

 

Rabbi Dovid

Vayakhel-Pekudei, #HASHTAGS and the Westminster Attack

#HASHTAGS!!

POST WESTMINSTER ATTACK

 

We had just finished saying a Psalm and a special Refuah Shleima for those injured in the Westminster attack when my phone pinged telling me that the death toll had risen to three. With that message came the now ubiquitous sign of the times: #PrayForLondon was trending on social media!

 

There are as ever those who criticise such hashtags and question their value, but I wonder whether they are in fact missing the point. We live in such a cosmopolitan society and with the ever-increasing march of technology the world has simultaneously become much smaller and paradoxically ever larger. We are instantly connected to events transpiring half-way across the globe whilst having less and less real face time with those living within our own group. The mobile phone, the ultimate symbol of connectivity and communication, is now the biggest cause of disconnect. It’s a sign of the times, but the least commonly used feature on the mobile is now the actual call button!

 

A main strap-line for ShabbatUK was ‘disconnect to reconnect’, as we were all told to put away our mobile phones (and all other electronical devices!), to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with the real world. But whilst the Mitzvah of Shabbat is the first paragraph of the week’s Sedra, it is not where I draw inspiration from this week, but rather from the names of the double Sedra themselves: Vayakhel and Pekudei.

 

Vayakhel means to gather together. This was the day after the original Yom Kippur when Moshe gathered the entire Jewish Nation together as one group in order to give us the commandment to build the Mishkan (which was prefaced by the Mitzvah of Shabbat to remind us that even the building of the ‘Home for Hashem’ did not override Shabbat).

 

Pekudei means to count, and this was the obligation to count each individual donation given to the building fund.

 

These two words, thrown together as a double Sedra are seemingly contradictory; to gather everyone together as one large mass and to count them individually! But that is precisely the message and entire ethos of the Torah and Judaism. We are our strongest when we are united as one, and that combined strength comes specifically from our own individual strength. It’s not just the ‘sum of its parts is greater than the whole’, it’s that there is no whole without the individual parts. When the farmer took his Ma’aser – the annual tithe, he couldn’t just take one tenth of his flock from the herd, but was obligated to count each animal individually and to set aside every tenth one that went by. It’s a central line in the Unesaneh Tokef prayer from Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur; that although we are gathered in Shul as one large Minyan, nevertheless we are all passing under the Almighty’s staff individually to get judged.

 

We ride on the flow of the communal current, but we must all swim ourselves.

 

In an age when we can with minimum effort be part of a global crowd, when with one click of a button we can join an international movement, it’s all too easy for us to think that we have now fulfilled our duty. “I’ve signed up. I’m on the inside.” I see the hashtag as a reminder that we can’t just ‘click to like’, but we must do our individual bit as well. Be part of the crowd, but play your part within that crowd.

As I write this message, pictures are coming in of the vigil held in Central London and the masses gathered there. A show of unity and defiance. A mark of respect and courage. Everyone there was and is part of the ‘community of strength’ but they also had to each individually turn up and play their individual part.

 

May the Almighty heal all those injured in the attack and grant comfort to those bereft of loved ones and shelter the souls of those so cruelly murdered.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Dovid

Holy Cows – Ki Sisa & Parah 5777

It’s a double bovine week, with the perplexing sin of the Golden Calf in the regular Sedra and then the special Leighning of the Red Heifer in preparation for Pesach. There is no logical connection between these two Torah readings, and it is just how the calendar falls this year. However, as with everything in our lives, especially the fundamentals such as the Torah readings, nothing happens by chance.

 

The sin of the Golden Calf came about when the Israelites, under the instigation of the Erev Rav (the mixed multitude who joined them as they were leaving Egypt) and with the help of some trickery by the Angel of Death, were convinced that Moshe had died on Mount Sinai and that they were now leaderless. More frightening than that, there was now no-one who could speak for them to Hashem, they had lost their all-important intermediary between mankind and the Almighty.

 

The Golden Calf was their (entirely mistaken and egregious) way of creating that new intermediary. They wanted something tangible that they could associate and identify with. Having an entirely spiritual G-d was something new to them, especially after their historical association with the pagan Canaanites and their recent Egyptian overlords.

 

This was obviously the antithesis of the revelation at Mount Sinai and was a sin of enormous magnitude, but in a certain manner it was predictable. The Israelites had been thrown headfirst into a crash-course in monotheism and spirituality. It was only a 7 week journey from Egypt to Sinai, and now less than 6 weeks after Sinai, the one man who had led them out of the multi-deity and physical atmosphere of Egypt was gone. They were lead to believe that he was dead. Left bewildered they decided to throw it all away.

 

Compare that, if you will, with the mystical commandment of the Red Heifer. A person becomes contaminated through contact with a dead body, nothing has physically changed but they are now no longer allowed to go to the Temple.

* Ironically, the Tabernacle and then the Temple were only built after the sin of the Golden Calf when G-d saw that we needed a physical place where we could identify with him!

In order to rectify the situation and become pure, one needed to be sprinkled with the ashes of a Red Heifer. This is defined by the Torah as a Chok – a statue that has no understanding. King Solomon, the wisest of all men, declared that he was baffled by it; for how can the ashes of a dead animal purify someone who was only impure by being in contact with a dead body in the first place?

 

Yet that is precisely what the Torah commands. Plus it had to be performed by a Kohen, a member of the Levite Tribe; the only Tribe not to have been involved with the Sin of the Golden Calf.

 

It is read specifically this week as we are now starting in earnest our preparations for Pesach; when besides for every Jew being obligated to go to the Bet Hamikdash in Jerusalem we also have to internalise the message of Freedom. Freedom from the Mitzrayim – the constraints of the Egypt (Min Hametzar Karasi Kah – from the constraints I call to you Hashem – Tehillim 118) and enter into the wide expanse and true freedom of spirituality.

 

Thus we bring together both these Torah readings; the mistake of the Golden Calf when we erroneously thought we needed the physicality of an intermediary, and the procedure of the Red Heifer when we are reminded that true freedom means attaching ourselves to (and in a certain manner, giving ourselves over to) the spirituality of the Almighty. That doesn’t mean blind faith, for even King Solomon questioned it, but it does mean that we still need to continue even when we may not understand and not give in to the pessimistic and narcissistic machinations of the Erev Rav and those who would wish to deter us.

Frogs growing on apple trees. Beshalach 5777

Frogs growing on apple trees

What’s a Miracle?

A cornerstone of Orthodox Judaism is that the entire Torah was written by and is the absolute Divine word of the Almighty. Yet in this week’s Sedra we have an entire section that is anything but; the Shirah – Song of the Sea, is undeniably the word of humans! It was composed by Miriam and Moshe and then sung by the Israelites. Nonetheless it is still incorporated in the Torah and accorded the same honour as an integral part of ‘Torah Min Ha’Shamayim’.

 

This song though, together with a number of other such passages (such as Yaackov’s deathbed blessings for example) bring to light a beautiful idea; we are in partnership with the Almighty. This idea is in fact merely highlighting what Hashem said to Moshe after he complained that he was unable to speak to Pharaoh due to a speech impediment: “Who gives a man a mouth? Is it not I, G-d?” (Ex 4:11)

 

Our lives are in truth the script of the Torah, both then and now. Which causes us to question why the immediate aftermath of the splitting of the sea and our song in praise was the lack of water to drink in Marah and our subsequent complaints to Hashem. How do we go from co-authoring the Torah to complaining bitterly (Marah = bitter) in a matter of days?

 

Anton Chekov in his short story ‘The Bet’ writes of a man who after spending 15 years in solitary confinement expressed bewilderment at mankind: You would marvel if, owing to strange events of some sorts, frogs and lizards suddenly grew on apple and orange trees instead of fruit, or if roses began to smell like a sweating horse; so I marvel at you who exchange heaven for earth. I don’t want to understand you.” {Read the full story here}

 

Our problem was that we praised Hashem for the miraculous splitting of the sea, whilst ignoring the equally miraculous flowing of the sea both prior to and after its ‘miraculous’ split! We become so inured to ‘nature’ that we fail to see the Hand of Hashem in its daily occurrence.

 

To counter this Hashem took away a basic necessity; water to drink, forcing us to recognise that providing drinking water is as much a Divine act as was the splitting of the sea.

 

Our human lives are the very letters of the divine Torah and nothing is left out. The divine is to be found in our daily activities just as much as it is in our prayers and Torah studies. We don’t need miracles to partner with Hashem, all we need to do is live a life and remember that together we write the Divine and Eternal Scroll.

To Choose A Nation…And to live with that choice – Va’era 5777

To Choose A Nation

And to live with that choice

Va’era 5777

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

 

According to Jewish thought it was definitely the chicken; for everything was created in a complete form. Adam wasn’t created as an embryo, or indeed a twinkle in his father’s eye, but was rather a fully formed adult. Diamonds which take billions of years to form, were already inbuilt into the lava of the earth. Stars which are light years away from our planet, were immediately visible to Adam.

 

Thus it was definitely the chicken which came first. But, what came first in our relationship with Hashem; us being His people or Him being our G-d?

 

Incidentally, the Talmud poses a similar question about who is to return first; us to Hashem in Teshuvah or Him to us in redemption?

 

However, in Hashem’s discussion with Moshe at the start of this week’s Sedra, He seems to imply, twice over, that He comes first: “I will take you for Me as a Nation, and act as a G-d for you”, only after that does the verse continue: “you will recognize that it is I your G-d who is freeing you.” (Va’era 6:7)

 

Hashem takes the obligation towards us before we accept His Kingship over us!

 

That Talmud also takes that view, and rules (in an ingenious Talmudical argument – for another time) that the Almighty is obligated to return to us even before we return to Him!

 

It isn’t though all a one-way street. The verse continues; “and you will know that I am Hashem who is taking you out of Egypt.”

 

We have an obligation to know Hashem.

 

We struggle to know what came first, the chicken or the egg, but we are commanded to know Hashem! And knowing doesn’t just mean to be aware of, it requires us to know. To inquire and ascertain the truth, to delve into the questions of life and come to a conclusion.

 

But it doesn’t even stop there, for that knowledge isn’t just of a time gone by, it’s not just to be aware that once-upon-a-time this G-d took us out of Egypt. But rather He demands of us to know that He is taking us now, in the present tense not in the distant past!

 

I don’t know about you, but at times I find that hard. It’s not always easy. But there again, no one said it was supposed to be or was going to be. However I do take courage from the fact that we have been doing this for so long, that no matter what the world (and G-d) has thrown at us, we have still continued. Maybe it’s because He chose us first, maybe it’s because we have nowhere else to turn, or maybe because it’s just the truth; but as the world prepares to stand still and commemorate the International Holocaust Memorial Day, I take courage from our tenacity and also from G-d’s promise to constantly free us and also from His commitment to adopt us as His nation.

 

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Dovid

Inaugurations and Leaders – Shemos 5777

Today the world changes. At least that is what the press are saying. With the Inauguration of President Trump the world will no longer be the same, and we begin a new era. Whilst I am sure that it will change, I am not going to speculate whether it will be for better or for worse, or whether Hilary would have been any better, rather I will quote my predecessor Rabbi Carlebach: “{Shul} Presidents come and go, but the Rabbi is here to stay!”

 

Nothing happens by chance and the fact that this specific Inauguration is happening on this Friday, Erev Parshat Shemot behoves us to look at the elevation of another leader, the man who epitomised humility and an absolute reluctance to accept the mantle of leadership.

 

The drama began when Moshe was already 80 years old, and according to the Midrash had been the King of Middian for 40 years. He had left Egypt decades earlier, fleeing for his life when his first intervention to save a Jewish slave had resulted in Pharaoh sentencing him to death; a fate he only just escaped – miraculously. He was now happily married to Tziporah and enjoying his life as a shepherd, following in the tradition of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaackov and their families (and later on by the young King David). Away from the troubles of the world and able to concentrate on their personal connection to the Almighty, removed from the politics and strife of city living, they focused on spirituality and the relationship of the Creator and His world.

 

All this was questioned when he saw the Burning Bush (no relationship to an American President!). G-d reminds him of his early years and his compassion exhibited back then, He recalls his true mission in life. But Moshe was having none of it, and he steadfastly refuses to accept this responsibility. He wasn’t indifferent to the Israelite’s suffering, but he simply couldn’t see himself as their saviour. According to Rashi, Moshe and Hashem argued for six straight days until on the seventh day things come to a head, (parallels to the 6 days of creation and the completion of the world on Shabbat are entirely accurate and the focus of a separate essay).

 

The verse says ‘Vayichar Af’ and Hashem became angry with Moshe – after six days of refusing, after throwing every single excuse in the book, Hashem finally becomes angry. Rabbi Yosi in Tractate Zevachim says that the result of this anger was that Moshe lost the Priesthood and instead it went to Aaron and his descendants.

 

What though was it that caused this anger? What specifically was it the Moshe said?

 

The previous verse details Moshe’s last ditch plea. He said: “shelach no b’yad tishlach”, please send the one you usually send. Moshe’s final reason not to accept the mantle of leadership was that he knew he would not finish the job, he knew the future of what was to be, that it would not be him who would take the Jewish People into the Land of Israel, neither for the first time nor for the final time at the coming of Moshiach. He begged of Hashem to please send the final redeemer right there and then. What was the use, Moshe argued for this ‘partial’ redemption?

 

And it was that specific argument that angered Hashem; Moshe’s complaint about his physical capability was met with a logical response, his complaint about the Jewish people’s reluctance to listen to him was similarly met with a reasoned response, but his complaint that there was no use to this redemption, that he didn’t want to be part of it unless he could personally finish the job and take us into the Land of Israel was met with anger.

 

Questioning our suitability to lead is fine. Even questioning the merit of those we will lead has its place (although Moshe was punished for that), but questioning the purpose of a redemption is beyond the pale. Refusing to begin something good and worthwhile for the people just because you know (or think that you know), that it will not be completed and will still require more work is never an option. Reluctance, humility and questions are accepted, but never despair for the future. We are all charged with doing our job, regardless of what we believe the future might have in store.

 

That this is also the Shabbat before the International Holocaust Memorial Day (on Fri 27 Jan), re-enforces the awesome and at times frightening responsibility that we all have to doing our bit and ensuring the future of the Jewish people regardless of how bleak we might feel the immediate future to be.

 

Shabbat Shalom

 

Rabbi Dovid