Divrei Torah




It certainly must have been an incredible moment of horror when Moses heard in the ten commandments to first honour your father and mother and then you shall not kill. Moshe was alone; only he heard. And then immediately he had two repeat the word of G-d to all the nation. Everyone knew what he had done to the Egyptian taskmaster.


Moshe murdered in trying to honour his parents: first his natural father Amram and mother Yochevet, and then his adoptive father, Pharaoh, and Pharaoh’s daughter Bityah. He ran to a third family, a new father figure, Yitro, and Moses’ wife Tziporah. Always on the run and now standing before G-d, in painful open exposure. Who was Moshe Rabeinu at the moment of that thunder?


My mother came out of Auschwitz and into the embracing sun of my father in Eretz Israel. My father was in the underground leadership in the creation of the state of Israel but by 19 years old my mother told him, “I will not see you again unless you swear to me that you have never killed anyone.”


My father answered, with tremble, “I will tell you in front of the Torah and before my Rabbi and my teacher, so that you will never doubt me.” They went to the holy ark and he grabbed in reach all the Torah scrolls inside. And said before the holy Hazon Ish and disciples, “I swear that I never killed.” The holy Hazon Ish said, “I will marry you two.” And my mother said, “yes”. It is true that when we die, and in our tribunal of life review, the accuser will accuse of only one thing. It is your own soul that will stand before you and enumerate all the people that you have killed. The Rabbis and sages tell us that any slight to another, any embarrassment, any harm, is a murder. The image of G-d in everyone is not hardy. The image of G-d in all of us is delicate and tenuous. So how can we answer? On Rosh Ha’Shanah, we rededicate our love to the lofty in us every year. We remind ourselves of higher dimensions that we were meant for. It’s like that; we can only be fulfilled if we are in the grace of the almighty.


A person becomes their self by what they aspire. And in that hope they pray that this might inspire; such is our exchange with each other. It is the adjusting that we do. Evaluate our closeness and our distance. The world’s trouble of course, is the problems of intimacy. We have to know near and far in very personal ways. The word Korach has in it the word “distance” and “far”. The word Korach means coldness, the man Korach stayed rationally clear from vulnerabilities. He challenges Moses and asks, “Why should only he find favor in G-d? We are all your equal!” And he brought 250 Israelites with him. Moshe, the Torah says, listened, and heard. And then fell on his face. He listened carefully to the Korach, he heard what he meant. Korach was not equal to the lofty words he said; he wasn’t a person that aspired, he denounced merely to replace. And so, Moshe at that moment paled his face and was in a way, killed. His answer is the answer the Jews gave to their anti-Semitic accusers. I don’t know why G-d chose me; G-d choses who he chooses, and we respond. The earth opened up and swallowed in the desert Korach and the Israelites. Even the desert sand cannot abide by insolence and irreverence justified. We are told that the arrogant forces G-d to leave, and his presence cannot abide and dwell there.


Moshe Rabeinu was spared at that moment on Mount Sinai because he knew that he had killed himself when he killed the Egyptian. He had killed his Egyptian self. Moshe knew that he had killed himself when he tried to break up the Israelite slaves in quarrel. He had killed his own Hebrew self and ran away to Midiyan. There he encountered the presence of God who told him that it was he who would change the world through leading Israel homeward. It was the passion of plant and fire in the burning bush, just as it was earth and water and sky in the time of Noah’s flood when he was chosen. And now we affirm with Korach that only humbleness is the manner of presence before G-d and man. Shabbat Shalom.


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