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
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
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.