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Bet Israel Masorti Synagogue

בית ישראל" – בית הכנסת המסורתי בנתניה"

19 Yehuda Hanasi St., POB 437, Netanya 4210300, Israel
Phone: 972-(0)9-862-4345
Email: office@betisrael.org

Parshat Va’era – 2015

Dvar Torah delivered by Mike Garmise on 26th Tevet 5775, 17th January 2015

It is a given that Moshe is the ultimate prophet, the ultimate true believer and loyal servant to God, and the ultimate leader. And yet, we find, last week and especially this week, that Moshe can’t or won’t go it alone. At God’s recommendation, Moshe accepts Aaron, his brother, as his mouthpiece, which, incidentally, is our first story in the Torah of brotherly cooperation over time!

One of Moshe’s reasons for declining the position of leader was, as I mentioned last week, his inability to express himself clearly. God says, look, your brother Aaron is here, and he certainly speaks well enough, why not use him as your mouthpiece? You’ll be the godhead, he’ll be the spokesman. And Moshe, glumly accepts.

What’s interesting is God’s answer to Moshe – this was last week – when Moshe tries to justify his incompatibility for the job. I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue – the words just don’t come out. And God responds, and who gave man a mouth to speak with? And created the blind and the lame? It would seem that the best solution would have been for God to alleviate Moshe’s speech problems. After all, He is God!

It is only later – both in this week’s parsha and in the unfolding tales of the endless wanderings in the desert, that we understand why Aaron had to be there. If we look at our heroes from Avraham to Shmuel and Eliyahu, and the prophets in general, we find a trait that defines almost all of them. They are not good with people.

Yes, Avraham took in strangers, he cared for them, he fought for them. But it was always about God. And Shmuel, who is closest to Moshe in many ways, shows the same trait. Again, they couldn’t get along with people.

It’s understandable, of course. After you deal with The Divine, everything else pales in comparison. You are dealing with the highest, the holiest, the strongest, the purest. To have to deal with the human world after such uplifting, is totally frustrating.

But in Moshe’s case there was another reason. His background. His years in Egypt – short as they were – were spent for the most part in the luxury of the palace. He was the adopted son the daughter of Pharaoh, and as such, never had to bear the burden of slavery. Sure, he went out and saw his brethren suffering, and being beaten. And he took action. But he just as easily could have gone back to the palace to a good hot meal and soft bed as he meditated on the terrible plight of his brethren the Israelites.

This is like a person who lives in a palatial fortress the size of a city block (built partially on public land, but that’s neither here nor there) becoming a leading member of a political party whose appeal is to the people who occupied the tents in 2011, complaining about the price of cottage cheese. He comes from a different world, he has different associations, different frames of reference.

So too with Moshe. Talking to God was not a problem for him. Talking to people, the Israelites, was. He didn’t have their language, at least not at the beginning. He needed a translator, one who could neutralize both his physical handicap and his social handicap. He needed someone who knew how to talk and who knew what being a slave was all about.

As it turns out, Aaron provides Moshe with more than just a common touch. We all know that children in a family differ from one other, sometimes like night and day. Moshe and Aaron were like that in certain respects. Moshe, with his rigid personality, so necessary in order to keep in step with the Lord he spoke to regularly, needed a compassionate side. And that softness, that compassion, that non-confrontational approach was provided by Aaron.

As we will see, Aaron’s strong points were also his weak points. Because he was non-confrontational, when the people confronted him with the demand for a god to replace Moshe, he went along with them so as not to make waves. When two of his sons brought a sacrifice of their own volition and were subsequently burnt to a crisp, Aaron says nothing, not against God, not against Moshe.

Aaron never chastised the people, never laid down the law. That was Moshe’s task. In the long run, the people appreciated Aaron. They mourned him more deeply than they did Moshe. But it was Moshe, with his insistence on proper order who kept the God-Israelite balancing act from crashing and smashing.

Today, we have people who speak in God’s name and prophesy death and destruction. There was a TV interview this week with an ISIS preacher in London who said, straight out, that there will be more retribution brought down on the Europeans if they continue to mock the prophet. We don’t need him. We have our own preachers here who spew venom against anyone who is different. And we have politicians who, thankfully, don’t have direct links with God (no matter what they may say), but who would have us believe that what they speak is of divine importance.

I would like to say that what we need is a little more compassion, like that manifested by Aaron – but on the other hand, there are so many challenges facing us: security problems, economic problems, moral problems (corruption), safety problems, work relations problems, health and welfare problems, education problems to name but a few – that it would be foolhardy to think that we should tone down just so that we can be less stressed.

We should tone down, but for a different reason. Blustery rhetoric wastes precious energy and gives the impression that something is being done, when it isn’t. What we need is a little talk, and a lot of action. Who is the leader, and the government, that can provide such a combination? Supposedly that’s what we’ll find out on March 17.

Shabbat Shalom

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