Master and Slave: Independence

Israel’s Independence Day starts next Wednesday evening at sundown and is celebrated on Thursday 19 April 2018, a shifting date on the English calendar, for the date is set in accordance with the Hebrew calendar on the 5th day of Iyar 5778. In Hebrew, it is called Yom Ha’atzmaut, יום העצמאות. Yom means day and ha’atzmaut means independence. If we want to understand what we are celebrating when we take joy in the festivities – whether Jew or gentile, whether Israeli or member of another nation – we must understand what independence means for a nation, and, before that, what it means for an individual.

A week from today in the evening, the holiday of Yom Hazikaron, יוֹם הַזִּכָּרוֹן, begins, that is the Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives in battle or otherwise in the defence of Israel and for those who have been victims of terrorism – Yom Hazikaron l’Chalalei Ma’arachot Yisrael ul’Nifge’ei Pe’ulot Ha’eivah (יוֹם זִּכָּרוֹן לַחֲלָלֵי מַעֲרָכוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְנִפְגְעֵי פְּעוּלוֹת הָאֵיבָה).  It is a very solemn day.  For 24 hours, everything is closed; it feels like Yom Kippur. A siren sounds this evening Israeli time at 8:00 pm and all traffic stops for two minutes of silence. This is repeated on 18 April at 11:00 am Israeli time. The end of the siren wailing is followed by a memorial service and recitation of prayers at military cemeteries. If we want to understand what independence is, we must understand what sacrificing one’s life for a nation means.

Further, both holidays follow less than two weeks after Passover, Pesach, פֶּסַח, the week when Jews celebrate their exodus from slavery in Egypt and the quest for freedom. It is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast of Matzah, the festival of freedom from slavery. To understand the point of these two holidays next week, it helps to have a brief review of the holiday that just passed.

Passover is a celebration of God’s efforts to bring Jews forth from bondage into freedom, from sorrow and pain into joy and happiness. Likewise, next week we repeat and reinforce the experience over two days of going from mourning into festivity. As we celebrate Pesach to re-enact this redemption, this movement from slavery into freedom (Exodus 13:8), the moment must be re-experienced, must be repeated over and over. We must re-experience that journey. We must recognize that it is a spiritual and physical trip that we ourselves must make. We must recognize our personal redemption. We are obligated to see ourselves as if we left a state of bondage for freedom. (Deuteronomy 6:23)

What does it mean to experience being a slave in Egypt? One can think of it as simply physical slavery. Eritreans fleeing their oppressive country have often been enslaved by traffickers and held for ransom until they were redeemed. Slavery does mean enforced servitude. Freedom means being free of such external coercion. But that is not all it means. When a slave is in bondage to a master, he or she is not only forced to work for and supply the needs of the master, he or she must also recognize the master as his Lord and Saviour, he upon whom the preservation of one’s life depends. Further, he or she recognizes the master as his or her superior, and, therefore, himself or herself as his inferior.

This recognition is double-sided. Mastery supposedly defines an ideal. The slave is in bondage to a false idol, another human perceived as superior to oneself. ‘Freedom from’ will mean both freeing oneself from physical bondage, but also freeing oneself from the mental bondage branded into one’s soul so that one is conditioned for a long time to retain a slave mentality, to see oneself as dependent on another for one’s life and to perceive that other as the epitome of life.

That is NOT accomplished by following the guide of Yerachmiel Israel Isaac Danzigerof Alexander (Poland 1853-1910) who in the Yismach Yisrael Haggadah (p. 107a) interpreted the obligation to re-experience one’s freedom from slavery as a process of recognizing one’s “essence,” atzmo, citing Exodus 24:10 – “It was the very essence (etzem) of the heavens for purity.” To quote: “This is an allusion to the inner divine spark found in each of us. A person must strengthen this holy spark no matter how low a state he reaches. In Egypt, we were so deeply mired in impurity that the Prosecutor said ‘both the Israelites and the Egyptians worship idols.” If strengthening the “inner spark” sounds retro as well as new age, it does. I suggest that etzem has nothing to do with an inner spark, and nothing to do with a process of purification, though it certainly has to do with casting off idolatrous propensities.

Exodus 24:10 reads:

י  וַיִּרְאוּ, אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו, כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר, וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם, לָטֹהַר.
10 and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone, and the like of the very heaven for clearness.

The phrase the “like of the very heavens,” the translation of וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם

is interpreted by this commentator in a Platonic way, envisioning transforming and raising up an inner spark into a purified state akin to the heavens, a variation of realization of a pure pre-existing form. However, is we read the biblical text where etzem appears, independence as in Yom Ha’atzmaut, יום העצמאות, the reference is indeed to sameness, but to physical sameness.  Genesis 2:23 reads:

כג  וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם, זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי, וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי; לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה, כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקְחָה-זֹּאת. 23 And the man said: ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’

Etzem of my etzem, bone of my bone, עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי

Genesis 2 follows the six days of the creation story with the seventh day of rest. The earth still did not have humans nor, for that matter, any vegetation or crops. For it had not rained. Then a mist went up from the earth to water the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils, and the man became a living soul, that is, a man of flesh and the breath, the spirit of life. There is no discussion of purity. There is no reference to an inner essence, a divine spark. The imagery is water, earth (flesh) and air and not fire. Then God planted the Garden of Eden and placed man in it to groom the trees and plants.

Three things then happen. God tells man that he is free, free to eat whatever he wants from the garden. With one exception: “of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat.” Why? Because if you eat of it, you will have knowledge of your certain and inevitable death. Second, God made birds and beasts. And Adam gave them their names – cows and goats. Third, Adam was put to sleep. Why? Because God saw that man needed a help meet. Not man. Adam did not even know he was lonely.  When Man was asleep, woman came into being for Adam. Woman for Adam is a projection of his unconscious. In Adam’s dream, the woman was an extension of himself, made from his own rib. It is then that man pronounces that woman is “now bone of my bone,” etzem of my etzem: עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי

If etzem means independence, but woman is here envisioned as simply a physical extension and projection of man, one might reasonably conclude that these are opposite states. To be merely viewed as a physical extension of another would appear to be the opposite of independence. How does this make any sense? Unless, of course, the tale is read ironically. Though the woman is perceived as an extension of man’s physical self, she in reality is the true expression of his real self. The real self is not a hidden spark within, but a real presence of another outside whose independence and otherness is not initially recognized. Man discovers his own independence by and through discovering the independence of another. Initially that independence is that of a woman.

One answer is that etzem means “essence,” the bone marrow of the matter, roughly, the heart of the matter, “the essential fact of the matter.” However, Exodus 12:51 reads:

נא  וַיְהִי, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:  הוֹצִיא יְהוָה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם–עַל-צִבְאֹתָם.  {פ}
51 And it came to pass the selfsame day that the LORD did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts. {P}

The same day, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם

Like bone of my bone, the stress is on sameness, not difference, not autonomy, not independence. This is also true of Leviticus 23:14.

יד  וְלֶחֶם וְקָלִי וְכַרְמֶל לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, עַד-עֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה–עַד הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת-קָרְבַּן אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:  חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם.  {ס}
14 And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor fresh ears, until this selfsame day, until ye have brought the offering of your God; it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. {S}

The sense is that of identity, as oneness with oneself, oneness with another, and oneness with the experience of escaping oppression. Again, in Leviticus 23:29-30 we once again find etzem translated as sameness.

כח  וְכָל-מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:  כִּי יוֹם כִּפֻּרִים, הוּא, לְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.
28 And ye shall do no manner of work in that same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God.
כט  כִּי כָל-הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תְעֻנֶּה, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה–וְנִכְרְתָה, מֵעַמֶּיהָ. 29 For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from his people.

What is going on? How is repetition and sameness equated with independence and freedom? How is a woman projected as simply a physical extension of man connected to independence?

To be continued

With the help of Alex Zisman


Passover Through Canada 2016

Passover through Canada 2016


Howard Adelman

There is a saying, “He had a face that only a mother could love.” But what if he (or she) had a face that even a mother could not love? A face that only God could love? This is how the visionary, Ezekiel, saw Israel after the hand of God had passed over the houses of Israel’s infants and the tribes escaped, but Israel felt abandoned, as a loathsome child, naked and bare, scratched and torn, living in a pit without a drop of mother’s milk or even water to quench his thirst for life. “And as for your birth on the day you were born, your navel was not cut, neither were you washed with water for cleansing, nor were you salted, nor swaddled at all…and you were cast on the open field in the loathsomeness of your body on the day you were born.” (Ezekiel 16:4-5) God commanded that, “In your blood live.” (16:7)

But what if God was not there? Would the result be, “In your blood, die.”? Would the pesach lamb be replaced by non-kosher pigs feeding off swill? Instead of a living community based on a covenantal bond, living in hope and aspiration, living in dedication to the future, where people live in order to make the lives of their progeny better than their own, what would God find when He sent His repo men to collect the souls? When there would be no innocent children to be redeemed? When, instead of cutting off the foreskin as a symbol of the covenant between father and son, between God and his children, instead of finding a doorway marked on one upper corner with the blood of the lamb and the other with the blood of the brit milah, God’s messengers found, instead of a foreskin cut off, an individual cut off, instead of lambs of peace sacrificed on the altar, only murdered pigs to be sold in order to purchase the pornography of the illusion of a beautiful life?

Instead, if God sends his messengers to this part of the earth called Canada, they would find a people blessed, a bountiful land with prosperous people, a wondrous land with beautiful people. So on this Passover we set out in two-days-time to pass through rather than over this great land to return to Toronto via byways, but mostly, via the Trans-Canada highway. This is how we will remember Passover this year. You usually receive my commentary on the weekly portion of the Torah as an amateur each Friday. This week will be different. This day will be unlike every other Friday of the year. Today I attach the commentary of a professional, of my daughter, Rachel, and you can compare it in profundity to my own scratchy efforts that you already received.

We must live, not only to spare from Death the First Born, but to save for life everyone born, even those with a face that even a mother might not be prone to love. Always better a loved child than an abandoned one.
For my Jewish friends all over, have a happy seder. For my non-Jewish friends all over, say a blessing for what you have, especially if you do not bear the scars of abandonment in your flesh.

The Two Faces of Moses

The Two Faces of Moses


Howard Adelman

In the Book of Esther, when the heroine is chosen by the Persian King to become a member of his harem of wives, Mordechai tells Esther not to tell anyone that she is an Israelite. Her identity remains hidden for years. When Joseph once again meets his brothers face to face, the same brothers who sold him into slavery, but now is the Vizier or Prime Minister of Israel, he is not recognized. He remains hidden. Years later when the sojourn of the Israelites comes to an end in Egypt, the exodus is led by a man with an Egyptian name raised as a prince of Egypt but born a Levite but saved from the death the Pharaoh ordered for all Hebrew male infants. He is first saved by being hidden for three months and then floated down the Nile in an ark of reeds to be saved by an Egyptian princess, Jochebed, who found and raised him as her own and, unknown to his adoptive mother, is nursed by his own mother. Thus, the political leader of Israel, the one who leads the Israelites out of slavery and into freedom and forges the people as a nation, was hidden to survive, and then hidden in the very midst of the royal family. Moses had a dual identity. He was both Egyptian and Israelite, Moses, one who is from the water delivered or drawn (“mo” in Egyptian from “uses”, water– Exodus 2:10), and Moshe, one who is drawn (משה “to draw”). Whether in Egyptian or Hebrew, he is passive and not an active agent of his own making. He is drawn out.

Exodus not only starts with this strange tale of Moses’ origins but shows modern narrative patterns that boast of succinctness with absolutely no extraneous matter for the story literally leaps from the birth story to a story of murder. The one who was saved from being murdered becomes a murderer of an Egyptian overseer ostensibly because that overseer was treating an Israelite worker cruelly. Instead of standing by his royal prerogatives or pleading for the favour of the Pharaoh who is, after all, his grandfather, he flees.  But only when he realizes that there were witnesses to the murder, two quarreling Israelites. When he tried to intrude in their quarrel, they scoffed at him, treated his intervention as if he wanted to join the quarrel and told him to mind his own business or they would tell the Pharaoh that he was a murderer. Moses was neither capable of covering up his rash deed nor countering the Israelite argumentative temper.  

So the guy who is to become a political leader, a giver of laws, the Jews’ greatest prophet, starts out as a total failure at conflict resolution. It is as if Barack Obama started out as a failed community organizer. But Moses tries a third time when some young women were minding their sheep and watering them at a well, he intervened once again and drove off some males sexually harassing them. Success at last! So he is adopted by the father of one of the girls, Jethro, a Midianite and he is given his daughter, Zipporah, to marry and made head shepherd. He has a son, Gershon, with Zipporah. Then, after the requisite forty years, God calls him, draws him forth from amidst the Midianites, to save his people.

Since when were the Israelites his people? Presumably he was also brought up secretly knowing he was a Hebrew. But why call on Moses, a guy living the life of a quiet shepherd who had exhibited a quality of rashness as a young man to save the Israelites? He was hardly the model of a warrior prince as often portrayed in hagiographical cartoons. He, himself, is almost killed by God enraged when He, God, discovers Gershon had not been circumcised. God clearly did not do his due diligence. Luckily, once again, Moses is saved by a woman, his wife, Zipporah who stays the hand of a wrathful God by the mark of blood and had Gershon circumcised. Would you not say that God had chosen a loser, one who was so uncommitted to the continuity of his own people that he did not have his own son circumcised, one who needed to have his wife intercede for him with God and initiate the action to save him? Moses, more than anyone in the Torah, owes his life to women, to his mother who bore and hid him, to his sister Miriam who helped persuade the Egyptian princess to both adopt him and have her mother raise him, and to a Midianite, Zipporah, who made sure his son was recognized as an Israelite.

Which raises the question of whether Moses himself was circumcised and, if he was, how was that hidden from his adoptive mother or from his Egyptian family and friends? How could he remain hidden from his buddies in the bathhouse if he had been circumcised?

In any case, this “nebish” meets up with his older brother, Aaron – how did Aaron survive? – and the two go to see Pharaoh after they perform a few magic tricks to convince the tribe that they are acting as God’s messengers. When they see Pharaoh, do they say, “Let my people go.” No. They say let my people feast together in the wilderness in celebration of their God. And who says it? Not Moses who presumably knows all the ways of the royal court. Aaron talks because Moses was a stutterer. It is not clear that Moses had even mastered Hebrew or Aramaic. A great pick for a political leader! He wasn’t even a rhetorician.

However, there is no religious freedom in Egypt. The Pharaoh says, “Are you guys crazy? Get outta here.”  They don’t give up. They do get credit for persistence. They return a second time and then perform a number of magic tricks, tricks which Pharaoh’s own shamans can also perform. This failure is repeated a third time. Neither Moses nor Aaron had learned the first art of statecraft – don’t carry a big stick or try to turn the bloody water into wine unless the trick works to awe the opponent. Your credibility just drops.  Unless, of course, you instigate a guerrilla war. For then the goal is not military victory on the battlefield, but the willingness to both deliver and absorb punishment over time. The object is to tire the opposition, not to defeat the Pharaoh’s army in a direct conflict.

Because they exhibited stamina, because they could draw forth and exhaust the might of Egypt, they eventually succeed. But only to a point. Moses’ split character would dog him for the rest of his career. His fits of rage would betray him when the people were found worshiping the golden calf and he smashed the tablets of the laws that God had given him as His gift to the people. Further, he ordered the men of his Levite tribe to wrack revenge on the people and they ravaged the camp killing 3000 men, women and children. This is the Moses, this man clearly guilty of war crimes, who Jews revere as their greatest leader and lawgiver and prophet! Moses certainly had a sense of injustice. He does deliver the laws. But he is too rash. And too ruthless. He lacks the cool solemnity and rational consideration required of a judge to interpret the law – his father-in-law, Jethro, was the one who convinced him to appoint judges to adjudicate disputes under the law. He also lacked the tact and trust of the people to make a good political leader.

As we indicated above, he wasn’t even a warrior leader. Joshua is the commander of the Jewish forces. Moses is the politician behind the scenes to boost the morale of the Israelites. But he is no Churchill. Moses is not a tireless leader. When the Israelites are attacked by the Amalekites, Aaron and Hur had to hold up his arms to signal that Moses still held the rod of freedom aloft, the rod that drew forth water from the rock just as he himself was drawn forth from the waters of the Nile. But he was a good lawgiver. He did deliver constitution of the Israelites in the form of their initial fundamental laws even though he himself was definitely not the exemplar upholding those laws, especially the law commanding: “Thou shalt not kill”.

Let me zero in on Moses’ duality that helps explain how such an incompetent came to be revered as Israel’s greatest lawgiver and prophet. In Exodus 34:30, the skin on Moses’ face is described as sending forth beams, beams which frightened the people as well as himself. So Moses donned a mask, first before Aaron and the Elders, and then before all the Israelites. He wore a veil (masweh) (Exodus 34:33), a hajib, precisely a form of dress Pauline Maurois would ban from any office holder in government from wearing. When Moses finished speaking with the Israelites, he put a veil on his face. Presumably, he took off his mask first or the mask and the veil are just twp words for referring to the same disguise.

Well, is not that akin top our comic book heroes who all wear masks or veil their faces? The New Testament have an explanation for wearing the mask. “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendour.” (2 Corinthians 3:12-13 RSV) The mask is there to hide the old Jew who no longer had the visage to lead. It may be a useful way to put down the Jews and uplift the Christians, but it plays fast and loose with the story. It’s a lousy explanation because Moses never had that splendour to begin with. For many Christians, the mask or veil is necessary for covenantal Jews because they could not get rid of the law and rely on hope and faith in Jesus who had come to save them. Moses and his mask belonged to the old order of the rule of law; Christians belonged to the new order and the rule of pure faith, of surrendering oneself to Jesus.

Though a poor and circular argument, the account is even worse as an exercise in hermeneutics. For the point is used to score points not to understand the text. There is nothing in the text to suggest Moses wore a mask to cover up his fading glory. For one, Moses is not presented as having a great deal of glory in the first place. Secondly, where is there any evidence that Moses was a proponent of transparency? It may be considered a political virtue in our day, but surely the biblical text suggests that inscrutability was then more important.

I suggest that Moses is telling the people all along that he has worn a mask, that he is a cover-up artist, that they should not be fooled by his artistry, by the face he wore. For Moses only was a pretender to the leadership of the Israelites and pretense had, literally, become his second nature. Hypocrisy, playing a part, acting a role for which one does not have a natural gift, was Moses forte. Moses was only a mouthpiece. Moses was then coming out of the closet. Moses wore a mask to tell everyone that he had always worn a mask. Further (Exodus 34:34), Moses put on the mask or veil only after he had delivered the words that God had told him to deliver to the people. Moses donned the mask to tell the people that he was not A GOD, but merely God’s poor and ineffectual messenger.

The explanation is not that he was saving the Israelites from a face that would scare them or, from the opposite perspective, to hide his glory that was fading, to hide from them the transience of his glory period. Rather, Moses wore a veil now because he was finally coming clean. No more magical tricks. This is the true me, an insecure and very inadequate leader of the Jewish people and not a golden calf. Moses could no longer hide behind his wife, his brother, or Joshua. He had been born in hiding and lived through hiding. He was tired of hiding. He had to reveal the truth about himself. What better way than by donning a mask.

I wish all political leaders had the same degree of honesty.  

The Afikomen: The Divided Self

The Afikomen, the Divided and the Hidden Self – an Introduction to the Jewish Soul


Howard Adelman


Last night I watched a panel on autism on Steve Paikin’s show, “Agenda”. The show was very instructive, as his shows generally are. One woman in particular who had a brother, who suffered from autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder – ASD) was particularly instructive since she went on to pioneer in creating a therapeutic app for finding a structured order within which autistic children can orient themselves. They cannot function in environments with chaos and sensory overload. If there ever was an environment with chaos and sensory overload, it is surely the average Jewish seder. Seder means order but a seder is often an exemplar of everything but.

A Passover seder is a festival in which people break bread together, identify with one another and with a common past to forge a better future. Autism is a condition in which interpersonal communion and empathy with another may be very difficult. Its symptoms include failure to make eye contact, resistance to being held or touched, a lack of a sense of proper distance when speaking to another, a failure to share experiences with one another, an inability to grasp symbols and figures of speech, an inability to read body language, an aversion to answering personal questions, a propensity to engage in conversation disconnected from what went before and often to burst into observations unrelated to the social context or what someone else had been saying, and, most of all, an inability or difficulty in connecting with what another person is feeling and, therefore, a propensity to naively trust another and, therefore, easily prone to be victimized by bullies. One way to think of a seder is as an antidote to the propensity to ASD that may be present in all of us, though not to the degree to be noticeable as in individuals diagnosed with ASD.

The Passover seder is modelled on a Greek symposium but the message and the substance of these two different symposia are very different, for, as I have described before, the Passover seder is about communion in the present by communing with and reliving the past. It has a very different purpose than its original intention in ancient Greek culture.

When Plato depicts the self, he offers a number of images, the most well known being the story of the cave followed immediately by its abstract version in terms of the geometrical figure of the divided line that is said to be analogous to the different parts of our cognitive selves, but it is a mistake to think, as we shall see, that the cognitive self constitutes the whole of the psyche.

Let me start with the Divided Line (DL) as depicted in The Republic (509d-510a). A line is divided into two uneven portions, the larger portion representing the comprehension of the intelligible world in terms of its contribution to truth and the smaller portion representing the comprehension of the visible world having a smaller contribution to truth. So if a line is 18” long and is divided, for example, in two uneven parts in a ratio of say 2:1, then the larger section of 12” would represent the comprehension of the intelligible (non-visible world) and 6” would represent the comprehension of the visible world.

Plato then divides both of the sections once again in terms of the same ratio, 2:1.  The intelligible world is then divided into two sections, one 8” and the other 4”. The longer section represents what pure reason can grasp, the pure forms or abstractions free entirely of any residue from the visible world, pure forms which can only be grasped by reason. Einstein’s equation linking energy (E) and matter (M) and where C is the speed of light in the formula E=MC² would be a close example. The shorter section of the upper intelligible realm is represented by understanding rather than reason, that part of intelligence which abstracts and generalizes from the visible world. It is the realm of creating categories or classes and propositions based on hypothetical thought. It lacks the degree of certainty and clarity of reason and the purely intelligible realm of mathematics.

The lower section is divided as well into two sections in the same 2:1 ratio, or 4” and 2” respectively. The larger section belonging to the visible world is about our everyday knowledge of objects in the visible world, the realm of sensibility. The smaller section is about our fantasies, our projections of the visible world on the movie screens of our imagination and deal with likenesses of the visible world that are phantasmagoria, images that come into being and dissolve like the mist. They are shadows which can be taken to be real by the naïve who have no detached perspective about what they are grasping. This is the level of knowledge inculcated by imagery or advertising as we now call it. It is NOT worthless as a degree of knowledge, but, for Plato, it occupies the lowest and least part of the cognitive self. It is the realm of knowledge gained from reading fiction or from watching movies that I write about so often.

A final note re the analogy of the Divided Line (DL). A caption over the door upon entry to Plato’s academy read that knowledge of mathematics geometry was a prerequisite for studying at the academy. Without going into the geometrical theorem, whenever a DL is divided into two unequal portions and the two parts are once again divided by the same ratio, then the two middle sections will always be of the same length. Therefore, in the above example, the section that is analogous to understanding and hypothetical reasoning and the section of the visible world dealing with the direct knowledge of objects, both have the same length, or, in other words, the same degree of clarity and approximation to truth. The benefit of understanding and hypothetical knowledge is its proximity to reason and knowledge of the pure Forms rather than the degree of truth it might possess. So one should not think that Plato was dismissive of empiricism.   

The narrative story of the cave is perhaps a better or richer or more memorable way to portray the different levels of knowledge. At the lowest level, people are tied to a log and watch reflections on the cave wall cast by a light behind those people that they do not see and they take those projections as reality. These are the shadows that captivate us, the ghosts of our imagination, the movies we watch and the novels that come into being in our imaginations. When the people on the log are freed up from their mesmerisation with illusory shadows, they are able to turn their heads and see the objects, the images of which are projected on the cave wall and they can then recognize they were watching phantasms. But the cave is the realm of the visible world. When they escape the cave and go out into the sunlight, they can see reflections of the pure forms of reason initially as a means of abstracting from the visible world in the bowels of the cave. The ideal is, of course, to see pure Forms without any connection with the visible world, to look directly at the Sun in all its glory for that is ultimately the source of all enlightenment.

Before we compare Plato to the sense of the psyche depicted by the three layers of matzah, another narrative by Plato needs to be introduced taken from his dialogue Phaedrus (246a-254e). Plato’s portrayal of the three parts of the soul in terms of an analogy to a chariot where the charioteer is the intelligible part of the soul and the two horses guided by intelligence are the spirited horse (rational desire or prudence?) which can detect the guidelines of the reins that is yoked to another horse, the appetitive part of the soul which has only the instinctive energy to drive ahead but no ability to follow the directions of intelligence. The two horses represent the the spirited part of the soul and the appetitive part of the soul respectively.

Appetite is instinctual and constitutes NO part of the realm of knowledge whether visible or intelligible or the capacity to acquire knowledge. It is about doing not thinking. On the other hand, the spirited part of the soul which is also about doing rather than thinking also does not represent any realm of knowledge but represent emotions or passions that can be linked to rational self-interest, whether those passions be greed or ambition, rage or shame. To link this metaphor up with the theory of the DL and the myth of the cave, the charioteer or intelligence represents all four aspects of the world of knowledge and the faculties associated with it. Neither emotions nor appetites belong to the intelligible part of the soul at all, which, according to the image of the DL and the narrative of the cave is itself divided into four parts.

Notice the following differences with the parts of the psyche as represented by the three layers of matzah. First, matzah, the bottom layer, is not equated with irrational and instinctual behaviour unable to listen. Rather, it is l’chaim, life, the instinct for survival worthy of celebration and joy. To eat, drink and celebrate the sensibilities is the foundation of all ethics rather than simply a realm needing strict controls and yoking to another part of the soul which can control its wild character. Further, unlike in Plato, the appetites when based in sex are a realm of knowledge in their own right, embodied and bodily knowledge as when Adam was said to know Eve after both had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Second, in the three layers of matzah, the top layer is identified with passion and compassion, with empathy with an Other and not with abstract reason. In Plato, these passions can listen to and be guided by reason. They are not guided by identification and understanding the world as perceived by another human being. In Plato, humans experience the world in the same way and are governed by the same instinctual appetites but differ because of different admixtures of the passions and, most of all, by their inherited ability to use intelligence to govern the passions and thence govern the appetites. The passions are best when the listen to intelligence and ignore the temptations of the appetites. In contrast, in the Hebraic cosmos of the psyche, the passions are the source of creativity, or our imagination that reaching beyond the world we experience and can envision a new world, a world of hope, a world that belongs over the rainbow.

Thus, though the seder may be modelled on the outward form of a Greek symposium, its psychic premises are radically different. Further, so is its structure. For a seder follows a particular order to allow us to stage how we can re-enter and relive the past as the present and teach us the stages of redemption to prepare ourselves for the future. It requires entering a world of shadows, of ghosts from the past, of what Plato thinks are just images on the walls of a cave representing reflections of objects in the real world whereas in the Hebrew ceremony they are the true ghosts of the past which it is our job to bring back to life so that we too can be redeemed in the present. Further, whereas the object of the seder is to tell a story of an escape from slavery and towards freedom, Plato offers an apologia for slavery, for repression rather than expression, as it is necessary for reason and the Sun God to rule over the rest of the psyche and to bring harmony to  our internal (and external) conflicts. In contrast, conflict, the asking of questions, is at the heart of the seder, NOT with pre-formed answers as in Plato’s dialogues, and often imitated in many seders, but as a true exploration of questions and queries from a variety of different minds with their own preferences and ways of looking at the world. The aim is not to harmonize thought but to appreciate different perspectives and approaches as we re-enact the Past in the Present.

Thus, for example, the contrarian child should not be envisioned as one who arbitrarily questions authority but one who critically examines the pretensions of reason to have discovered and explicated absolute truth.  The contrary child is the dissident and the critic. At the Hebrew seder, one lives in a radically different world than that of the Greeks, whether we are talking of Plato or Aristotle. First, the appetites are appreciated, particularly the driving force of sex. Second, recapitulation as history is denigrated by Aristotle because it belongs to the realm of the particular rather than the realm of the universal, but in re-enacting the Past as the Present, the universality in the particular is recognized and re-experienced. History becomes the most important part of our repertoire of knowledge and is not banished from the cognitive realm along with poetry and the arts.    

Where does the middle matzah come in, the realm of reason and intelligence that mediates between the passions above rooted most basically in compassion and identification with an Other, and the appetites below which are an independent source of knowledge, knowledge rooted in one body coming to know another body through intercourse? Why is it divided and what is the larger half, the Afikomen, that is hidden and children are sent to find and redeem it? The smaller half is the easier to grasp for it is our practical intelligence that enters into everyday life and mediates between our imagination and creativity rooted in our passions and our instinct for survival and reproduction, for the continuity of ourselves and our DNA and our community. That intelligible self does combine abstract reasoning or pure theory and the sciences based on induction and hypothetical knowledge of the empirical world. That practical reason also involves everyday knowledge acquired through interaction ith the physical world of objects and people as well as the faculty of the imagination that can take those experiences and imagine another world, including the past world when we too were slaves in Egypt and bring that past into the present.

All this practical and scientific knowledge is the smaller half of our intelligence. The Afikomenen is the larger half. It is the part that absents itself from the seder and plays little part in telling the story or enabling the re-enactment but it has at least four characteristics. It is hidden. It is found by innocent children. Third, the children who search for it and the one who fins it are especially rewarded with a prize – usually a coin. Fourth,everyone at the seder table eats a piece of it at the end of the meal. The Afikomen is not just a heuristic device to entertain children while the interminable tale of Moses leading the Israelites to freedom is told in however an abbreviated form. It does symbolize innocence, the Passover lamb, that which is sacrificed so that we can consummate togetherness.

Sephardim have an especially close appreciation of the Afikomen because they regard it as having magic qualities. The ruined and empty synagogue in Košice, Slovakia in which Simon Schama began his documentary segment “Over the Rainbow” in telling the story of the Jewish people, the Jewish temple that was destroyed in Jerusalem by the Romans and the reason why we no longer sacrifice and eat the Passover lamb, these are all parts of our ghostly past with which the Afikomen is in touch, with that which is hidden and supposedly lost but which we must reclaim. We cannot tell the story of the escape from slavery into freedom without bringing those ghosts back into the present. Unlike progressive views of history, the present is only brought fully to life by reclaiming the past as part of the present.

And that takes magic. That takes, historians. That takes innocence to leave behind the present realism and imagine a past. Our passions may be geared to our hopes for the future. But our hopes for the future must be rooted in a resurrected past. Then why is the larger piece of the broken middle matzah have a Greek name, for “Afikomen” is a Greek word?  And the word has the same meaning as God who pronounces I shall be who I shall be. The Afikomen is associated with the ultimate coming, the coming of the messiah, the hope that drives all hope, the hope for the coming of a world of justice and mercy. And only innocent children can truly believe is this as a world to come. Any ordinary adult has become too jaded to accept this possibility in the light of all they experience. But it is precisely this possibility, this a priori proposition that lies embedded in all our hopes to pursue our dreams over the rainbow. This is why children are and must be at the centre at a Passover seder. For although the seder is a device to teach them, in the end it is they who must teach us the importance of the restoration of innocence.

Why again call this most central part of the seder service by a Greek name? My answer is simple. Because we Jews owe so much to the rest of humanity, but, in this context, especially the Greeks who gave us the form of the symposia. We may have transformed its meaning. We may have transformed the very nature of the conception of order from a pre-fixed organized world in terms of a perfect ideal into a hope for the future linked to a lost and destroyed past, but we owe the Greeks the form that makes this possibility come alive. In Christianity, the Afikomen became the wafer eaten to partake in the body of Christ whom they believe to have been the messiah and the sacrificial lamb. It has been transformed into the sacramental bread, the “host”, the unleavened bread which is the Eucharist. In Judaism, it remains a broken off piece of matzah hidden and left for children to find so that we can, at the end of the seder, all partake in that broken off past so that we can hope for “next year in Jerusalem”.

What do we owe the Egyptians who play a much more obvious part of the story? Were they just tyrants and oppressors, the evil ones always present in the world? Remember that it was an Egyptian princess who saved Moses. Tomorrow I will explore Moses as a divided self to try to bring back what the Hebrews inherited from their Egyptian overseers and that is an integral part of the Passover narrative.

The Visible and the Invisible, the Hidden and the Reveale

The Visible and the Invisible, the Hidden and the Reveale 


Howard Adelman

Simon Schama is the famous British historian now at Columbia University who, when he was at Oxford wrote his famous book on the French Revolution, Patriots and Liberators that won him the Wolfson History Prize and instant recognition. His 1978 second book, Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel, turned him into the famous historian of the Jewish people. His 1987 volume on the Netherlands of the seventeenth century, The Embarrassment of Riches, though primarily about the golden age of the Dutch republic sewn together into a state of the lowland Protestant cities dominated by a new rising middle class, also gave that Jewish history great depth. The great Dutch thinkers in international studies and politics at the time, such a Hugo Grotius, were readers of Hebrew and were heavily influenced by the ideas of the Hebrew nation-state that so influenced the creation of the modern political order.


Last night on PBS I watched one episode of Simon Schama’s famous BBC series The Story of the Jews that first aired on BBC last year. The episode I saw was called “Over the Rainbow”. It covered the history of Ashkenazi Jews from the shtetls and cities of Europe until their rise in America from the lower east side in New York to become kings of song and music and the dream factories of Hollywood. The title is taken from the 1940 Oscar winning song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the musical, “The Wizard of Oz” with lyrics and music by Edgar Yipsel (E.Y.) “Yip” Harburg and Harold Arlen, two Jewish boys from New York’s lower east side, the latter the son of a renowned cantor.  Yip wrote the lyrics for such classics as “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” that became the anthem of the American depression and featured in Schama’s documentary. Among other classics, Yip wrote “April in Paris” and “Its Only a Paper Moon”. 

The episode in Schama’s BBC series opens with Schamas standing in an empty and crumbling but once very impressive synagogue in Košice, Slovakia built when Košice was the European capital of culture that competed with Marseille in France. As seen in the documentary, the pews are all gone, the plaster is crumbling and the brilliant reds and blues have all faded – though the exquisite quality of the stained glass windows have remarkably survived. Schama briefly and succinctly tells the story of the once prosperous Jewish citizens of the town, almost all of the over 17,000, who perished in the Holocaust. As Schama says at the very beginning of the episode, they are gone, they are absent, but he can feel and experience their presence by standing in that shell of the synagogue 

For, as Schabas sees it, the meaning of that core moral imperative of Judaism, tzadakah,  does not just mean obligatory charitable giving or even justice, but fairness rooted in a Jewish sense of solidarity with one’s fellow Jews and with the community at large. In Yiddish, according to Schama, there is no word for “individualism” for the Jew is a Jew because he or she is first and foremost a member of a community with obligations to that community. That presence of the community is what Schama experienced in the forlorn emptiness of the Košice synagogue.

Absence and Presence. Schama explored those themes in his earlier work, Landscape & Memory that literally touched on the intimate relationship between one’s physical environment and folk memory. This is why his famous TV documentaries touch us even as they gloss over the historical narrative. But there is another dimension to the foundation of life in the struggle to survive and the tactile relationship with all of that which supports life – earth, air and water. It is ire. It is hope, the dream of a better future, It is desire and the passion to create that future, for oneself and one’s community.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high,
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.

Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh why can’t I?

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can’t I?

Simon Schama’s message in the series comes out loud and clear in the episode I watched – Jews retreat inward into Hasidism when they are rejected and, when accepted, embrace the external world and want to be fully a part of it. Schama tells the story of the universality of the Jews while offering the full flavour of their unique particularity. It is a lesson Pauline Marois would do well to learn and perhaps she would abandon her Charter of Values. For instead of celebrating the greatness of the French reality in Canada and in Quebec in particular, that charter attacks the particularism of the various minorities in Quebec and legislates what they cannot wear.

In our Passover Seder, as I mentioned already, for the first time all six of my children will be home for Passover, including all nine grandchildren, two returning all the way from their home in Israel. We will have thirty-six members of our family and friends celebrating this festival of freedom. As is usual, our seder is run as a Greek symposium, the original inspiration for the most famous dinner in the cycle of festivities of the Jewish year. The theme this year is Absence and Presence, the hidden and the revealed, the invisible and the visible. We will explore the meaning of each of the fifteen sections of the seder and all its themes in terms of that dichotomy. Everyone, especially the children, will play a part.

The seder begins with the Kadesh. Kadesh is about presence and bonding, of family and friends, of old and young, of linking past and future. But most of all it is about a call to service to a hidden God, an absence rather than a presence. Further, this is not a tale of progress, of how the present is an improvement on the past, but a tale of resurrection and re-enactment, of remembering and redemption, of reliving the past as if it were the present. We are present; we try to make the Past present; and we experience God’s absence, and it is that absence, that which is missing, that we emphasize when we try to make the past Present.

The ceremony shall be observed throughout the generations for all times. This is a never ending project. Yet the pledge is regarded as a mitzvah, a commandment, but also a mitvah in Schama’s sense, a blessing freely taken up as a duty to be executed to be a moral agent to contribute to the well being of the community. So to celebrate Passover is both to obey an external command of God and, at the same time, to observe a ritual as an expression of freedom as self-legislating for oneself.

God who commands is invisible. He is hidden. Not only are we to accept this hidden and invisible God as the source of our categorical commands, but the God is the ONLY source. Further, that God is One. The Divine is not contained and manifested in the many different spirits that characterize ourselves or that are often equated with animal totems. The Divine Absence is the One and Only source. As the story of the escape from Egypt is told, we are commanded to both love and fear this One and Only Divine absence.  Why both love and fear?

These commandments insist that this is the only way NOT to be governed by either the attractions of our sensibilities OR the passions of our heart. Why obey a source that insists that it will rule over the flesh whether found between your legs or in your breast and heart? Why let an invisible being that gives priority to reason, or thought, or reflection and places the passions, like empathy, and feeling cum sensibilities – like the great tastes we will experience in this meal – possibly in second place? But they are NOT

In second place. Life and sensibilities are the foundation. Desire, passion and compassion are on top. Judgment is sandwiched between them.

If we can come close to understanding our own hiddenness, we might come close to answering the Big Question. Whatever the answer, the extent we get closer to an answer comes in telling the story of when WE went forth from Egypt, from a house of bondage and the story of HOW God delivered US into freedom using a “mighty hand”. Quite a trick for someone who is invisible! Further, note that the arm is outstretched – perhaps for an embrace. The arm is not said to be mighty. The hand is. The hand that writes. The hand that carves. The hand that paints. The hand that cooks. This is where might is to be found. The hand is not there for a mere handshake. That requires an outstretched arm that can embrace you.

So we embrace one another at the Passover table, Jew and gentile guest alike, in one community. And we do so drinking four cups of wine for different stages of redemption. God who pronounces that, “I shall be who I shall be” gives us a sense of absence, of invisibility by taking us back to the place from whence we came, from a place of oppression and impossibly arduous labour, wine as the symbol of blood and physical sacrifice. During the seder we will travel through the rescue from this time of toil and trouble and drink a second cup of wine in gratitude to our escape and physical redemption. We will later in the seder drink a third cup of wine, to remind us how redemption came with an outstretched arm and with great judgment and with the fourth cup of wine how we were knitted together as a people to live with and among the other great peoples of this world. 

In addition to the wine, among the other symbols of the seder is the other great symbol, unleavened bread or matzah, “the bread of affliction”. In the fourth stage of the seder service comes the Yahatz, the important point where three pieces of matzah, one piled on top of another and each separated by a cloth and all three covered. We reach in and break the middle layer. The leader of the seder, takes the larger half, the Afikomen, and hides it. An important part of thee seder is when children twelve and under search for the missing and hidden Afikomen. The rest of us are left to explore the meaning of this hidden half.

For the pile of three matzahs symbolize the different parts of the self, not the id, ego and superego of Freud’s individualistic construction of the self, but the eating and drinking and sleeping that the bottom matzah represents, the basic struggle for survival. The basis of everything is chaim, life, my own Hebrew name. As Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof

Here’s to our prosperity. Our good health and happiness. And most important,
To life, to life, l’chaim
L’chaim, l’chaim, to life
Here’s to the father I’ve tried to be
Here’s to my bride to be
Drink, l’chaim, to life, to life, l’chaim
L’chaim, l’chaim, to life

Life has a way of confusing us
Blessing and bruising us
Drink, l’chaim, to life

God would like us to be joyful
Even when our hearts lie panting on the floor
How much more can we be joyful
When there’s really something
To be joyful for
To life, to life, l’chaim

To Tzeitel, my daughter
My wife
It gives you something to think about
Something to drink about
Drink, l’chaim, to life

As Schama shows in his documentary, even in the dismal depths of the pogroms of 2005 in the Pale of Settlement,

It takes a wedding to make us say
Let’s live another day
Drink, l’chaim, to lif

So the seder is a celebration to life, l’chaim, to joy and happiness and the delights of our sensibilities. But there is more to human existence than life and physical joy, the foundation of our being, the bottom matzah. There is desire. There is passion. And mostly there is compassion, that which allows us to understand and empathize with another, that which allows us to feel a part of a community and humanity. It is that top matzah during the seder that will be shared among the guests at the table as each takes the haroset, a mixture of fruits and nuts and wine eaten as a sandwich, but unlike in Plato’s symposia, eaten with the bitter herbs in memory of the arduous and forced labour in erecting monuments to supposedly an after-life. Haroset was the mortar that bound those stones together.

If life is the bottom matzah and desire and passion and compassion is the top matzah, but matzah that must never forget the bitterness of our lives just as the bottom matzah never forgets its joys, what is the middle matzah? As in Freud, and unlike the Greeks where reason sits on top of the passions and the appetites, reason as judgement sits between them, mediating between our sensibilities and our desires. The middle matzah does not govern by repression. It understands both the need and greatness of the sensibilities and the importance of the passions to give flight where troubles melt like lemon drops and bluebirds fly, not to the end of the rainbow for a pot of gold, but over the rainbow. 

But that is the smaller half of the matzah that stays between life and desire. What about the Afikomen that is taken away and hidden? When we find it, we eat it together at the end of the seder. But what is the invisibility of this spirit in which we partake when we truly break unleavened bread together? What is this geist that draws so richly from our past and projects us into the future? Simon Schama finds the presence of that invisible spirit when he visits the Košice synagogue in Slovakia, the glory of the divine presence, the shechina, that we can only find when we search to make the invisible visible rather than to keep it a hidden secret. For we must not become a Dorian Gray. We must rediscover the divine feminine spirit of the world as its quintessential quality even as we use our understanding and judgement to reconcile our survival instincts with our passions and desires 

So have a great seder, everyone, not just Jews, for the Passover seder is a feast which everyone should enjoy and celebrate as we unite l’chaim with a creative and community enterprise in the task of leading reasonable and prosperous lives, but lives that must not lose touch with the hiddenness, the mysterious, the invisible, the quality that will allow us to become more than human. But never gods.


Rwandan Genocide Twentieth Anniversary: Prelude to Passover

Rwanda: Prelude to Passover


Howard Adelman

In one week we commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide. The genocide started before 6 April (The commemoration date is 7 April)) with a number of test runs in which 300 were killed at a time. But the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus over the next ten weeks started in earnest on 7 April 1994 after almost a dozen Belgian peacekeepers and the Prime Minister were murdered. I and Astri Surke undertook the first study of the role of bystanders, that is, the international community in allowing the genocide to take place. In the process, we visited a mass grave in Butare and did sample counts of the approximately 18,000 corpses laid out in the rooms of the technical school. I cannt write about it without recalling the experience, without smelling the odour of death and seeing the way those individuals had been killed. .
Two weeks today we begin the celebration of Passover, the escape to freedom of the Israelites from their oppression under the Egyptians. It is a joyful feat of freedom, Te alternative was their slaughter which had already begun with the slaying of male children.  Passover is the re-enactment of that escape.

On Friday, Sue Montgomery published an article in the Montreal Gazette on Rwanda: Twenty Years later: The Burden of Survival. Like the Holocaust, the survivors live long after often suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Reminders of what befell Rwanda are everywhere across its green, hilly landscape, especially at this time of year, when everything stops April 7 for a national week of mourning. Across the country, churches and schools where hundreds of thousands sought refuge but instead were slaughtered en masse have been converted into stirring memorials, with skulls, bones and clothing displayed often as they were found.

The following are further extracts from that article:that begins wit the tale of two orphans who survived, Alain Ntwali and Luck Ndunguye.

Just 7 and 5 when their worlds violently collapsed, they grew up in patchwork families of orphans, fearful, confused and unbearably sad, raising children younger than themselves and taking on roles far beyond their years. Now in their 20s, they struggle to keep the pain embedded in their psyches two decades ago from crippling them completely, while an incessant soundtrack of what-ifs and if-onlys clogs their thoughts.

Asked if they feel depressed, the young friends nod and respond in unison: “All the time.”

“So you cry, you smoke, you drink,” shrugs Ntwali.

Survivors of the genocide, many of whom are unable to work because of crippling disabilities or chronic illnesses, feel abandoned by their government and the world. As the country positions itself as an information-technology hub — installing more than 1,600 kilometres of fibre-optic cables and a 4G network that covers 95 per cent of the country — many of its wounded citizens can barely function..still haunted by the past, unable to sleep, plagued by stress-induced headaches and epilepsy, and turning to alcohol and drugs to stop the unrelenting mental loop of sickening images.

They are still haunted by the past, unable to sleep, plagued by stress-induced headaches and epilepsy, and turning to alcohol and drugs to stop the unrelenting mental loop of sickening images.

More than one-quarter of Rwanda’s population suffers post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a 2009 study conducted by Rwandan psychiatrists, and there are few resources to help them…Even Canadian Senator Roméo Dallaire, who has received the best medical care possible, is still tormented by his time as general of the United Nations peacekeeping mission that failed to prevent or stop the genocide because of international apathy. So are 10 other Canadian soldiers who served with him in Rwanda. An 11th, Major Luc Racine, who was with the Royal 22nd Regiment in Valcartier, killed himself in Mali in September 2008 after suffering for years from PTSD.

Chaste Uwihoreye, who was a teenager during the genocide, is now a psychologist running an organization that works with youth — the innocent bystanders left to put their country back together again. In the years immediately following the massacre, there was no time to be traumatized, he said, but once the essentials were dealt with, memories started to surface and between 2000 and 2006, the country began to find itself in the depths of an emotional crisis..Jonathan Nettal, a Côte St-Luc native whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors, is a psychotherapist working for a Canadian NGO called Hopethiopia/Rwanda, counselling 19- to 23-year-olds on how to turn to each other for support with their collective trauma. What he sees in that age group is a general feeling of loneliness that comes from growing up without parents…Psychiatrist Yvonne Kayiteshonga, who heads the mental health division of the ministry, doesn’t sugar-coat the situation when she says that a country that experiences genocide is a country where the majority of its population is sick.



Parashat Vayak’hel-Pekudei

Exodus 40:1-38 Fire and Mist 09.03.13

Parashat Vayak’hel-Pekudei


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


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