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Va'era

Rabbi Label Lam

A Real Human Being

And G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron and commanded them concerning the Children of Israel and concerning Pharaoh King of Egypt to bring Israel out of Egypt. These are the heads of their fathers' houses... And Amram took Yocheved his aunt to him for a wife and she bore to him Aaron and Moses...These are Aaron and Moses, to whom G-d had said; "Bring out the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts. These are they that spoke to Pharaoh, King of Egypt, these are Moses and Aaron.... (Shemos 6:13...27)

Right before Moses is to speak to Pharaoh, the Torah switches channels. We are treated to a lesson in lineage. Since every word is crucial and holy, why such a grand deviation from the narrative to tell us to whom Moshe was born, and why specifically at that moment immediately prior to their negotiations with Pharaoh?

The famous Yisrael Baal Shem Tov was on a journey with a group of his devotees. They needed to traverse a frozen lake. Those leading the horses noticed that in the direction in which they were heading there was a group of boys who were busy carving unholy images and idolatrous figures in the ice. His followers then sought to redirect the horses to spare their sensitive and holy Rebbe.

The Baal Shem Tov insisted again and again to continue straight until they reached the place where all the pictures had been deeply etched in the fresh ice. When they reached the spot, the Rebbe insisted they stop the carriage so he could disembark.

Their great teacher stood there for almost twenty minutes staring at the ice carvings in a state of transfixed reverie. His students were enormously puzzled. When they had reached their destination they found it necessary to ask their Rebbe why he had stopped and stared so long at those false and idolatrous images.

He told them that while standing there on the ice, he began to contemplate what a great benefit we have from water: How it is the source of so much life giving goodness. How it cleanses and catalyzes growth and quenches thirst.

Then he glanced at the images found there and thought again. That wonderful and magical water we appreciate so much and need so desperately when it is frozen can be used to manufacture false and foolish imagery. What does the story mean to teach us?

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, in his commentary on the Torah writes the following: "Right from the earliest times it occurred that men who have shown themselves quite strikingly to be benefactors to their people on account of their "godlike" deeds, have been invested after their passing away from this world, with a "godly" origin.

We know well enough how in later times, a Jew whose genealogical table was not available, and because it was not available, and because he brought the world a few sparks of light borrowed from the man Moses, came to be considered by nations as begotten by God, and to doubt his divinity became a capital crime. Our Moses was a man, remained a man, and is to remain a man..."

It has been proffered that for the same reason the burial place of Moses remains forever obscure, as it states at the very end of the Torah, "And Moses, the servant of God, died there in the land of Moab...and no man knows his grave until this very day." (Devarim 34:5-6)

There is strong human tendency to deify the messenger. The problem is not only that that it is a distraction from and leads to a distortion of the message. It paralyzes the ideas, and limits that which should have been inspiring and liberating. Now, in a frozen state, the sweetest words can be easily fashioned into wicked weapons for intimidating infidels and non-believers.

It's a little like that bad joke about the mother who when she received such glowing complements about how cute her baby was she replied, "If you think the baby is cute, you should see the pictures!" Pictures are far less demanding and it is always easier to romanticize and fantasize about things in a frozen and glorified state than to make all the effort to raise up a real human being.


Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Label Lam and Project Genesis, Inc.



 






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