Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
The Book of Exodus is essentially a story about God’s saving love for the oppressed Israelites. It begins with the birth of Moses and follows him as a young prince turned into a rebel and outlaw, then a shepherd, and finally THE prophet of God.
Why Moses? What was so unique about him that God should choose him to be His most intimate of prophets?
Moses is a complex man; passionate, pure, just, humble, at home no where, carrying always the burdens of his people and the word of God.
God identified him because he was unique, and that is what my drash-poem below is about; namely, the uniqueness that would draw Moses out to become the most important Jew in history.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., though not Moses, was a prophet for our times, and on this weekend we celebrate his legacy.
Shmot – A poem
A Pure Soul - A Poem
So often we walk about in a daze,
Eyes sunk in creviced faces
Fettered to worldly tasks
Unable to glimpse rainbows.
I imagine Moses, in Midian, like that,
Brooding in exile,
Burdened by his people’s suffering,
Knowing that each day
They scream from stopped-up hearts
Shedding silent tears.
A simple shepherd Moses had become
Staff in hand
Until one day
Weaving through rocks
Among bramble bushes
The shepherd heard thorns popping.
Turning his head
His eyes were opened
And he would never be the same.
God had from his birth taken note of him
And waited until this moment
To choose him as prophet.
Dodi dofek pitchi li
A-choti ra-yati yo-nati ta-mati.
“Open to me, my dove,
my twin, my undefiled one.” (Song of Songs 5:2)
Moses heard the Divine voice
His eyes beheld angels
His soul flowed with a sacred river
Of Shechinah light.
Why should I behold such wondrous things?
Unworthy am I!’
‘Moses – I have chosen you
Because you are soft
Because you weep
Because your heart is burdened and worried,
Because you know this world’s cruelty
Yet you have not become cruel
Nor do you stand idly by.
You are at heart
A tender of sheep,
And you will lead my people
With the shepherd’s staff
And teach them to open
Their stopped-up hearts
Trembling, Moses peered a second time
Into the bush aflame
Free from ash and smoke.
His eyes opened as in a dream
And he heard a soft murmuring sound
Like the sound breath makes
Passing through lips.
Two voices—One utterance!
He hid his face
For the more Moses heard
The brighter was the light
And he knew he must turn away
The prophet’s thoughts were free
Soaring beyond form
No longer of self.
To this very day
There has not been a purer soul than his.
God said, ‘Come no closer, Moses!
Remove your shoes
Stand barefoot here
on this earth
For I want your soul.
I am here with you and in you
I am every thing
And no thing
And You are Me.
I see that which is and which is not
And I hear it all.
Take heed shepherd/prince
For My people‘s blood
Calls to me from the ground
The living suffer still
A thousand deaths.
You must go and take them out!
Every crying child
Every lashed man
Every woman screaming silent tears.
And Moses, know this
“With weeping they will come,
And with compassion will I guide them.” (Jeremiah 31:8)
The people’s exile began with tears
And it will end with tears.
I have recorded their story in a Book
Black fire on white fire
Letters on parchment
Telling of slaves
Turning to Me
Becoming a nation.
The Book is My spirit
The letters are My heart
They are near to you
That you might do them
And teach them
And redeem My world
That it might not be consumed in flames.
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January 9, 2012 | 9:29 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
We Jews are like all people, only more so. Our talents are immense. Our hearts are huge. Our generosity as a people is probably the most pronounced of any people on earth. Our accomplishments are second to none. Our motivation to heal the world is not only a profound religious principle, but it becomes an obsessive fixation on the need for justice and compassion in the world. This is all to the good.
But, our stupidity is also legion; our fear, though justified by experience, leads us to say and do things that are self-defeating; our hatred and rage at the world as deep as any on earth; and of late our racism in Israel is a growing source of national shame.
The Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), based in Jerusalem, has taken the lead in calling out racist attacks on Arabs, misogynist policies against women, and irresponsible hate speech from ultra-Orthodox Rabbis against their perceived enemies.
Anat Hoffman (the Director of the IRAC) recently announced the publication “Love the Stranger as Yourself – Racism in Halacha’s Name”. The following is from the report’s preface:
“Love the Stranger as Yourself – Racism in Halacha’s Name is the first report of its kind collecting racist statements made by rabbis in general and by rabbis holding civil servants positions in particular. Rabbis making such statements are the minority in Israel. But their growing numbers and the legitimacy they enjoy must be a cause for concern and must be a spur to action. These rabbis undermine the foundations of Israeli democracy, incite hatred and fear, and besmirch Judaism as a whole with their message of Xenophobia.
It might be assumed that a person who devotes his life to sacred matters would be obligated to meet high standards of ethics and morality. In reality these rabbis are not called to account for actions that would be considered criminal offenses were they made by any other civil servant.
The Israel Religious Action Center is dedicated to fight against the government’s non-accountability with respect to racial incitement in the name of Halacha (Jewish religious law). Our commitment to this struggle stems from our profound commitment to Judaism and Israeli democracy.”
I applaud this work and this commitment to action, and I urge you to read the report in its entirety.
January 8, 2012 | 4:47 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
“What’s going to be the end for both of us—God?
Are you really going to let me die like this
And really not tell me the big secret?
Must I really become dust, gray dust, and ash, black ash,
While the secret, which is closer than my shirt, than my skin,
Still remains secret, though it’s deeper in me than my own heart?
And was it really in vain that I hoped by day and waited by night?
And will you, until the very last moment, remain godlike-cruel and hard?
Your face deaf like dumb stone, like cement, blind-stubborn?
Not for nothing is one of your thousand names—thorn you thorn in my spirit and flesh and bone,
Piercing me—I can’t tear you out; burning me—I can’t stamp you out,
Moment I can’t forget, eternity I can’t comprehend.”
Melech Ravitch (translated from the Yiddish by Ruth Whitman), based on Exodus 3:1-15, appears in Modern Poems on the Bible: an Anthology, Edited with an Introduction by David Curzon, JPS, 1994, p. 161.
Melech Ravitch is the pseudonym of Zekharye-Khone Bergner (1893–1976), a Yiddish poet, essayist, playwright, and cultural activist. Born in Radymno, eastern Galicia, into a home where the main spoken languages were Polish and German, Ravitch received a secular general education, including business school, and a limited traditional Jewish education. In 1921, he settled in Warsaw, and from the 1930s on, Ravitch lived in Australia, Argentina, and Mexico, until finally settling in Montreal. His main works include a comprehensive anthology Di lider fun mayne lider (The Poems of My Poems; 1954) and his two volume series Mayn leksikon (My Lexicon; 1945–1947) offer intimate portraits of Yiddish writers in Poland. His memoirs, Dos mayse-bukh fun mayn lebn (The Storybook of My Life; 3 vols., 1962–1975), describe his life in Galicia, Vienna, and Warsaw. These biographical notes are from the Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews of Eastern Europe.
January 6, 2012 | 6:50 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
This week Joseph, hearing that his father Jacob is on the edge of death, brings his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to see their old grandfather. Knowing that they stand before him, his eyesight failing, Jacob says that his grandsons will be no less “his” than his actual sons. Joseph positioned his sons opposite his father Jacob for a blessing, expecting that Jacob would bless the first-born Manasseh. But Jacob reversed his hands and blessed Ephraim instead. (Genesis 48)
This is not the first time that the younger son is favored over the first-born. The precedent was established with Cain and Abel and continued with Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, and Jacob’s 10 older sons and Joseph.
Recalling “The Godfather,” Don Corleone loves all his sons, but he prefers that his youngest, Michael, become Godfather after him because he saw something special in Michael as the future leader of the family.
So too in the Biblical narrative – Abel’s offering to God was of a higher order than Cain’s. Isaac’s devotion to Abraham’s faith exceeded that of Ishmael. Jacob’s spiritual orientation was recognized by his mother Rebecca as opposed to Esau, a hunter and “man of the field.” And Jacob understood that Joseph was graced uniquely by God.
What about Manasseh and Ephraim?
Rashi (11th century, France) had this to say: “Ephraim was frequently in the presence of Jacob for the purpose of study.” (Commentary on Genesis 48:1) The great commentator suggests that Ephraim, the younger son, was essentially like Jacob who preferred the study of Torah with his father to other earthly pursuits. Rashi presumed that Jacob could not have blessed his younger son Ephraim unless he saw something unique and special in him.
Commentators suggest that Manasseh also had special gifts, but of a different kind. They say that Manasseh was a talented linguist and served as Joseph’s interpreter in Pharaoh’s court. Manasseh learned the arts of diplomacy, politics and statesmanship. Whereas Manasseh symbolized worldly wisdom, Ephraim symbolized Torah wisdom.
By choosing Ephraim over Manasseh, tradition ascribes to Jacob the understanding that a Jewish leader must be inspired by Torah learning, regardless of his/her brilliance in business, the sciences, or in his/her understanding of statecraft.
Despite the Biblical tradition of favoring the first-born, Judaism rejected consistently that the birthright should automatically take precedence in determining future leadership. Instead, leadership was to be based on merit and qualities of soul.
Tradition also taught that age can corrupt the imagination and cool the ardors of youth. There must come a time, therefore, when the dreams of the young take precedence and the old step aside.
From its beginnings, the American Reform movement measured its worth according to the ethics of the Biblical prophet. One of the American Reform movement’s great 20th century leaders, Rabbi Jacob Weinstein (z’l), put this idea eloquently:
“Israel should be understood as a permanent underground, the eternal yeast, the perennial Elijah spirit, ever willing to plough the cake of custom, to put rollers under thrones and give only a day to day lease to authority. Anchored to Torah, rooted to God, Israel feels free to dispense with human made hierarchies which would forever place the elder over the younger.”
To be a Jew has meant always to be dissatisfied with the world as it is and to strive to transform it into a more just, compassionate and peaceful society as guided by the principles of Torah. Jacob’s choice of Ephraim for the blessing represents this very promise.
January 3, 2012 | 6:04 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
In an opinion column entitled “A Hanukkah Letter to the Hilltop Youth” that appeared in the Israeli daily Ha-aretz, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat criticizes violent settlers as acting contrary to Jewish tradition and values. Violent settler attacks on innocent Palestinians, anti-Arab racisim, their torching mosques and complete disrespect for the authority of the Israeli government and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have challenged Israelis at last to begin to address settler hostility towards the State of Israel going back to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Rabbi Riskin is himself a “settler,” albeit a relatively moderate one, and his column reflects the growing revulsion among Israelis and many settlers towards this radical and extremist element in their midst. He writes:
“It’s impossible…to preach to people who believe that they are the holy defenders of the Land of Israel; that they wave the banner of the pure and genuine Torah [word of God]; that they are eliminating… the obsequiousness of thousands of years of exile. ‘Price tag’ rioters who attack [innocent] Palestinians, desecrate mosques and set fire to copies of the Koran see themselves [in the mold of] the ancient heroes of Judea, who fought against the Greek-Syrians [that] desecrated the Temple and forced them to bow down to idols. And so I say to you: You consider yourselves the new… Maccabees who do not bow their heads before the [Hellenizers], who today, you believe, wear the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces.
“Because you are convinced that all your deeds are [in the name of God], you will never admit that you have sinned… I am telling you that you are making a fundamental mistake. If a country can be sacred, if there is sanctity in earth and stones, then [how much more] sanctity [there is in a human being] – whether Arab or Jew – who was created in God’s image? Don’t you understand that [to use Job’s phrase] there is no ‘portion of God’ in furrows of earth, but that there certainly is in peaceful Palestinians? Do you have any idea how great that ‘portion of God’ is in… the brigade commander, …and in each and every one of his soldiers who daily risk their lives to defend yours and those of your families from terrorists? …How do you dare desecrate these holy people? How did it enter your minds to take on the role of… the terrorists [yourselves]? How did your love of the land become so distorted that it turned into love of bricks and cement and caused you to forget all the rest?
“You did not throw stones at me, and still you have mortally wounded me. You have stolen from me one of the assets most sacred to me. I love the Land of Israel with all my heart and all my might. I left the United States, my birthplace, to help to build my beloved city of Efrat and to be built up in it. Wherever and whenever I speak, I present myself as a ‘proud settler’. And you have robbed this pride from me. You have turned the term ‘settler’ into a dirty word. You have caused me to be ashamed of being a settler, to be ashamed to be called by the same name as those whose love for the land has turned into hatred of human beings. The Torah is filled with the praises of the Land of Israel, but it never commands us to ‘love’ the land. It commands us to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:18). And since… the words that end that verse, are ‘I am the Lord’, the medieval commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra explains that ‘thy neighbor’ in that context is every human being created in the image of God… Don’t sell your souls, your portion of God from above, even in exchange for our holy land.”
January 1, 2012 | 7:43 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
The Pentagon reports 4,487 American soldiers killed and 32,226 wounded in Iraq since the onset of the American initiated war in 2003. The piece below by Dan Froomkin, however, notes that this ‘official’ government figure of wounded includes only those “wounded in action” and is therefore a vast under-estimate of the true numbers of Americans injured.
Whereas the number of dead as reported is mostly accurate, Froomkin writes that in truth close to 500,000 of the 1.5 million American soldiers sent to Iraq have suffered injuries. When we add to the American dead and wounded the number of Iraqi dead and wounded the catastrophe of that war becomes at once clear and unfathomable.
Given the massive disinformation campaign perpetrated by the Bush-Cheney Administration on the American people in the run-up to the Iraq war after 9/11 it seems to me that those responsible for lying and deceiving Congress should be investigated for war crimes in the interest of justice, truth and moral responsibility.
Froomkin reports that injuries to American soldiers include but are not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, traumatic brain injury, fibromyalgia (chronic fatigue syndrome), breathing disorders, substantial hearing loss from acute acoustic blasts, hepatitis A, B and C, leishmaniasis (also known as the “Baghdad boil”), malaria, memory loss, migraines, sleep disorders, and tuberculosis. Deployed soldiers also were exposed to many hazardous health conditions including open-air burn pits, infectious diseases, depleted uranium, toxic shrapnel, cold and heat exposure, and chemical agent resistant paint. Many wounds suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan will persist over our veterans’ lifetimes, and some consequences of military service may not be felt until decades later.
If America has learned anything at all from this immoral adventure (as if we should not have known it already) it must be that war is far too destructive, too deadly and too tragic to too many people on both sides to enter except in the most extreme circumstance of national self-defense, which Iraq was clearly not.
Froomkin does not discuss the numbers of Iraqi dead and wounded. The following chart detailing Iraqi casualties is taken from Wikipedia but does not include Iraqi injuries. If the ratio of Iraqi casualties to injuries is similar to American ratios, the figure of wounded in that devastated land are astronomical. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War
FOCUS: How Many US Casualties in Iraq? Guess Again.
Dan Froomkin, Reader Supported News
Froomkin begins: “Reports about the end of the war in Iraq routinely describe the toll on the US military the way the Pentagon does: 4,487 dead, and 32,226 wounded. The death count is accurate. But the wounded figure wildly understates the number of American service members who have come back from Iraq less than whole. The true number of military personnel injured over the course of our nine-year-long fiasco in Iraq is in the hundreds of thousands – maybe even more than half a million…”
READ MORE http://www.readersupportednews.org/opinion2/266-32/9181-focus-how-many-us-casualties-in-iraq-guess-again
Dan Froomkin is the Senior Washington Correspondent for the Huffington Post. He previously wrote a column for the online version of The Washington Post called White House Watch.