Sacrifice

Yom HaZikaron begins at sundown. This evening and tomorrow some of us memorialize those fallen in war and as victims of terror in Israel. Note two points. First, it is not a holiday about Jews who have died, but about any soldiers who have died on behalf of Israel. Though the vast majority have been Jewish, some of those who sacrificed their lives for the country were not. Second, the day is also defined as a memorial for the victims of terror as well, and these were mostly civilians. Though most of the publicity refers to fallen soldiers, the full and proper name of the memorial day is: Yom Hazikaron l’Chalalei Ma’arachot Yisrael ul’Nifge’ei Pe’ulot Ha’eivah (יוֹם הזִּכָּרוֹן לַחֲלָלֵי מַעֲרָכוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְנִפְגְעֵי פְּעוּלוֹת הָאֵיבָה) “Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism.” Originally, the day commemorated and was a “General Memorial Day for the Heroes of the War of Independence.”

23,645 deaths of soldiers were commemorated, up 101 from the year before, and the deaths of 3,134 terror victims were also commemorated. The solemnity of the day is hard to convey to those outside Israel. The one minute of silence this evening and two minutes at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow morning are but a small part of the ceremonies. Normal broadcasting stops. Traffic totally stops when the siren for silence sounds. Throughout the land, there are memorial services, intimate family ones, communal ones, mostly in synagogues, and large civic and military ones.  The day commemorates the sacrifices made to establish and maintain an independent state of Israel. You cannot have the latter without the willingness to give one’s life as a sacrifice.

For example, the American Declaration of Independence (tomorrow, I will compare the Israeli and American declarations) ends with these words: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour.” In many nations, independence is only achieved because of the willingness to sacrifice. However, in Israel, sacrifices of one’s possessions – animals and grains in an agricultural society (korban  קָרְבָּן) – are radically distinguished from self-sacrifice. The former is intended to bring man closer to God; korban means ‘be near’. The latter are in service of bringing humans closer to one another in forging the spirit of a nation. The former takes place to compensate for sins; after the destruction of the temple the second time, worship, prayer and philosophic reflection replaced such sacrificial acts. The latter take place even though sins may be entailed.

 As Golda Meir once said, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” To take the life of another is a sin, whether in self-defence or in murder. That is inscribed in the flesh of every male Jewish child. Nahmanides taught, and it is widely believed among Jews, that the near sacrifice of Isaac memorialized replacing all human sacrifices with animal sacrifices. I believe that the near sacrifice of Isaac is memorialized in the token cutting away of the prepuce of the male penis to signify that for some causes, such as that of a nation, fathers are willing to sacrifice their children. The circumcision inscribes into the body that fathers, to some degree, cannot be trusted for they are willing to sacrifice their children in war to achieve a greater horizontal nearness among men.

As I indicated in a blog several days ago, some evangelical Christians believe that they sacrifice themselves in service to a pagan Trump because Trump will serve God’s purpose in bringing about a believed restoration of the Christian (white) nation. Trump is turned into a mere instrument for a higher purpose and for the past. However, sacrificing oneself for one’s nation is not a higher purpose, but a future purpose. It has a time dimension. It says that the sacrifice is necessary for the future of one’s nation and for your children’s children.

What about when God sacrifices humans? In last week’s portion, He did precisely that. And before an altar. After a very long description of the various modes of sacrifice, their purposes and rituals and the very lofty ceremonies installing Aaron as the High priest and his two sons as priests, God incinerates those same two sons.

א  וַיִּקְחוּ

 

 

בְנֵי-אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, אֵשׁ זָרָה–אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה, אֹתָם.

1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.
ב  וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה, וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם; וַיָּמֻתוּ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה. 2 And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

 

The only clue that God had a rationale is the reference to a strange or alien fire that Nadab and Abihu used in the sacrifice. Were they killed because they were innovators and did not adhere absolutely strictly to the regulations set down by God? That is the main interpretation of Moses’ rationale in verse 3. “Then Moses said unto Aaron: ‘This is it that the LORD spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron held his peace.” This and a myriad of other rationales were offered over the years by commentators – the two brothers had come to their jobs tipsy; their garments were not in immaculate order. Many others using more twisted but somewhat ingenious hermeneutics.

But the verse can be read in a very opposite way – the two sons were not unintended contrarians too distant from God’s precise commands, but, rather, the sacrifice of the two boys by God’s fire was intended to bring humans even closer to God. Just as later it would be said that it is through the sacrifice of Jesus that humans can become one with God, so his portion of Leviticus it is through the incineration of the priests one time, and one time only, that man can be brought nearer to God. That is why Aaron was silent and neither protested nor lamented the loss of his two boys.  That is why the whole nation was commanded, not to bewail the loss, but to “bewail the burning which the Lord hath kindled.”

God planted fire in the human body in the image of the Lord. It is a passion which can lead humans to create. Or it can turn into an alien flame that will end up incinerating oneself.

Over the last two days I saw two more films. In Phantom Thread, a movie directed by Paul Thompson Anderson, Daniel Day-Lewis brilliantly plays a very creepy couturier (Reynolds Woodcock – the name is meaningful) who is an obsessive compulsive mother’s boy who uses women as doormats and designs dresses that, with rare exceptions, are terribly ugly, but are viewed as the epitome of high style taken to be expressions of beauty and the pleasures such beauty brings. What they really illustrate is that fashion taken as art is really a fad of a specific time and place, a trick performed by an artisan to take women in, just as Woodcock does on the interpersonal level. Woodcock takes movement and form and encases it in so much material and so many restrictions that the dress turns into a method of reifying a woman. That is the real secret of the messages he sews into the linings of the dresses he makes.

Another movie I saw last evening contrasted this pretense of exquisite sensibility to overcome the grubbiness of materialism and possessive individualism with a different approach. For it was a bi-op of J. Paul Getty rooted in the drama of his grandson’s 1973 kidnapping by Italians for a ransom.  In Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, Christopher Plumber – who replaced Kevin Spacey in the first effort – in his own way is as brilliant as Daniel Day-Lewis, but he plays a more one-dimensional figure, a scrooge who will not even pay a ransom for his grandson, John Paul Getty III (Paul played by Timothy Hutton). Far less creepy than Woodcock, but perhaps even more repulsive, Getty worships reified art and artifacts and despises people. Getty is as fine a dresser as Woodcock, but he uses his grubby possessive materialism to acquire exquisite works of art for their “eternal” beauty. If Woodcock longs for the warmth of his mother’s arms, Getty simply wants to stick it to his dad who never thought he would amount to anything.

The foil for both men are two very independent women, Alma (Vicki Krieps) who is a waitress raised up, in spite of small breasts, wide hips and broad shoulders, to become the muse and model of Woodcock, but who turns out to be an independent force in her own right unwilling to take Woodcock’s efforts to diminish and demolish her while Woodcock only offer sideways glances of recognition and flattery. Gail (Michelle Williams), Getty’s daughter-in-law, married to his dope addict son, is devoted to her children. She is a very different mother than the one presumably Woodcock had, for she is nurturing, caring and self-sacrificing, but not suffocating, even though she personally has almost nothing material to give.

Phantom Thread is a baroque gothic “romance.” All the Money in the World is an action film portraying a real rather than fictional character and an archetypal real-life former C.I.A., Fletcher Chace spy played by Mark Wahlberg .  But the two movies are both about men interested only in sacrificing others, especially women, for themselves, rather than sacrificing themselves for others. Getty is an avatar of possession while Woodcock is an avatar of obsession, the first to use infinite wealth to purchase great art, the second to use his relatively modest wealth to turn a dress into a work of art and his interpretation of aesthetic perfection that is as weird as he is.

The creepiness of both major male figures in the two movies and their foils can be summed up from the women’s point of view by a poem of Mary Carolyn Davies that I used in a play I wrote almost sixty years ago:

Women are door-mats and have been

The years those mats applaud

They keep their men from going in

With muddy feet to God.

There is an ironic note. The one item of obvious fiction in the Getty film is about fire. Gail’s son and Getty’s grandson, Paul, was supposedly an arsonist who got kicked out of school for burning it down and then uses fire to escape his captors near the end of the film. Both initiatives and actions seemed totally out of character because Paul seemed incapable of the initiative to counter God’s fire with his own independent and alien fire. Instead he burned up the rest of his life with heroin smoke until he became a paraplegic. A little historical research goes a long way in helping with interpretation.

Self-sacrifice is to be revered when it serves to knit humans together but when it is used to run away from oneself, the path of destruction follows. It may, however, and often does mean running into the line of fire. And when that happens, we do well to commemorate the sacrifices.

Silences: Responses to Personal Loss

My Silences in Response to Personal Loss

by

Howard Adelman

God slew Aaron’s two oldest sons for an infraction they made in carrying out a sacrifice in the holy of holies. Moses responded by reinforcing the importance of following God’s commandments precisely. Aaron responded in silence.

That silence is interpreted in many ways, with interpretations reinforced by linguistic analysis, literary textual probing, authoritative statements by eminent rabbinic scholars to name but a few of the hermeneutic techniques. However, the meaning and relevance of Aaron’s silence in response to the loss of a loved one – in this case, two – is but one part of the inquiry. The other and perhaps more important part is the assessment of the appropriateness of silence by a mourner and to a mourner. While I regard all the above methods of analysis as important, I also refer to my own life experience to get some insight into the appropriateness of silence as a response to death.

About sixty years ago, my mother’s oldest sibling, my Uncle Irv, died of cancer. He was a relatively young man, still in his forties. I used to spend almost every weekend sleeping over at his family’s house on Rostrevor Rd. in Toronto just south of Eglington Ave. W. and just two blocks west of Bathurst St. I babysat his three children, then four when my cousins’ youngest sister was born. Sometimes on Sundays, my uncle would take me to the toy factory that he managed to help him or to just give me some rejected toys from the assembly line.

At other times, I would go with him to pick up my Uncle Jack who was blind and crippled and had been institutionalized his whole life; Jack would have a reprieve from the “hospital” where he lived and spend the day at my uncle and aunt’s house. At still other times, Uncle Irv would take me to the food terminal where he would buy cases of fruit and other produce and send me home with some to share with my mother. I regarded him as a surrogate father as my own father had left our home. On Sunday mornings at breakfast, my aunt and uncle would tell me about the play they had seen, the concert they had heard or the movie they had watched the evening before. For me, they were a romantic couple.

When my uncle died, I was devastated. I attended his shiva. Rabbi David Monson, who only died about ten years ago, had given the eulogy at Beth Shalom Synagogue of which he was the founding rabbi. He had been a chaplain in the army during the war. I had wished his talk had been more personal since he was famous for knowing his congregants’ intimate lives. His sermon had certainly been filled with adjectives of praise. Monson was highly regarded as a pulpit orator and the family generally heaped praise upon him. They thought he had a great heart.

When we returned to my aunt’s house for the shiva, for some reason, as I recall, I either did not seek out anyone or could not find anyone to speak about my feelings for my uncle in what was a large extended family gathering on both sides. In fact, this account is the first time I have written about my uncle’s death.

Rabbi Monson arrived. He began to talk to the men gathered after Kiddush and everyone was eating their food. I loved bagels, but I distinctly remember that I could not eat anything. Then, I overheard Rabbi Monson talking to some of the men about how he had scored on the stock market and was fishing for more tips from these businessmen.

I wanted to strangle him. I was burning with an inner rage that has never left me. It is not that Monson was scurrilous or said anything defamatory about my uncle. Quite the contrary. The rabbi clearly highly respected him. But I found his talking about making money at my uncle’s shiva, especially since he was a rabbi, scandalous, insulting and deeply offensive. I thought that he should have been silent or discussed another topic, something more relevant to the death of my uncle and the devastation to his wife and four children. I was very self-righteous and judgmental. I never took the time to see him and express my feelings.

I thought his silence would have been more appropriate than his loquaciousness. But I said nothing. I suffered in silence. It was the silence of resentment.

Resentment is destructive. It is the source of hatred. Monson’s words rankled in me for years and I generalized to a suspicion of most rabbis. The mixture of bitterness and rage, disappointment and high and mighty moral judgement as well as disappointment and deep disgust infected my young life and could be correlated with my suspicion of individuals who occupied any high and respected office.  The silence of resentment is itself a cancer.

But there is also a silence of confusion. About twenty years later, my own father died. He was not old – only 62. There was no burial; he had donated his body to science. There was no shiva. My older and younger brother immediately after his death left for a canoe trip after my brother, then a doctor, at my father’s request, facilitated his death by cutting him off from the machines providing life support. I was left to arrange for the body to be transferred to the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. I could not stand the idea of medical students treating my father’s body the way I had treated the cadaver I worked on when I was a first-year medical student.

But why should I have cared? I had been estranged from my father for years. I had not seen him for four or five years before his death. The last time he had dropped in to visit my family and our four children, he, as usual, brought a dozen bagels and some cream cheese. It had been at least a year since his last visit. He really came to ask to borrow $350. He needed to repair his car. I informed him that this time I would loan him the money. He could have the funds, not just for a month that he requested as he solemnly promised to pay the monies back and with interest. I gave him up to three months to repay the loan. It would be interest free. But if he did not repay it within that time, I did not want to see him ever again.

I never did see him again. I did not visit him when he was in the hospital after suffering a heart attack and renal failure. It was not the longest time that I had not seen him. When I was twelve, I remember packing his bags with all his belongings when he dropped in to see us after an absence of three weeks. I put the suitcases on the porch. He had not brought my mother a cent. For the previous four to five years he was increasingly absent for extended periods. I was by then contributing more to the family from my casual work than he was.

The next time I saw him, I was in university. I was walking along Bloor St. on the south side just east of Brunswick Avenue. I passed a man that looked strikingly like my father. But my father had not been going bald. He had a full head of dark not grey hair and was generally regarded as a handsome man. But now he was paunchy. I ran back to check. I confronted him and said, “Dad.” He did not recognize me. I had been about five feet tall when I had last seen him. I was then 6’3”, a skinny tall beanpole.

He gave me his phone number and address. He was living in an apartment above a bar on Yonge St. I visited him once, but my older brother kept somewhat in touch. I tended to avoid him. When he came to look me up, ostensibly to see his grandchildren, it was always the same – a gift of bagels and a request for a loan, which I persistently refused, but this never deterred him from dropping by a year or so later to make the same request.

When he died, I had no reason to cry or mourn for my father. Yet, after I had made the arrangements for the transfer of his body, I walked the streets of Toronto until dawn. I was devastated, even more devastated than when my uncle died. And I could not fathom why. Only in retrospect do I know that I was triply mourning. I was mourning the death of my father, for however irresponsible he had been, he was still my father. Second, I was mourning for the father I never had. Third, I was mourning because I had no opportunity to mourn. There was no funeral. There was no burial. There was no shiva. But then I mourned with the solipsistic silence of confusion.

Less than ten years or so later, I greeted the death of a friend in his early forties once again in silence. It was not the silence of resentment. It was not the silence of inner turmoil and confusion. It was the silence of shock, frustration and anger at the injustice of life and death. David Berger was then a psychiatrist who had studied at the famous Menninger Clinic.

He had sat in the same row as I throughout high school with one seat separating us because another student named Gerry Bain, who also became a doctor, sat between us. We had been arranged to sit in alphabetical order. We belonged to the same Y basketball club, but he was a much better athlete. He was also a powerful swimmer. When we were in medical school together, he was a champion water polo player. He had also been brought up in a labour bundist (secular Jewish and social democratic) family and knew a lot about politics. He was also more brilliant that I was even though I earned higher marks in the grade thirteen province-wide exams.

I left medical school in my fourth year at university in second year meds. A year later, David followed my example and we would hang out reading books in Hart House. During the six weeks he was absent from classes, I convinced him to return. He had decided that he wanted to teach. I investigated and showed him that if he wanted to teach high school, he would have to go back and complete an Arts degree and then do a year of teacher training. If he went back to medical school, he could earn a degree in just another year and, as a doctor, would much more easily get any teaching job he wanted.

He returned to medical school, but had to do some catch up work in the summer. He passed with reasonable marks even though he had missed six weeks of classes and clinic experience. He would only practice for about twenty years when he died in the shower at the Y of a massive heart attack following his usual heavy regimen of swimming which he had always kept up.

The burial was in Mount Pleasant cemetery rather than in a Jewish one. His estranged wife, who was not Jewish, arranged the funeral. The speeches by friends and his son at the funeral were heartwarming. But there was a missing gravitas. The funeral procession ended up in disarray as most cars became detached and lost in the ride from the funeral parlour on Steeles Avenue to the cemetery seventeen kilometres away on Mount Pleasant Blvd. just north of St. Clair. When the stragglers arrived at the cemetery, they could not find the burial site, for Mt. Pleasant cemetery is huge. In any case, the burial was quickly over and observed by only a small group.

We went to his ex-wife’s apartment afterwards for tea and some sandwiches. There was no shiva. I do not even remember offering his sister or his ex-wife or especially his son my condolences. Perhaps I did, but I most remember my silent frustration with the inability to mourn with others who had shared in David Berger’s life.

Dealing with these and other deaths did not prepare me in any way for the death of my brother, Al, on 11 May 1999. He was fifteen months older than I. He was only 62 when he died. We had been in the same year of school since grade eight and sometimes in the same classroom. We had been in the newspaper delivery business together, shared the excitement of scalping tickets at football and hockey games and ran a very successful ribbon selling operation before professional and university football games. By the time I was sixteen, with our savings, we were finally able to buy my mother a house on Ranee Avenue.

I filled out his application for medical school, even though he wanted to be an engineer. I convinced him to sign. I wanted to be in the same university class together. But although we always remained very close, he took a very different path in financing his way through university. He became a sub-lieutenant in the Canadian naval reserves and the government paid his way through college.

When we were in the same clinical group in the hospital, it became obvious that he would be the far better doctor than I, even though I always had higher marks. I would try to arrive at a diagnosis strictly through logic and that left too many options. He would quickly arrive at one and, in every case, it would be proven to be correct. He went on to become a well-known cardiologist, one who introduced angioplasty as a technique for cleaning out arteries into Canadian medical practice. He always insisted that he was just a sophisticated plumber, but he was appropriately revered by his patients.

He was a researcher and professor as well. We actually collaborated on the publication of two scholarly papers on the logic of discovery published in two different philosophical journals on medicine. When I organized Operation Lifeline for the Indochinese refugees in 1979, Al organized a volunteer cohort of doctors to provide health services for the new arrivals to Toronto.

It was his research and his practice that ostensibly killed him. As we were later told, the machines that they were using in performing the angioplasties had not been replaced during the 1989-1994 deep recession in Canada. They were evidently leaking radiation. He, another doctor and a nurse who used those machines all died of blastoma, a fatal cancer that attacked precursor cells and usually mostly attacks children.

I had spent a month with him in Arizona where he had gone to participate in a medical trial to treat his condition. Needless to say, the treatment was an utter failure. His death was excruciatingly painful and prolonged as he gradually lost his mental faculties and then his physical ones. I think he must have been in a coma for 4-5 months before he died. His second wife kept him alive on a hospital bed in her converted dining room in Wychwood Park.

She would allow my mother to visit him occasionally, but I stopped going over. I found the situation too macabre. Al had four children with his first wife and none with his second. At the funeral service, his oldest son, now a law professor in Austin Texas and as sweet an individual as one could ever wish to meet, literally got on bended knee and begged Al’s second wife for permission to say a few words. She refused.

We had a separate shiva at our home. But I never confronted his second wife for the treatment of my mother, the insensitivity to my nephews and nieces and her exploitation of her dying husband. When he was very sick, she managed to have the will changed so that his children were cut out and she was the sole beneficiary.

That was truly, for me, the suffering of silence. Sometimes silence is appropriate following the death of a loved one. But my silences in their various forms still haunt me and I consider that in each case the silence was inappropriate. However, I suspect the noises that I might have made at the time would likely have been even more inappropriate.

The appropriateness of silence as a response to the death of a loved one depends on the context and the person. It is a case of situational ethics and etiquette. No generalization is adequate.

Some Responses to Suffering in Silence

 

 

Some Responses to Suffering in Silence

by

Howard Adelman

This is the third of four installments in a series of blogs dealing with “Appropriate Ways to Mourn” and, in particular, the role of silence as a response to the death of a loved one or to someone who is mourning the loss of a loved one. The first blog in the series, which used the title above, offered an introductory exegesis of the many ways Jewish thinkers dealt with the depiction in Leviticus (10:1-3) of the High Priest Aaron’s loss of his two eldest sons at the hands of God when they failed to fulfill the ritual of a specific sacrifice in the exact manner instructed by God.

The second blog in the series was called, “The Silence of Smell” and it dealt with the ways in which silence was and remains an appropriate and/or inappropriate way to respond to mass atrocities, specifically to the Holocaust, for last evening, the memorial to those who were lost or responded with heroism to that specific genocide commenced. Today, Yom HaShoah ends. And it was the immanence of that day of remembrance that gave rise to the selection of the three verses of Leviticus for our Torah study group. However, as I wrote, the almost unanimous response of the members of that group was not about the response to a catastrophic collective loss, but the role of silence in response to personal loss or to a mourner who lost a loved one. The latter is the topic for today.

In response to the first blog, a reader wrote:

I’m struck by the “held his peace” phrase (assuming that is a reasonably adequate translation of the Hebrew which is beyond me to tell)…the phrase is equated with “held his tongue” in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. To my mind, it implies internal conflict and the need to restrain a verbal outburst against an outrageous power play by God. Not inner bliss and not deadness, but a shrewd political reckoning that, in the face of overwhelming abusive power, one best bide one’s time until it is safe to mourn expressively.

I agree to some degree. The rabbis who explain the silence as the correct response of an obedient servant of God in various ways are often apologists for an outrageous action. Those who see the response as a reflection of a soul that has died offer a window of light. Those who justify Aaron’s response as a way of expressing outrage at what just happened come closer, but the moral categories are inadequate. I am convinced that Aaron was conflicted, as my reader wrote, but the matter is more complicated than suggested. The need to restrain a verbal outburst against an outrageous power play by God as a pragmatic response to an overwhelmingly powerful figure – hold your tongue and bide your time – is certainly one possible way of assessing Aaron’s response. In the face of overwhelming abusive power, silence can be a way to “best bide one’s time until it is safe to mourn expressively.”

However, I think the matter is more complicated. Aaron’s silence not only likely reflected his own conflicted response to God’s outrageous and utterly disproportionate response, but it was likely a sign of a deeper and inner conflict between his utter trust in God and his inner emotional rage. It was not simply a practical and tactical move. Aaron was struck silent. He did not know how to respond otherwise. This was reinforced when his younger brother, Moses, the leader of the Jewish people who had led the Israelites into the wilderness of Sinai in the escape from Egypt, reminded him that the only response to God that was appropriate was sanctification and glorification. Moses was endorsing God as a super Kim Jong-un. “Suffer in silence,” was Moses’ message. Hence, the possible account for Aaron’s outward silence indicating his inner rage in contention with his faith in both God and his brother’s leadership.

Silence did not represent simply a tactical retreat nor the limits of language in response to a terrible catastrophe. More importantly, the issue was not the “appropriate” way to respond to a great personal loss.

Another reader wrote, “I think there is none. This I say, fully aware of the fact that there are countless rituals, traditions, and general societal and cultural expectations as to how to mourn ‘appropriately.’ But these again, are the expectations of others, rather than what honestly works or does not work for a given individual in such a vulnerable situation. If a mourning individual finds true solace in going through the prescribed steps, then they should of course do so: it may help avoiding the raw and painful feelings to focus instead on the proper behavior (somewhat akin to switching to automatic gear – not having to focus on the feeling of loss).”

The reader went on: “if someone can cope better by letting his/her pain/denial/anger/shock free reign (or alternatively, remain silent about it) and does not do the ‘proper’ things, that is also OK and a truly compassionate environment should not judge them for not going through the ‘correct’ steps.  Loss is an absolutely private emotion and not a show for the dearly gathered. One should be able to react to it as one truly, authentically feels like.  Having to pretend certain behaviors that one cannot identify with just to please an audience is phony, and during such extremely stressful times one should not be burdened with added expectations re: proper etiquette.”

Though I agree fully that the issue posed at the beginning of the study session – whether silence was the ‘appropriate’ response to what befell Aaron – was misleading in clearly implying that one can “legislate” or “prescribe” a general ethical, normative or even rule of etiquette as a response of a mourner or a sympathizer with a mourner, the problems I found with this reaction are as follows:

  • The discussion of whether a response is appropriate or inappropriate is not just a matter of imposing social expectations on a mourner;
  • Further, mourning is not just a private matter, but an expression of social values and priorities so that the criterion of a utilitarian calculus of whether silence “works” for the individual is inadequate; the category of utility is itself a contemporary dominant trope, for assessing any action; there is no more an absolute atemporal assessment of what honestly works than there is a moral assessment in terms of a divine imperative;
  • Prescribed rituals in dealing with death are not just convenient or useful tools to allow an individual to find true solace, for that just begs the question of what true solace is; if the steps help you in the mourning process, use them; if not, discard them. This individualistic utilitarian calculus is as much a moral imposition as whether an activity pleases God or fails to do so.

The first reader I cited offered a psychological explanation of Aaron’s silence as an appropriate and calculated response to a threatening and oppressive situation. The second reader cited reversed priorities and offered individual utility as a measure to determine what is psychologically appropriate and, thereby, dismissed the relevance of social guidelines other than as helpful personal hints. People ought to be allowed to do their own thing, respond to death in the way they “feel” best. On the other hand, my second reader opened the door to allow for the introduction though not imposition of social norms. “There is a fine and fragile balance between feeling free as an individual and being considerate to the feelings of others. This must be a two-way street, rather than an individual completely dissolving his/her own face, needs, and reactions and fully merge with the community.” However, in the end, the criterion remained individual utility.

A third reader eschewed any attempt to offer a universal guideline to what is or is not appropriate while finding some utility in Jewish ritualistic practices, even though he is not Jewish. “A good friend of mine is losing his battle with cancer.  He is dying but he is not dead.  I am supposed to be light and constructively positive during his dying time but, instead, I am grieving. I am sad and angry at what feels like injustice. Because he is still alive, I do not cry.  When he dies, I can openly mourn and show grief but, as a modern white male, I am unlikely to cry even then.  As a modern white male without traditions or real culture, I will simply carry on. No shiva. No candles. No prayers-in-groups. I may say a few words at his funeral and then eat some bad food that he posthumously pays for. It’s not right. I know that. But I have attended every kind of death ritual and none of them seem right. Judaism seems closest, but still not right. Maybe not feeling right is the right feeling?”

This is a backhanded way of endorsing silence as an appropriate normative response, but with even more disquiet than my first responder offered as an explanation for Aaron’s plight. Tomorrow, in my final installment in this series on silence as a response to catastrophic death of a loved one, I will write on, “My Silences in Response to Personal Loss.” It will carry forth the general theme that also embraced many of those in my Torah study group of rejecting even the search of a normative guide to defining appropriate behaviour to personal loss. It will also suggest the implication of all three selected responders cited above – and others, for discussions of appropriate ways of dealing with death seems to stir up a cauldron of feelings and responses – that the assessment of the appropriateness of a response depends first and foremost on understanding the person who died, the person mourning and the context. A search for general guidelines for appropriateness is a chimera.

However, a search for defining guidelines that determine which reactions are socially inappropriate and personally inadequate is not a quixotic effort. It is an exercise in knowing oneself and attempting to understand one’s society. Whether one deals with chivalry as an appropriate or inappropriate response to challenges one encounters or with silence in response to death of a loved one, the examination is critical in understanding oneself, comprehending one’s society and, thereby, defining when and why silence is inadequate and inappropriate while leaving open the question of what behaviour is appropriate or adequate.

One final word. The responses to the first installment of this series, and the original discussion that gave rise to it, indicate how close and important the issue of mourning is to everyone. Silence is one such response. In tomorrow’s blog, I will explore why I found silence to be both personally inadequate and socially inappropriate to personal loss.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Appropriate Ways to Mourn

Appropriate Ways to Mourn

by

Howard Adelman

From now on, when I want to go on a real holiday and escape my regular routine, I will take my laptop with me, as I always do, but take the wrong cord so that I cannot recharge the laptop. That way, I do not feel guilty because I intended to work, but do not work because I cannot – or so I tell myself. Leisure without guilt is heavenly bliss. This was my most important delusionary discovery of my trip to Ithaca, New York; Boston, Mass.; Princeton, New Jersey; and Savannah, Georgia from which I returned on Friday.

I had planned to write blogs about the trip, and still may. But I did not. After all, I told myself, I could not. Of course, I could have purchased a new cord on the trip or bought one of those new recharging devices that I had read about. But I did not. I was content to enjoy myself without feeling guilty, comforted by the convenient lie that I had made a mistake – not my fault – and, therefore, I could just enjoy the trip without indulging in my personal obsession of writing about it.

As everyone knows, when you go on a trip, no matter how excellent the experience, the greatest reward is often the return. “Home is where the heart is,” and all those clichés. I returned in time to attend Torah study yesterday morning. I was surprised at how much I missed it. As it happened, yesterday’s study of Torah was the most contentious and the most emotionally arousing of any I had ever attended – not only for me, but for many of the participants.

This evening, Yom HaShoah begins – the day for remembering and mourning the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. That was the ostensible reason for focusing on the small section of the Torah that was chosen for study. More formally, the day of remembering and mourning is called: Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה; “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day”).

But I, and I suspect many other Jews, tend to forget it is about remembering heroism and not just the huge number of tragic deaths. Further, I remember my deliberate or insensitive obliviousness to the Holocaust altogether when I was a callow youth. Not so young that I should not beat my breast for my ignorance. I was then married with one child and was in graduate school studying philosophy. I also was a tenant of a house at 586 Spadina Avenue that I had rented from a Holocaust survivor who had moved to Montreal. He had told me about The Black Book he had compiled and self-published on the murder of Hungarian Jews in the last year of the war.  He not only could not sell the copies, but he could not even give them away. They were piled up in boxes in the basement. He asked modestly that if I had a chance, I should find places and people to give the book.

I went down the basement and retrieved one copy. It sat on my shelf for a year. I never even cracked the binding to skim it. Yet I remained convinced after reading Hannah Arendt that Jews had not resisted and had been complicit in their own death. When I had a chance to check directly with a survivor and with his account to confirm or falsify Arendt’s account, I failed to do so. In my many moves, I even lost track of the copy of The Black Book that I had. On Yom HaShoah, I remember not only the Holocaust, but my own ignorance and indifference to the resistance of the Jews. I remember my silence.

I mourn my mindblindness. I did not know that the date of remembrance originally chosen was the 14th of Nisan to commemorate the Warsaw ghetto uprising and would only learn of this when I and my family visited the Warsaw Ghetto Museum on a kibbutz in Israel a dozen years later and two decades after the holy day had been declared. However, the day originally chosen fell immediately before Passover, so the final date for the holy day was almost two weeks later, the 27th of Nisan, eight days before Israel Independence Day. Tomorrow, I will attend a memorial service.

However, other than Aaron’s silence, it is difficult to make a connection between the passage of Torah chosen for study and Holocaust Remembrance Day. The focus of discussion was virtually entirely about mourning personal loss and the appropriate way to do so and not about a horrendous collective loss. The passage goes as follows:

Leviticus Chapter 10 וַיִּקְרָא

א  וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי-אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, אֵשׁ זָרָה–אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה, אֹתָם. 1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.
ב  וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה, וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם; וַיָּמֻתוּ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה. 2 And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
ג  וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, הוּא אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה לֵאמֹר בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ, וְעַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָעָם, אֶכָּבֵד; וַיִּדֹּם, אַהֲרֹן. 3 Then Moses said unto Aaron: ‘This is it that the LORD spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron held his peace.

God just killed the two eldest sons of Aaron, the High Priest, and Aaron stood in silence:וַיִּדֹּם, אַהֲרֹן.

Moses, instead of wailing at the death of his two nephews and instead of commiserating with Aaron at his terrible loss, merely used the occasion to reprimand Aaron and remind him that the way God reveals his holiness (and his power) is by insisting that people, and, more precisely, the priests, do exactly what God tells them. God’s instructions were to be followed to a “T”.  Neither Aaron nor Moses remonstrated God for His utterly disproportionate response to the failure of Nadab and Abihu to follow God’s precise instructions. The two had sinned for using incense in the fire pans to start the fire. God insisted that He and He alone would light the sacrificial fire. Further, only the incense from the sacred bronze altar was to be utilized. They had offered before the Lord alien fire. They had sinned for not following God’s protocol. God smote Nadab and Abihu. Moses chastised Aaron. Aaron stood in silence.

It gets worse. Moses ordered that the two be buried outside the camp. Eleazar and Ithamar took the places of their two older brothers. Moses told them and their father, Aaron, “Do not bare your heads and do not rend your clothes, lest you die and anger strike the whole community.” (Leviticus 10:6) When the sister of Aaron and Moses – Miriam – died (Numbers 20:1), there is no account of mourning as there was when Sarah, Abraham’s wife, died (Genesis 23:2) or when Aaron himself subsequently died as reported in the same Parsha Chukas that recorded Miriam’s death. Abraham wailed at Sarah’s death. The whole Israelite community wailed at the death of Aaron. The Torah records Miriam’s death with silence.

But, at least, there was no prohibition against mourning and warnings of dire consequences if one did not follow God’s instructions. Mourn not. Bewail the alien fire not the death of Aaron’s two sons. Failure to do so would have stark consequences, not only for the leaders of the Israelites, but for the entire community. Was the silence “appropriate”?

Rashi said it was. In fact, God rewarded Aaron for his silence by subsequently addressing him and not Moses to pass on the commandment not to engage in sacrifices if drunk. The implication is that Nadab and Abihu were drunk when they employed the “alien fire.”

On the other hand, in contrast to Rashi, Isaac ben Judah Abravanel (1437-1508) condemned Aaron’s callousness. Aaron’s heart had turned to stone when he did not weep or mourn as a grieving father usually does. Because he had lost his soul, he was speechless. Was silence a sign of deadness, of a loss of soul, or did the silence connote “inner peace and calm”? (R. Eliezer Lipman Lichtenstein)? Was the silence and forbearance a sign of Aaron’s holiness because he refused to chastise God for his own personal great loss?

Was Aaron shocked into silence or did he retreat into an inner blissful state of being? Baruch Levine argues that Aaron both mourned and did so in silence. He was not in shock forיִּדֹּם  means to moan and mourn, as well as to do so in silence. Aaron mourned inwardly while the community wailed outwardly lest Aaron as high priest be defiled by participating in the normal way in a grieving session. In Braakhot 6b, Rab Pappa went further and insisted that maintaining silence in a house of mourning is precisely the appropriate response. In Job 2:13, silence is perceived as the proper and respectful response to horrendous grief. Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite “sat down with him (Job) upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spoke a word unto him; for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:13) Rab Yohanan (Moed Katan 28b) taught that “comforters are not permitted to say a word until the mourners open a conversation.”

Is silence the appropriate response to horrendous loss? What is appropriate for a mourner to do who suffers a great loss? What is the appropriate sentiment of a friend or a relative to be expressed to one who suffers such a great loss? Is silence the right thing to do? I have my own experiences to guide me.

Politics and the Administration of Justice

Politics and the Administration of Justice: Yitro: Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

by

Howard Adelman

My commentary is restricted to Chapter 18.

The Israelites, or, at least Moses, had been taught the basics of diplomacy and how to deal with an irrational and vengeful tyrant. The Israelites were then taught some core lessons in the art of war. Diplomacy and military skills may be necessary for a people to be secure. But the key will be politics, the ability of a people to govern themselves.

“But I thought that the Israelites were governed by God!” That is a misconception. Parshat Yitro illustrates that this conception is erroneous. The Israelites had fought and won a glorious and impossible victory. Last shabat was shabat shira, the shabat of song and rejoicing when Miriam with song and timbrel against the backdrop of the sea led the Israelites and danced and sang the night away. The God of tradition, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the god of diplomacy and wrath who subsequently revealed Himself as a warrior God, a God of war, has now made room for pleasure and joy, for happiness and delight. God talks but He does not sing. It is we who sing in praise of God – and other things. Does God now reveal Himself to His people, to all his people, as a god who can teach the people the arts of government and not just the arts of war?

Water was scarce. The principles of change had been transformed into the principles of security and resistance against change. Food too had been scarce. Neither the earth nor the heavens opened up to feed the people. Their souls were starving even more than their bodies. Little did they know that the exhilaration of victory would be followed by the long and dark tunnel of struggle, of resentment. Appreciation for what they had and for what they had accomplished had been replaced by resentment and self-pity. The water they drank had become bitter.

The water is made sweet. The heavens and the earth yield, if not their bounty, sufficient amounts to survive. And the military tradition becomes professionalized as Joshua defeats Amalek, with Aaron and Hur each holding one arm of Moses on the hill overseeing the battle.

Against this backdrop, Jethro (Yitro), Moses’ father-in-law, appears on the scene to reunite Moses with his wife, Zipporah, and his two sons, Gershom (stranger in a foreign land) and Eliezer (God is my help). Moses will have to introduce his people to a land that will not be foreign, but will be their own land. Moses will also have to help his people learn self-reliance and not be so dependent on God’s help and assistance. But Moses, himself, in keeping his family safe while everyone else risked their own families, demonstrated that he was not fully of the people. The other Israelites had their families, their wives and children with them. Further, Moses himself was still far too reliant on God.

Why were Zipporah, Gershom and Eliezer left in the safety of the home of Jethro while Moses took on the Egyptians in an epic diplomatic and military battle? The question is not only not answered, it is not even asked. Instead, Moses updated his father-in-law, not an Israelite but a Midianite priest. The next day, Jethro watched Moses serve as the magistrate of his people resolving disputes among them.

The scene reminded me of one when I was first introduced to Arafat. We were in Gaza. It was about 10:00 p.m. in the evening. We were ushered into a large room with chairs all around the perimeter of the room. There were perhaps 16-18 people occupying those chairs. Recall, it was 10:00 p.m. in the evening. We were escorted past those waiting supplicants into a smaller reception area where four others were waiting. We did not sit but stood. Soon, two individuals emerged from another adjacent room. One brushed past us and the other invited us to follow him in.

Arafat came out from behind his desk, grasped each of our hands with both of his and greeted us warmly. We were individually introduced, all four of us, and Arafat nodded at the introduction. There was no translation into Arabic and it was not clear to me whether Arafat followed the introductions. Pleasantries were exchanged and then we were invited by our escort to follow him out of the room, but not before there was some more grasping of hands and smiling nods.

When we left and were once again outside, I asked the leader of our group, a very experienced diplomat, what that was all about. He said it was a courtesy introduction before we could continue our discussions in Gaza. My question, however, was not about the perfunctory introduction, since it was clear that it had just been a formality. I wanted to know what Arafat was doing seeing people in the late evening with twenty or so waiting to talk to him.

I was told that this is what Arafat did and often until three in the morning. He saw Palestinians who wanted a favour, a disposition, an intervention in a domestic or business dispute, or on any other matter under the sun. It might be a request to adjudicate a dispute with a next door neighbour over a fence line. Arafat had never been educated by Jethro. He lacked a father-in-law to serve as a mentor. Arafat was performing as Moses did before Jethro arrived on the scene in Sinai.

13. It came about on the next day that Moses sat down to judge the people, and the people stood before Moses from the morning until the evening. יגוַֽיְהִי֙ מִמָּ֣חֳרָ֔ת וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב משֶׁ֖ה לִשְׁפֹּ֣ט אֶת־הָעָ֑ם וַיַּֽעֲמֹ֤ד הָעָם֙ עַל־משֶׁ֔ה מִן־הַבֹּ֖קֶר עַד־הָעָֽרֶ

Unlike the Palestinians in Gaza waiting to see Arafat who had seats, the Israelites waiting to see Moses had to stand for hours.

14. When Moses’ father in law saw what he was doing to the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you sit by yourself, while all the people stand before you from morning till evening?” ידוַיַּרְא֙ חֹתֵ֣ן משֶׁ֔ה אֵ֛ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא עֹשֶׂ֖ה לָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מָֽה־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתָּ֤ה עֹשֶׂה֙ לָעָ֔ם מַדּ֗וּעַ אַתָּ֤ה יוֹשֵׁב֙ לְבַדֶּ֔ךָ וְכָל־הָעָ֛ם נִצָּ֥ב עָלֶ֖יךָ מִן־בֹּ֥קֶר עַד־עָֽרֶב:

Jethro remonstrated Moses. Moses had made the Israelites stand for a long time and did not respect the dignity he owed each of his people. He was akin to the physician who has all his patients come early and accumulate lest the doctor lose time waiting. For hours, the Israelites stood while he, Moses, sat. Secondly, Moses handled all the adjudication personally. Moses replied to Jethro in a defensive way. “I did not ask them to come. They sought me out. Secondly, they came to see me not just to seek a resolution of a relatively petty problem, but to seek God’s ruling on such matters. They come to seek God. In other words, as God’s stand-in, I, Moses, am only a conduit for God’s word.” We are presented with a case of government which is neither responsible nor responsive, neither representative nor respectful,

15Moses said to his father in law, “For the people come to me to seek God. טווַיֹּ֥אמֶר משֶׁ֖ה לְחֹֽתְנ֑וֹ כִּֽי־יָבֹ֥א אֵלַ֛י הָעָ֖ם לִדְר֥שׁ אֱלֹהִֽים:

As far as Jethro was concerned, that was no answer at all. For at least two consequentialist reasons. The process would wear out Moses and would also make the people weary – all that waiting, and in terrible circumstances just at a time when they needed relief, not a further weighty burden.

17. Moses’ father in law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not good. יזוַיֹּ֛אמֶר חֹתֵ֥ן משֶׁ֖ה אֵלָ֑יו לֹא־טוֹב֙ הַדָּבָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַתָּ֖ה עֹשֶֽׂה:
18. You will surely wear yourself out both you and these people who are with you for the matter is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. יחנָבֹ֣ל תִּבֹּ֔ל גַּם־אַתָּ֕ה גַּם־הָעָ֥ם הַזֶּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עִמָּ֑ךְ כִּֽי־כָבֵ֤ד מִמְּךָ֙ הַדָּבָ֔ר לֹֽא־תוּכַ֥ל עֲשׂ֖הוּ לְבַדֶּֽךָ:
19. Now listen to me. I will advise you, and may the Lord be with you. [You] represent the people before God, and you shall bring the matters to God. יטעַתָּ֞ה שְׁמַ֤ע בְּקֹלִי֙ אִיעָ֣צְךָ֔ וִיהִ֥י אֱלֹהִ֖ים עִמָּ֑ךְ הֱיֵ֧ה אַתָּ֣ה לָעָ֗ם מ֚וּל הָֽאֱלֹהִ֔ים וְהֵֽבֵאתָ֥ אַתָּ֛ה אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים אֶל־הָֽאֱלֹהִֽים:
20. And you shall admonish them concerning the statutes and the teachings, and you shall make known to them the way they shall go and the deed[s] they shall do. כוְהִזְהַרְתָּ֣ה אֶתְהֶ֔ם אֶת־הַֽחֻקִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַתּוֹרֹ֑ת וְהֽוֹדַעְתָּ֣ לָהֶ֗ם אֶת־הַדֶּ֨רֶךְ֙ יֵ֣לְכוּ בָ֔הּ וְאֶת־הַמַּֽעֲשֶׂ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַֽעֲשֽׂוּן:
21. But you shall choose out of the entire nation men of substance, God fearers, men of truth, who hate monetary gain, and you shall appoint over them [Israel] leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens. כאוְאַתָּ֣ה תֶֽחֱזֶ֣ה מִכָּל־הָ֠עָ֠ם אַנְשֵׁי־חַ֜יִל יִרְאֵ֧י אֱלֹהִ֛ים אַנְשֵׁ֥י אֱמֶ֖ת שׂ֣נְאֵי בָ֑צַע וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ עֲלֵהֶ֗ם שָׂרֵ֤י אֲלָפִים֙ שָׂרֵ֣י מֵא֔וֹת שָׂרֵ֥י חֲמִשִּׁ֖ים וְשָׂרֵ֥י עֲשָׂרֹֽת

Simply put – delegate. Give the lesser matters to others and only involve yourself in the very major disputes. Note, there is no separation of powers between executive and judicial functions. The judiciary are still named and appointed by Moses and are only permitted to rule on relatively minor matters. Further, they also serve as political leaders to apply the laws handed down from Moses.

But they are chosen based on their rectitude, their unconcern with using their positions to advance their monetary interests for they are already men of substance, men of chayil (חַ֜֜יִל) in the material sense and in a sense that they carry with them gravitas. For chayil refers not only to wealth, but to strength of character, a man of moral worth, hence, a man of substance. They are serious men. They must also be both honest and God-fearing in order to carry out their responsibilities. It is as if they put their property in a blind trust. After all, the Talmud, as Rashi cites it, says, “Any judge from whom money is exacted through litigation is not [fit to be] a judge.” [based on Mechilta and B.B. 58b] They must use their positions only to judge honestly and impartially.

This is not a lesson in self-government. It is still a top-down system. There is still no differentiation between the executive branch, the judicial branch and the legislative arms of government. God legislates. Moses serves as the magistrate and organizes the implementation of both the legislative and judicial functions.

The second lesson offers the criteria for choosing leaders who are also judicial officers. They must be men of wealth. They must be honest men whose gains are not ill-gotten. They must be trustworthy that they will implement what they decide. They must also be God-fearing.

There is a third lesson hidden among all the other recommendations. It is a statement in verse 19. “You represent the people before God.” Moses has his position, not as the undisputed leader of or over the Israelites, but as the representative of the Israelites before God. His primary job is not top-down, even though he performs that function; it is bottom-up – to represent the people. Thus, we get the first glimmerings of democracy as well as the first steps towards efficient government and the requirement that the men who make up that government be chosen on the basis of a very lofty set of values.

Note the following. The values are eternal and unchanging and are delivered from on high, from above. The lesson about efficiency comes from the side, from a foreigner. Though he came to respect the power of the Israeli god, there is nothing said about his conversion as Rashi implied. The Israelites had to remain open to others, non-Israelite lights.

If authority in values come from above, ideas on how to organize the system of authority came from the outside and by means of a non-Israelite agent. The Israelis had to remain open to outside influences. Third, interests flowed from below and Moses’ prime job was to represent the people as a whole to God. Not special interests. But everyone’s interests. The nation’s interest.

We now have the basic skeleton for a polity.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Divisible and Indivisible Political and Military Leadership

Corporeality VII: Divisible and Indivisible Political and Military Leadership

by

Howard Adelman

I begin with a summary of the political theory implicit in the Exodus story that I have related before, but this time from a slightly different angle. Joshua was the commander of the armed forces, the military commander. But he was not the Commander-in-Chief. Neither was Moses. The Commander-in-Chief was Aaron, the High Priest, who was responsible for upholding the fundamental laws of the nation and, therefore, ensuring that the use of force was in conformity with those laws. Ancient Israel, even before it became a state, was not a democracy; the responsibilities of legislating had not yet been assigned to a separate body. Israel as a nation of princes was an aspiration and not then a reality. A fourth function, interpreting and applying the laws, was assigned to a judiciary following the advice to Moses by the Midianite, Jethro.

The division of responsibilities can be represented as follows:

                                                Moses – political leader                                                                                                                          !       – responsible for receiving the law
Aaron —————————————————————Joshua
 responsible for upholding the constitution                                                                 military commander
commander-in-chief

!

Judiciary – responsible for applying and interpreting the law

However, when it came to the use of force outside the boundaries of the constitution, when it came to fighting an unjust war targeting civilians – whether this meant slaying the children of enemies or using force to ethnically cleanse the land of one’s determined foes – this was the responsibility of God. Joshua was only responsible for leading the Israelites into battle within the confines of just war principles.

But a major competing theory emerged rooted in the Latin classics. One of the great adventures of being an undergraduate at university is the opportunity to read the classics and, most of all, reading a book just published that would become a classic itself. In 1957, Ernst H. Kantorowicz published The King’s Two Bodies which he had written as a fellow of the Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies. In my recollection, I did not read the volume until 1960 or 1961. What an exciting read and a great moment of revelation! The following is a very compressed version omitting any semblance of relaying the diachronic development of the idea.

Mediaeval political thought differed from Hebraic classical political thought by putting forth the doctrine of consolidated military power and political and moral authority. It did so, not by a division of powers, but a consolidation of powers in one being who had an eternal non-corporeal power and a corporeal exercise of that power. In this mediaeval political theology, the king has a natural body that weeps and laughs, feels pain and demonstrates courage, and eventually suffers and dies. He also has a spiritual body inherited from the doctrine of the dual manifestation of Christ developed in the thirteenth century in which there was both an individual body (corpus personale) and the collective body (corpus mysticum) of Christ identified as Christ’s mystical half embodied in the church. “The new term corpus mysticum placed the Church as a body politic, or as a political and legal organism, on a level with the secular bodies politic which were then beginning to assert themselves as self-sufficient entities.”

The king, as a derivative of this conception, was also said to have a spiritual body which served as the symbol of the royal office and the right to rule versus the actual implementation of that rule which could be flawed. The king’s mystical body along with the divine right to rule endowed the king with a unique character: the king could do no wrong. Further, his successor was ordained to take over when he died. “The king is dead. Long live the king.”

The king was, at one and the same time, a corporeal mortal being and an embodiment of the spirit of the nation. In the latter sense, the king is sovereign and the expression of the body politic. In the above terms, the king was Moses and Aaron, Joshua and the judiciary rolled into a single person who had two complementary sides, a physical, imperfect and mortal self (a natural body), and a spiritual body that expressed the spirit of a nation. The latter was the body politic that could be neither seen nor heard, but through the office of the king could express its will and give direction to the polity, devise policy, manage the public weal and lead the polity into battle. The Church subsequently included the clerical bureaucracy itself as the “mystical body of Christ” and, in return, the Western polity became known as the Holy Roman Empire. The latter was the consecrated host; the former became “the corpractpus mysticum the head of which was Christ and whose limbs were the archbishops, bishops, etc.” Eventually as the notion of the nation re-emerged from its Hebraic roots with the Protestant Reformation, the populace, the people, the nation inherited the weakened remains of the corpus mysticum previously literally embodied in just the general body politic, the res publica. Citizens were now willing to die for the nation.

I do not have either the time or space to depict how the notion of indulgences developed in parallel as different expressions of that sense of sacrifice from the eighth to the fifteenth century, for I simply want to concentrate on two radically different notions of governance. Suffice to say that by the fifteenth century, the widespread business of printing indulgences had evolved from the twelfth century Indulgence of the Cross and was known by 1454 as the Gutenberg Indulgence (GI). After all, Gutenberg was not only an inventor of the printing press, but a very clever entrepreneur who knew how to make his own fortune off the lucrative “tax” practices of the Church. (He was not the first entrepreneur to make millions from the largesse of community coffers – Donald Trump’s father.) The GI was a piece of boilerplate that testified that the confessor was in a state of grace and would escape purgatory. Hence, the emergence of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment as the GI evolved in a new form, the publication of broadsheets. As greater and greater numbers of ordinary citizens could read, they became totally revolted at the corruption at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church at the time.

The United States of America emerged as a body politic on the cusp of the transition from the indivisible corporatist notion to the divisible notion of the body and, on the surface, represented the rejection of the indivisibility doctrine. Hence the conception of the division of powers! On the other hand, the United States emerged as a democratic monarchy, as a political state which elected its king who, in his persona represented the indivisibility of both the body politic and the leader who must represent the spirit of the people and defend that spirit from enemies both within and outside the body politic who would undermine and divide the nation.

What happens if the indivisible head of state charged with maintaining and enhancing the indivisibility of the body politic believes that his protection function is so important that it usurps any doctrine of civilian control? Think of General MacArthur versus President Harry Truman where the Commander challenges the Commander-in-Chief in the name of protecting the nation and its interests from its most formidable enemies. Military mutiny is one thing. Military dictatorship is another. For what if the Commander-in-Chief himself believes that it is his primary responsibility to protect the body politic from enemies within and without and requires the CIC to stretch his/her powers.  By locating the role of Commander-in-Chief and political leader in the one person, the U.S. was open to the development of a military dictatorship.

The founders were well aware of this danger and tried to imitate the monarchy of Britain as developed to that time by offsetting the role of the monarch as both the embodiment of the nation’s will, with the responsibilities of Commander-in-Chief, with offsetting powers assigned to the legislature, in the American case, Congress. Hence, the division of powers! The history of the United States of America could be written as a tale of these two conceptions, the indivisible powers of the leader offset by conception of divisible powers among different institutions. This is particularly true when the issue is not the obvious one of military dictatorship, of the Commander-in-Chief seizing all powers into his own office, but when the Commander-in-Chief is prone to adventurism, prone to offsetting his/her political restrictions in one area to another in which the controls on his initiatives are most ambiguous and most difficult to assess whether they are necessary for the defence of the state.

The constitutional vesting of the commander in chief power aims to establish a politico-military culture in which military coups become unthinkable, as they have been for the United States. But once the offices of civilian head of government and military commander in chief are fused (what I have called “fused dominion”), a complementary danger to military coups arises, namely that the leader will himself use the military to seize or abuse power or, just as importantly, launch military adventures. As I hope to show, the constitutional framers were acutely aware of these dangers, and in response they created a strongly separationist constitutional conception of the commander in chief. Justice Jackson got it right when he wrote in his famous Youngstown concurrence, ‘The purpose of lodging dual titles in one man was to insure that the civilian would control the military, not to enable the military to subordinate the presidential office.’ In brief, the basic theory behind civilian control of the military is to use a civilian commander in chief to check the military, and then set up civilian powers to check the commander in chief. Constraining military and constraining the civilian commander are two distinct problems, strophe and antistrophe, and together their solutions generate the political theory of the commander in chief authority. David Laban (2008) “On the Commander in Chief Power,” Southern California Law Review 81, 477-571.  scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1597&context=facpub

 

Tomorrow: Indivisibility and Divisibility within the U.S. Presidency

The Structure of the State: Parshat Yitro/Jethro Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

The Structure of the State: Parshat Yitro/Jethro Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

by

Howard Adelman

Last week I wrote about political leadership from the perspective of the Torah. This week my subject is the distribution of the various powers of the state dedicated to protecting and serving a nation beginning with the role of foreign affairs and international diplomacy. How should political leaders deal with political leaders from other states? For Jethro is not only Moses’ father-in-law; he is also the high priest of the Midianites. How does a foreign religious leader also emerge as a confidant and critical advisor of Moses in the design of the polity for the Israelites? How and why did a foreign personality presume to do so? Was it simply because he was “family,” that he was mishpacha?

This week’s parsha is not only about Jethro. That is the subject of chapter 18. But chapter 19 is about the Israelites camping in front of Mount Sinai and their encounter with God. Chapter 20 is about Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and Moses’ role to serve as an intermediary between the people and God and, therefore, the defender of the constitution, the basic covenant for a nation. What do these events that follow and historically rival the escape from Egypt have to do with Jethro coming to Sinai with Moses’ wife and two children to meet with Moses and subsequently offer his political advice?

As stated above, Jethro was a Midianite priest. He may also have been a Prince of the Midianites, for he is called a Midian leader in some translations, but given the difficulties and indignities his daughters suffered at the hands of other shepherds at the well where Moses met his future wife, I very much doubt it. But prince or priest, whether he combined the office of political leader as well as religious leader is not the issue for me, for it is his religious leadership that is important.

Recall what Aaron’s role was as High Priest when there was no temple. Aaron’s initial job was to be the intermediary between God and Pharaoh. When Moses demurred from accepting his divine assignment to represent the Israelites in the negotiations with Pharaoh to free the Israelites from Egypt, Aaron was appointed as God’s spokesman. Aaron was made Secretary of State. Aaron had the job of being a light unto the nation with the most symbolic job assigned to a High Priest, lighting the candles on the menorah so that Israel could be the light to other nations, whether in dealing with enemies in pursuit or nations the Israelites would face in front of them. If Moses was the political leader of the Israelites, Aaron, his older brother by three years, was appointed as foreign minister, or, as designated in the United States of America, Secretary of State. It was Aaron who had the job of guiding the ship of state in foreign waters (and in foreign lands). Thus, when we encounter Jethro here and he is called a Midianite priest, we recognize his role as the nation’s chief diplomat.

We know that Moses worked for his father-in-law after he married Zipporah for almost a decade and during that time presented him with two grandsons, Gershom (stranger) and Eliezer (God’s helper). Their names are ironic because it is Jethro who will come as a stranger to the Israelites at Sinai and will serve as God’s helper by being Moses’ helper, not simply, as it is said, because he gave Moses a refuge from the sword of Pharaoh, but in allowing Moses to emerge subsequently as a person worthy of being the intermediary between God and the people of Israel.

When Jethro as a courtesy sent a message that he was arriving at the Israelite camp with Moses’ wife and two sons, Moses himself, not just Aaron, went out of the camp to greet him, bowed down to him in respect and kissed him. The first lesson in statesmanship is that when a foreign minister visits, it is the political head of state who should greet him. Further, not just the leader, but the ambassador from another nation must be welcomed, not as a supplicant, but as one worthy of both love and respect.

Jethro and Moses then returned to Moses’ tent where Moses told his father-in-law everything that had taken place since he left the land of the Midianites on the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba. He did not tell the story of what he did, but of what God did to Pharaoh as the enemy and how God subsequently saved the Israelites from the hardships they encountered in the desert. In other words, Moses did not raise himself up through what happened, but offered Jethro a detached portrait of the political landscape for which God (or history) was responsible. Jethro responded by summarizing the tale and concluding, “I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”

Arrogance has been considered one of the seven of the worst character defects. Egyptian pharaohs were the epitome of arrogance for they considered themselves to be above other mortals, to be embodied gods. Arrogance is a denial of personal vulnerability. The corollary of raising oneself on a pedestal entails treating others as only worthy of contempt. Pharaoh was overbearing and overestimated his power to an undue degree. Jethro contends that the real and most basic reason God treated Pharaoh so badly was that he was a conceited, self-important prig with a false sense of his own enormous grandiosity.

Contrast those characteristics with those belonging to Moses or Jethro, but our focus here must be on Jethro. First of all, instead of parading his own idolatrous gods as greater than the Israelite god and engaging in a macho contest, Jethro praised YHWH as “greater than all the gods.” He behaved in precisely the opposite way than Pharaoh. In doing so, Jethro did not renounce his idolatrous religion; he merely recognized the God of Israel as the greatest among the gods. Jethro was not a believer in monotheism. Nor is there any suggestion he had himself circumcised and converted to Judaism as suggested by some interpreters.

[Some Talmudists claim that when the text says wa-yihad Yitro (Exodus 18.9), translated as “Jethro rejoiced,” this meant that Jethro self-circumcised, that he felt a stinging in his flesh and when you exchange the ח with a ה to be wa-yihad, then the meaning is that Jethro became a Jew. I think this is farfetched and does not at all fit in with the thrust as well as the details of the story.]

Note also that Jethro paid no attention to the part of the story when God saved the Israelites in the desert and provided water and manna. It was not God as a material provider that interested him. He came as a foreign minister, not as an economic minister focused on material things. His concern was authority and power and how it was to be exercised. Jethro said that God was greater than all the other gods because he protected His people and punished those who would treat them “arrogantly.” That is the function of statesmanship. Jethro then made a sacrifice, brought a burnt offering and joined Moses, Aaron and the elders of Israel in a festive meal. What Jethro did was also a diplomatic reproach to Moses and Aaron, as well as the 600,000 Israelites because, until Jethro arrived and performed his sacrifice, none of the Israelites had deemed recognizing the power of the Other as important.

The next day Jethro observed Moses acting as a judge and welfare officer when his people came to him with requests and the need to resolve disputes. That part of the story reminded me when I was first introduced to Yasser Arafat in Gaza. (He had not yet moved to Ramallah.) It was 9:30 or 10:00 p.m., which I thought was quite late for a political meeting. We were ushered into a very large room with chairs all around the sides. I was totally shocked to see about half the chairs filled. My memory may be exaggerating, but I thought there were twenty-five people waiting. We were told they were waiting to see Arafat. We were then ushered into an anteroom. There were four people waiting there. We were taken past them right into Arafat’s office.

The office was plain and unadorned. We were introduced, but the meeting was perfunctory – evidently just a matter of form. When we left, I asked the person who was our intermediary what all those people were doing so late in the evening waiting to see Arafat. He informed us that it is the same every evening and seven days a week. People go to Arafat to complain about a neighbour’s dog barking (that literally was one of his examples), to ask for funds to bury a relative or help a child get medical help. Arafat dispenses money, rulings and advice sometimes until three in the morning. That is what Jethro saw Moses doing.

13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.

If the function of a foreign minister or secretary of state is to represent his nation so that it can be a light unto other nations when dealing with them (not just representing a nation’s interests in Kissinger’s terms of realpolitik), the function of a political leader is to represent his nation in dealing with God, in dealing with history, in dealing with a nation’s destiny, in interpreting its fundamental constitution. The chief political officer is neither the chief law maker nor the judiciary. After separating the functions of statesmanship and diplomacy from being the head of a nation, the judicial functions too must be delegated to others. Thus, we have a different take on the separation of powers – foreign affairs from leader of the state, leader of the state from chief judicial officer. The next lesson will be about the making of laws, but that comes after Jethro leaves.

How did Jethro then prepare for what took place afterward? First, it was Jethro who told Moses that his job was to be an intermediary between his people and God. Second, as we soon learn, Moses is not the prince of his people, is not the lawmaker, but only the receiver of the fundamental constitution for the people, the covenant with God, which is a constitutional set of rules recommended for all nations. Third, Jethro had to go away because the people had to learn two other lessons that could not come from Jethro. For Jethro was an idolater; the Israelites were commanded to put away the worship of all idols.

“You shall not make [images of anything that is] with Me. Gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.” (Exodus 20:20) This was the culmination of all the commandments the Lord gave to Moses and was a repetition of verse 4: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness which is in the heavens above, which is on the earth below, or which is in the water beneath the earth.” The Israelites were not forbidden from making images, but graven images, objects or things worshipped as divine. “Graven” is the right adjective. Don’t make what is dead and treat it in a solemn way.

There was a second reason Jethro had to leave. He came from a hierarchical society. In contrast, God wanted to teach the Israelites obedience to the constitution, the covenant intended to guide all peoples. “And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth.” (Exodus 19:5) But for the Israelites to be a truly holy nation, they had to be a nation of self-legislators, a nation in which every member was a prince, a democratic nation. “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6)

Jethro could not teach Moses or his people not to be idolaters, nor that the nation must become one in which all were princes, a democratic nation. Thus, in this parsha, we are provided with the framework for the construction of a state that will serve the nation. Separate foreign affairs and diplomacy from the functions of internal rule and make certain attributes characteristic of that role. Secondly, separate executive power from the judiciary. Thirdly, create a constitutional “monarchy,” that is where the function of the head of state was to be bound to upholding the fundamental covenant or the constitution of that state from the exercise of power and make the head of state the embodiment of that covenant and the representative of that covenant to the people. Fourth, make the state a democratic state whereby the powers of making laws, within the boundaries of the constitution or the fundamental covenant of that state, are made by the people who shall all be treated as princes of the state.

With the help of Alex Zisman

SUNDAY: Foreign Affairs, Diplomacy and the Body Politic

Netanyahu and Moses: Parshat Va’era: Exodus: 6:2-9:35

Netanyahu and Moses: Parshat Va’era: Exodus: 6:2-9:35

by

Howard Adelman

I recognize that argument by analogy is the weakest form of argument if it can even be counted as a legitimate form of rational argument at all. But it is one of the most common forms of commentary used in biblical interpretation. That is not because of the strength of its reasoning, but because of the often brilliant insights provided by great leaps of the imagination which happen to resonate with reality.

This parshat about the escape of the Jews from Egypt and their return to the Promised Land is so well known that it scarce requires any repetition. Instead, I want to tell a contrasting contemporary story about Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel, through the lens of the Torah, and ask the question whether his mission is to lead the Jews into the whole land of Israel or whether it is his destiny to lead the Jews, reluctantly of course, out of Eretz Israel altogether.

Like Moses and his brother, Aaron, Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) had a brother, Jonathan (Joni). Aaron was the older brother by three years. In the Biblical text, as Rashi noted, in some places the two are referred to as Aaron and Moshe and, at other places, as Moshe and Aaron. Though Moses is referred to as the greatest Jew in the history of the Jewish people, Rashi says that Aaron and Moshe were two sides of the same coin. Both act in the face of a far greater earthly power. But they play complementary roles. Aaron is the man of words, the orator, the rhetorician, while Moses serves as the political leader. Both rose to the greatest heights in the expression and realization of their God-given skills.

At first glance, one might presume that the comparison is of Bibi to Moses and Joni to Aaron. After all, like Aaron, Joni was the older. But Joni died young. Further, Bibi was the orator. Though Joni was a great commander of his elite strike force in the IDF, he was more akin to Rabin; Joni was not a media star while that is the very route Bibi took to rise to the pinnacle of power in Israel by becoming a minor star in the U.S. media firmament. So I start with comparing Bibi to Aaron and Joni to Moses, for like Moses, no matter what happens in history, Joni will be remembered as one of the great figures in Jewish history who led the attack that freed the captives in Entebbe in Uganda and allowed them to return to Israel, though he himself would only return in a casket. As one of the few Jewish writers to emerge in America after WWII, one who seemed to lack any neurosis and even retained his role as an observant Jew, as one who celebrated rather than begrudged military figures, Herman Wouk wrote of Joni in the following terms:

He was a taciturn philosopher-soldier of terrific endurance, a hard-fibered, charismatic young leader, a magnificent fighting man. On the Golan Heights, in the Yom Kippur War, the unit he led was part of the force that held back a sea of Soviet tanks manned by Syrians, in a celebrated stand; and after Entebbe, “Yoni” became in Israel almost a symbol of the nation itself. Today his name is spoken there with somber reverence.

Further, according to what was known of Joni, he was an exemplar of humility. Whatever one can say about Bibi, few if any would say he is humble. On the other hand, we all know that Joni occupies a mythical place among the stars of the redemption of Israel for his martyrdom in the rescue of the Jews captured by Arab terrorists and taken to Entebbe.  But Benjamin Netanyahu was also a man of action and not just of words, for he was a commando in the same elite unit in which Joni served who went on another mission and rescued Jews hijacked on a Sabena flight. It was Bibi who would emerge as both the orator and the political leader. I suggest that we look at Netanyahu as made up of two souls, his own inner being as an orator, as a man of words, as an Aaron, and, as well, as a ghost in the mechanism of his body, the ghost of Joni who could have risen to be a rival to Rabin in the political landscape. In other words, Bibi Netanyahu is both Aaron and Moses in his own mind, but his true self was to be a spokesperson. The political mission fell into his lap inadvertently, though not reluctantly as was the actual case with Moses.

Many if not most of the prophets of Israel were reluctant to assume their roles – Jeremiah, Isaiah, and even the satirical figure, Jonah. Moses asks God to find someone else. He can’t do the job. Even though Moses had been raised as a prince of Egypt, he asked, who am I to assume such a lofty role? He also contended that the people of Israel would not believe him and accept him as their leader; after all, he had not been brought up among them. Further, like the stuttering King George VI of Britain in a time when Britain was threatened with being overrun by Nazi Germany, Moses reluctantly assumed the role of titular leader of his people in spite of his overpowering stutter. Moses too was a stutterer and had uncircumcised lips. Moses’ fourth reason for his reluctance; he had no desire to assume the role. Others were more ambitious and more interested and more capable.

None of these four reasons were Bibi’s problem. He always was convinced not only that he could do the job, but that he was the best person for the job. He also believed, if given the right circumstances for his people to assess him, they too would become convinced that he was the best man for the position. He obviously had the gift of the gab and was a terrific orator. Further, perhaps no one in the history of modern Israel was so convinced that he was destined to become the leader; as many would attest, he had a messianic complex. For his essence was to be an Aaron who took on the role of a political leader rather than a leader with the essential spirit of Moses in his soul. Adopting the mantle of Moses was shapeshifting, assuming the ghost of Joni while underneath lacking those leadership skills. He was convinced of his own abilities, of his own worth, of his own powers of persuasion and, most of all, of his destiny. If he faced any problem, it was the inability and reluctance of the Israeli people to recognize all of that. That was the major, and perhaps only real obstacle that he had to overcome.

Look at how Bibi went out into the diaspora, not as a shepherd who rashly but out of compassion for his kin who was a slave being beaten by an overseer, killed that very same overseer. Bibi had never been banished to Midian and willingly accepted his role as never-to-be-remembered figure. Each step was taken to advance his ambition.

Further, Moses begs to be excused because he is an initial failure. When he first asks Pharaoh to let my people go, Pharaoh laughs at Moses and makes the Israelite slaves work harder as punishment for the chutzpah of their so-called leader. The Israelites reacted, not by rallying around Moses, but by getting angry and asking him to leave office. Recall that Bibi also was voted out of office when he pissed off Bill Clinton and failed in forging a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“My Lord, why have You done evil to this people? Why have You sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he did evil to this people. But You did not rescue Your people.” (Exodus 5:22-23) But it was not Bibi, the orator, who failed, but Bibi the ghost of Joni. Unlike Moses, instead of asking why God failed both him and the Israelites to free his people, Bibi blamed himself. God promised redemption and redemption did come once again when Barak, in spite of the most generous offer imaginable by an Israeli leader to the Palestinians, also failed, and Bibi once again retuned to leadership of the Jewish people. Unlike Moses, he believed it was his destiny and mission to lead Israel.

But had not Moses been raised in the luxury of America? Had he not mastered the way of the Americans just as Moses had of the Egyptian elite? But so had Joni. Both returned to Israel. Both served in the IDF in illustrious roles. There is a difference however. While Moses could never acclimatize himself to being an Egyptian and always felt uncomfortable even though he had been adopted as an infant and raised in a royal household, Bibi, in fact, was more at home in America than in Israel. If he had stayed in America, though, because he was born abroad, he could possibly have risen to become vizier, a very big man in a very big pond rather than a very big man in a relatively little pond. Bibi never lost that sense of entitlement and lectured both two Democratic presidents as if he was their equal in stature and power. Bibi has always been a would-be president of the United States. Bibi was no Moses.

So when each president would not do his bidding, he subverted first one by slow-walking the peace process and the second one by increasingly confronting Barack Obama, and telling him that he had not learned the lessons of history, that he was naïve and that he had made a bad deal, a bad, bad deal with Iran. Bibi was no withering vine. Bibi was no Moses. Moses was appalled at the hardships of slavery of the Israelites. Bibi was appalled that Jews anywhere did not have absolute power to determine their own destiny, attributing the suffering of the Jewish people to the absence of such power. Moses was sensitive to the fact that his people had incorporated the spirit of bondage in their very being. Bibi was extremely proud that Israelites had presumably and absolutely thrown off the spirit of bondage that afflicted Jews in the diaspora. For Bibi was destined to be the redeemer of the entire land of Israel; for Moses, God always remained the redeemer, not he. This was true even though Moses exhibited such a range of skills, and accomplishments, and in spite of his severe handicap. He was a prince, shepherd, politician, law-giver, teacher, judge and prophet.

Bibi, in contrast, was the child of a very embittered man, in Benzion Netanyahu’s own estimation, forced to live out the best years of his life in exile. When Bibi as an adult himself lived in the diaspora, he was, in contrast, not a humble shepherd, but a media star, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, and, at a very young age, ambassador of Israel to the United Nations. He then became a politician, not through being chosen by God, nor initially by being chosen by the people, but by having mastered the ability of getting ahead politically be accruing wealthy supporters and by forging a network of very ambitious colleagues. He never received any renown as a legislator even though the rule of law is central to the life of the Jewish people. Nor was he ever a teacher, unless a teacher is defined like both he and his father as a pontificator of personal convictions and received opinions rather than as an inquirer into the truth. He was known for his partisanship and his skills as a political broker rather than for any sense of judicious fairness. He saw himself as a prophet even though that very conviction made him blind to the advantages of the Iran nuclear deal, especially for Israel.

I write this as a form of explanation for why Bibi treated Obama as if he was Pharaoh rather than a partner and supporter of the Israel people. For Bibi, Obama was a front man for Evil rather than simply a leader with a different perspective, a different set of obligations, a different approach and a different attitude, hope rather than pessimism. When Moses was called forth to confront Pharaoh and lead the people back to Israel, he was given a staff, a mateh, that turned into a serpent and back into a staff as an instrument, not only to prove God’s magical powers, but as the very tool that would call forth the ten plagues inflicted on the Egyptian people.

Now there are many questions to ask about those plagues. For one, why punish the Egyptian people for the evils of their autocratic leader? Most of all, why kill innocent babes in the cause of your own freedom? But I will not deal with any of those issues. Rather, I want to ask what was the staff that would bring water out of rocks, that would divide the sea so that the Israelites could cross, but, most of all, what was the rod that was used to confuse Pharaoh, raise his wrath and bring about one plague after another on the Egyptian people?

The cobra, a god of the Egyptians, as symbolically represented on the headdress of the Pharaoh, was the supposed source of divine power for the Pharaoh. Moses was given the power to grab the snake and turn it into a power for himself, a rigid staff rather than wriggly serpent. Second, the snake represented a reversal of what happened in the Garden of Eden. There Adam had viewed his masculinity as an Other, as something for which he was not responsible. Further, that Other, that erect penis with a mind of its own, abused the skills of language and seduced Eve, or, in my interpretation, responded naturally to a female, but in the process, further encouraged Adam to distance him from his responsibility. Thus, turning the crawling, twisting snake back into a staff was a symbol of recovering one’s masculinity, of reintegrating oneself as en embodied creature willing and courageous enough to mark one’s place in the world. Third, in addition to the mateh symbolizing the seizure of the magical powers of the Other, in addition to the mateh, the staff, representing the reaffirmation of oneself as a courageous embodied creature standing up mano-to-mano, the serpent is also a symbol of man assuming he is God, assuming he is the ultimate in vision, in insight, in the determination of the use of power, in understanding how power works and how history will unfold.

The snake represents the power in the enemy Other, the power already in oneself, and the transcendent other of the Almighty Other. To turn that serpent once again into a stiff staff is to perform all three actions at one and the same time. The problem emerges not when one combines all three, but when one misconstrues the friend, the supporter, the adviser, the provider, not as a perhaps mistaken ally, but as a front for Evil. The problem is not in the snake and the staff, but in he who seizes it and uses it and who it is seen to be used against and who it is actually used against. Because Bibi sees himself as a Moses, but is really an Aaron, because he wears the ghostly cloak of his dead brother, because he projects onto others with whom he disagrees the character of the Devil, Bibi backs himself and Israel into a dark corner, not just a cave, but a black hole where light is sucked in rather than emitted, where, despair squelches all hope, a situation where a man who sees himself as leading the Jewish people to the promise of the whole land of Israel in the end leads them out of Israel because, in contrast to Ben Gurion who absolutely saw the need of a small nation to have a very large nation as a patron, Bibi got caught up in the myth of self-sufficiency.

Pray to God that his false leadership, that his mis-leadership, that, in the final analysis, his non-leadership shall end, the sooner the better. Otherwise I fear the plagues will fall on Israel and not on Israel’s true enemies.

 

With the assistance of Alex Zisman

Prophets, Priests and Politicians: Parashat Korah, Numbers 19:1 – 22.1

Prophets, Priests and Politicians: Parashat Korah, Numbers 19:1 – 22.1        15.06.13

by

Howard Adelman

Repeatedly, Moses is described as the greatest leader the Jewish people ever had. There was also no one like Miriam. Without Aaron, would Moses have reached his great success? In this segment, both Miriam and Aaron die in that order; shortly thereafter it will be Moses’ turn. All three die in that final year in the wilderness without entering the Promised Land. What an illustrious and mutually complementary leadership the trio had made. As it is written in Micah (6:4), “I brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, and I sent before you Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam.” (See also I Chronicles 5:29) 

Moses was the rabbi, the teacher/leader (Moshe Rabbenu מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ) rather than a high priest or a thundering seer. He was also a man of action who assassinated an Egyptian slave taskmaster and had to flee. He knew when to get out and when and how to get his people out and then traverse enemy territory successfully. 

The Torah speaks of Moses and the prophets; rarely does it suggest that Moses was a prophet. Yet most Christian and many Jewish commentaries assert he was the greatest prophet that ever lived.  He was not only not the greatest prophet, he was not even one at all contrary to Maimonides’ claim. He was the greatest political leader. However, a great political leader does not a prophet make.

Moses’ older sister was the prophet. Moses recognizes and acknowledges this. (Exodus 15:20) He does not refer to himself as one. Dubbing Moses a prophet confuses the different leadership roles of politicians, prophets and priests. For one, Moses, like Jonah, was called by God to assume his role. He did so extremely reluctantly. Upon her mother’s suggestion, when only a child herself, Miriam decided to rescue her younger infant brother from the edict of death and float him down the Nile to be rescued by the Egyptian princess. It was as if she could foresee how, if raised among the Egyptian nobility, Moses could emerge with leadership skills that would allow him to rescue his people as she had rescued him. That is why, though named by his father, Chaver (father), and called Avigdor by his grandfather, he would henceforth be known by the name given to him by the Pharoah’s daughter, “he who is drawn out”. At the same time, Miriam was clever enough to ensure Moses was instilled with loyalty to his people by convincing the princess to hire Yocheved, his natural mother, as his wet nurse.

Aaron, though also chosen by God for the position of High Priest, in contrast to the selection of his younger brother, Moses, exhibited no reluctance to serve. However, unlike Moses, he was not trained on the job but isolated and given a specific course of detailed instructions in priestly practices. That position was to be continued as part of a dynamic succession rather than by self selection or a call in spite of one’s own desires or self-conception. Miriam would have no part in choosing the prophets that succeeded her. Moses was able to choose his disciple, Joshua, as a successor. Aaron passed on his role through inheritance to his son, Eleazar.

Prophets, politicians and priests not only differ in the way they are selected and how their successors are chosen, they differ in how they exercise their leadership. A politician who thinks the office makes the President (or the Prime Minister) is suffering from a deep and severe delusion. His or her personal authority makes the office. A political leader accumulates and dispenses personal authority, one which is tremendously enhanced when he believes that God is behind him. When Moses leads the Israelite males and sings to the Lord his praises for their deliverance from the Egyptians, he sings as an “I”. (Exodus 15:1) When Miriam sings, she does so in the name of “We”. She was a prophet of and amid the people. Moses was an elitist who delegated power.

A priest has no personal authority at all. He is only an expression of his office and derives his influence from the formal authority granted to that office. In contrast, a prophet or prophetess has neither formal authority nor personal charisma but exercises his or her persuasive power by means of her authentic authority. She has neither coercive power nor the power of high office to give her legitimacy.

Moses needed the early practical training as distinct from a training in practices and procedures. However, without the requisite prudence and the forty years in the wilderness tending sheep to learn what was required to be a shepherd of his people, he would not have been the success he was for he began his active adult life as a very rash and volatile young man. A politician is a legislator. He appoints judges to administer and interpret the law. But it is the law, and not he, which must rule, a law certainly backed by coercive power, but coercive power that backs the rule of law and does not undermine it. A prophet or prophetess operates only through persuasion and not through legislation, persuasion even about how a law itself or an edict or even a leader may have exceeded the bounds of fairness. A priest operates through repetition and making sure the second order rules which maintain the structure of the social system are adhered to with precision and exactitude. That is why, from their very different perspectives, both Miriam and Aaron revolted against Moses and suggested that his power had gone to his head, as much as God may have backed him up, for God continually had to learn to limit His exercise of His power.  

Miriam in a Greek world would have been dubbed a goddess of water. Though she was not a goddess, she was the source for divining water in the desert, a source that dried up when Miriam died in Zin in the last year the Israelites were forced to wander in the wilderness. She was an original not to be duplicated. But even her water, so important for cleansing and purification, had its limits as chapter 19 makes clear. Sprinkling water on someone who could not be cleansed of a ritual sin was useless. But when the water was not forthcoming from the rocks after she died, the commonwealth of Israel once again turned against the leadership of Moses and Aaron (20:2) moaning that Moses had led them only to allow them and their cattle to die in the barren wilderness.

Moses fell on his knees and begged God to intervene. God instructed Moses and Aaron to assemble the people with their rods and speak to the rock to ask it to give forth water. (20:8) But instead of speaking, Moses smote the rock with his rod, not once but twice.  (20:11) Water finally gushed forth. But God reprimanded both Moses and Aaron for not doing precisely what they were told. Sometimes, a politician’s skills at improvisation and creativity are crucial, but not when commanded by God to do precisely one thing, something which Aaron understood, but the latter allowed himself to play second fiddle to his brother at precisely the time when detailed obeisance was required. Moses was punished for his actions and Aaron for his inaction in not following a precise protocol and procedure when God gave a direct order. Aaron would die five months after Miriam passed away. Prophets could be original and spontaneous. Politicians had to improvise with prudence while priests ensure the rituals that are the prerequisites in order for a society to enact laws, determine policies and carry out actions are followed in meticulous detail.

Miriam was buried in an anonymous place in Kodesh. She is honoured in name only. Aaron died on Mount Hor. Chapter 20, verses 25-29 read: “25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor. 26 And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.’ 27 And Moses did as the LORD commanded; and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount; and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount. 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” 

The respect for Aaron and his infamous compassion (andrachamim) was expressed in the long period of mourning. In comparison, Miriam had been known for her personal kindness (chesed) and Moses for his righteousness (tzedek). As I explained in an earlier blog, Miriam largely disappeared from the story until the challenge over Moses’ Cushite wife. Miriam, along with Aaron, had not challenged Moses because, as many commentators suggest, he married a dark-skinned woman, a Cush, as if they were both racists. Rather, Miriam was concerned with the hurt and neglect Moses had caused his wife as he dedicated everything to his political cause. The different roles require very different strengths of character which receive, in turn, very different responses; Miriam’s deepest essence was to be considerate of others even if it meant going against a furious, vindictive and punitive God. And the people of Israel remained loyal to her because she always remained among them even as Moses and Aaron rose up to their exalted positions.

For a prophet is a visionary while a politician has to be pragmatic and a priest must exhibit the greatest purity. That is why it is Miriam who has to remind her two brothers that leadership requires and embraces different voices and why God, the defender and expression of the singular commanding voice, punishes her so harshly because He mistakenly believes that His form of leadership can be replicated in human society. That is why each of the three leaders expresses his or herself so differently, Miriam through music, dance and drama, Moses in what he writes and Aaron through his long silences and articulate interventions. For each operates in a different temporal dimension, the prophet as an articulation of eternal time expressed through constant change. A politician like Moses lives in historical time while a priest lives in obeisance to repetitive cycles – the week, the year. Though God spoke directly to Moses and confronted Moses face-to-face, God spoke to Miriam through visions and dreams. It was Miriam who led the women of Israel in song and dance using timbrels to celebrate the Israeli escape from their Egyptian pursuers. (Exodus 15:20-21) “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” As it is written in Jeremiah (31:4), when Israel once again marches forth out into the world, Israelis will go forth with drums, dances and merrymakers rather than swords and guns.

My daughter, Rachel, wrote a poem entitled, “The Song of Miriam’s Well” with a prefatory credit to T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

Through the wasteland, I traveled with them.

So there was rock and also water.

A spring, a stone that rolled,

Where no moss grows.

The sound of water and cicada,

And the dry grass singing.

When the Clouds of Glory settled,

I lay on my side,

And dug myself deep into the desert sand.

Date palms sprung up around me,

To shade the noblemen with their buckets,

Singing:

            “Rise up, O well, (And in chorus, they’d answer)

            Ali be’er.

            The well our forefathers dug

            Maces, staffs, striking the flint face.”[1]

And like a beehive, spewing swarms of bees,

I would spout water for their dry mouths.[2]

They knew how to suckle on rock,

Honey cakes and oil from the flinty stone.[3]

 

But when my mistress died…

Miriam, who sang at the Nile,

Not knowing if her brother, among the Reeds, was to live or die,

Miriam, who sang at the Reed Sea,

When we emerged alive out of water, this time.

Well, I could sing water no more.

They came with their buckets in the Wilderness of Tzin,

Saying Kaddish for her, named of bitterness,

Miriam, mayim marim.[4]

Stone-faced, I could not even cry.

What does it take to weep sweet water?

This time Moshe’s staff struck twice

And yet no drop.

 

Now, you are leaving the desert behind.

You are thirsty, your people crying for water.

But I have no mind to roll on with you.

A new water-out-of-rock must be found.

Be the overflowing spring,

Or a cistern that doesn’t lose a drop.[5]

Be the one who digs deep into desert sand.

Be water-out-of-rock.

 

In Albert Hirschman’s terms, Miriam was the exemplification of loyalty, both in what she gave and what was returned to her in turn by the Israelites. In contrast, as I wrote above, Moses was the exemplification of the exit and not the entry; though he led, he lacked a fluent tongue. Instead, his older brother, Aaron made up for Moses’ speech impediment with his soft and sensitive voice. Together, the three made up one of the greatest leadership teams in history.


[1]Num. 21:17

[2] An image based on Midrash Tanhuma Parashat Hukat (9).

[3]   From Deut. 32:13, the image is based on a midrash in TB Sotah 11b.

[4] She is named for the verse in Ex. 1:14, “for the Egyptians had embittered their lives “.וימררו  את חייהם

[5] Based on Pirkei Avot 2:8.

 

Parashat Vayak’hel-Pekudei

Exodus 40:1-38 Fire and Mist 09.03.13

Parashat Vayak’hel-Pekudei

by

Howard Adelman

Exodus is an amazing story. Passover will soon be upon us and we will retell the story of the escape from Egypt. But in many ways the trek across the Sinai is far more phenomenal, though perhaps not as appealing to children. The most amazing part of the story of this large horde travelling across the desert was that they took time to build a portable temple and a central place of worship. They left a place of bondage and were en route to a place where they would be rooted in the land and govern themselves according to the rule of law. Unlike most societies which begin where they were born and create laws afterwards, the Israelites received the law first before they acquired territorial ownership. What is perhaps more important and less understood, they also received the order of ritualistic practice. Both were necessary prerequisites to becoming a self-governing nation.

But before they could travel towards freedom, they had to fully escape their bondage. Recall how they found themselves trapped between the Reed Sea and the pursuing Egyptian cavalry with Egypt’s 600 best charioteers in hot pursuit. In Exodus 13:21-22 we read how the pillar of cloud that was leading the way went behind them between the trapped Israelites and the pursuing Egyptian forces.

And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.

In the face of an enemy in hot pursuit, what was a light cloud leading the Israelites became a dark cloud for the pursuing Egyptians. What was a fiery pillar of wrath to the Egyptians became a guiding light at night for the Israelites. The same thing was Janus-faced, a cloud of darkness to the Egyptians and a fire giving off light for guidance for the Israelites, thereby giving the Israelites time to escape until God parted the Reed Sea. But fire also separates and destroys, purifies and leaves only a residue of ashes. We need moisture to nurture and grow. What is this phenomenon that can be a dark cloud from one side and a fiery cloud from the other, a light cloud of leadership and a dark forbidding cloud of separation, a pillar of light and enlightenment and a forbidding pillar of fire to another? The cloud and the pillar of fire are but two versions of the same thing, and each of these two also has two sides. As Numbers 9:15 describes it:

On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire.

How is the same thing a cloud by day and a fire by night?

The last chapter (40) of Exodus deals with raising the Mishkan (tabernacle), the place of testimony, and then working our way from the inner centre of worship to the outside: where to put the ark, how to screen it, where to put the table with the bread and candlesticks, where to place the golden arc for incense and the screen of the door of the tabernacle, the altar of burnt-offering before that door, and water and a basin, and then a court and another screen gate to it, and then how to anoint the tabernacle with oil and all that is within to make even the furniture and vessels holy. Only then can Aaron and his sons be brought unto the door of the meeting and washed, anointed, dressed and sanctified. First we get the instruction booklet then the report that the instructions were followed.

When it was all done, the cloud covered the tent of the meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (34) Because the cloud lived within the tabernacle, Moses could not.

Contrary to verse 40:35, Exodus 24:18 reads: “And Moses entered into the midst of the cloud.”

First, why would Moses of all the Israelites be forbidden entry into the tabernacle when God’s presence was there as a cloud? And yet the text also says that Moses was in the midst of the cloud. Further, as long as the cloud was in the Tabernacle, the Israelites could not move forward until the cloud lifted?

38 For the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

The Tyger

by

William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

We can get some insight into both questions – how Moses was not allowed into the tabernacle when it was occupied by the cloud of the Lord and yet could enter in the midst of the cloud, and why the cloud and the pillar of fire are both different yet two sides of the same thing, by comparing the two brothers, Moses and Aaron. Throughout the Tanach, whether it is Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, the relationship and difference between two brothers are often at the core of the message.

Moses was a political leader while Aaron rose from Moses’ public relations officer to his administrative assistant, to his right hand man. Moses was raised in the Egyptian court and was a son of privilege who used his younger brother, Aaron, as his go-between, whether to the people of Israel or to the Pharaoh. When Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the tablets, Joshua, not Aaron, accompanied him. Aaron was left with the people and tried to stall and placate them in their impatience. Aaron failed to stop the people from making the golden calf, but Moses cannot enter the tabernacle unless summoned by God. (Leviticus 1:1) Moses received the tablets of the law but in his rage also broke them. Yet Moses can speak to God face to face. (Numbers 12:8) When the temple was consecrated, Aaron in some sense became at least the equal of Moses, if not his spiritual superior as the High Priest.

Since the rabbis led the revolt against the priestly inherited aristocracy and revered the prophets about inherited religious rituals, hermeneutics above blind obeisance to ritualistic customs, independent thinking in contrast to dutiful service on the one hand and appeasement of the other, Aaron sometimes did not get as good an historical press. But the Tabernacle is a House of Testament, and it is attested that Aaron loved peace, loved the people and was near to them. Through Aaron, the people were drawn close to the cold and rigid requirements of the Law. If Moses was stern and uncompromising, quick to anger and condescending towards his followers, Aaron was the facilitator and reconciler, the pastoral teacher rather than the one full of fire and brimstone. As Martin Buber wrote, Aaron was called to kindle the light of the law that shall last forever whereas Moses was called upon to make the public rather than daily sacrifices as well as sacrifice himself. Aaron was loved. Moses was feared. Aaron was the merciful. Moses delivered the truth.

It is only when peace and righteousness kiss one another, when brothers so different can dwell together in unity, that we can comprehend God as both full of loving kindness, chesed, and a God of wrath and righteousness, a jealous, consuming and demanding God, elohei-mishpat. In the human world, we have a society of egos in tension. In the divine realm, the opposites are complementary. In the human world we have the cycle of day and night whereas on the divine level, cloud and fire are dialectically connected. The Exodus is a story of departure and escape from the demonic world of an existential hell, a nightmare in which the Hebrews were slaves and scapegoats, living in pain and bondage. However, to escape that world, it is insufficient to exercise wrath and righteousness against it. One must learn mercy. One must be taught to be human.

So the House of Testament was filled with the cloud of God, with God’s tears and moist softness, with God’s steadfastness and loyalty to the stiff-necked people He had chosen. Ritual is persistent and repetitive. However we fail as humans, ritual can be counted upon to restore us. By day, it was the merciful God who led the Israelites to the land of milk and honey. But when they travelled at night, they were guided by the pillar of fire, the light that pierced through the darkness and showed the way when everything looked bleak. Moses, the man of fire for his people, could walk amidst the cloud but could not be of it, just as the Israelites in the parting of the sea could march amidst the waves and not be drowned by them.

In William Blake’s poem, Ahania, Fuzon, tied up by the chains of darkness, out of cruel jealousy and self-destroying self-centred fear rebels against his father, Urizen.

"Shall we worship this Demon of Smoke,"

Said Fuzon, "This abstract non-entity

This cloudy God seated on Waters

Now seen, now obscur’d; King of sorrow?" (10-13)

Fuzon attacks Urizen with fire and declares himself God.

In Blake’s mythical world and his version of Exodus in The Book of Ahaniadiscusses, instead of Aaron and Moses adopting complementary roles, Orc and Unizen rival for dominance. Orc is the figure of fire seen at night. Urizen is the pillar of cloud that travels by day and is able to defeat Orc when the Israelites accept the Ten Commandments which will replace the magical world symbolized by the pole that Moses carries. In Blake’s Manichaean world, one must win and the other must die so we never really get beyond Cain and Abel. The cycle of conflict and strife merely recur at different levels.

Rashi wrote that only when the rule of mercy is joined with the rule of justice can we have redemption, but always the pillar of fire must be suffused by the tear drops of the cloud of mercy. The Tabernacle is the House of Testament because it is where Jews can be forgiven by God for their waywardness and their pride and self-assertion, but it is also where God can be at rest and everyone can feel and be in touch with the holy spirit through God’s tears.

38 For the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

Exodus ends, as does the other four books of Moses, with the admonition: "Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened." Chazak chazak v’nitchazek. But the Sephardic tradition is truer to the textual meaning rather than Moses’ instructions. When Moses transferred leadership to Joshua, he told him and the Israelites to be strong. He repeated the instruction three times. And God also told Joshua to be strong three times. But that is only half the message. In Sephardi practice, at the end of every single Torah reading, they repeat, “chazak u’barukh”, “be strong and blessed.” This is the higher understanding of Torah.

[Tags mercy, justice, pillar of
fire, cloud, Moses, Aaron]

Vayak’hel-Pekudei.Exodus.40.Fire and Mist.09.03.13.doc