Shemot 5761 – Gilayon #170

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Parshat Shemot

"Now let me turn aside that I may see . ." – I will observe and see 'why the bush does not burn up' – why , with all their beatings cannot the Egyptians prevail, similar to "and they shall burn it and devour it." (Sforno, Shemot 3:3)

"There Is No Place Where He Is Not"

Said Rabbi Eliezer: Just as the bush is the lowliest of all the world's trees, so were the Israelites low and degraded in Egypt, therefore the Holy One revealed himself to them and delivered them, as is written (Shemot 3:8) 'So I have come down to rescue it from the hand of Egypt'. Rabbi Yossi said: Just as the bush is the hardiest of all the trees, and any bird that enters the bush does not exit safely, so was the servitude to Egypt seen by God to be the most difficult of all servitudes in the world, as is written, (ibid., ibid.) 'I have seen, yes, seen the affliction of my people." (Shemot Rabba, Parasha 2)

A gentile asked Rabban Gamliel – saying to him: Why did the Holy One reveal himself to Moses in the bush? He replied: Had He revealed himself on a carob tree or on a fig tree, what would you have said? But (the fact is that) there is no place on earth where He is not."




Moshe Meir

Moshe's reaction to the leadership responsibilities assigned him is fraught with apprehension and fears, revealing the frail, human aspect of his personality. "And Moshe said to God, who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, that I should deliver the Children of Israel from Egypt." When Moshe reiterates his fears – "They will not believe me, and they will not obey me, for they will say that God has not appeared to you" – God provides him with tangible signs — the staff which changes into a snake, the arm afflicted with a leprosy white as snow, and waters which are transformed into blood. But God's first answer is of a completely different type; the phrase containing it is irregular and engenders a variety of commentaries: "And He said: I will be with you, and this will be a sign for you that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt you will serve God by this mountain." According to the plain reading of the text, "this will be a sign for you" relates to the end of the passage, i.e. the sign is "upon delivering the people from Egypt you shall worship the Lord on this mountain." But this understanding presents an obvious difficulty. The very essence of a sign is that it occurs in the present and lays the foundation of the future or of faith in the future, whereas here the sign is something which will occur – if it will occur – in the distant future. How can such a sign instill confidence in the immediate future?

Commentators who sensed this difficulty concluded that the sign is not the future worship of God on the mountain. It may be the burning bush – which fits the definition of "a sign" but which is not mentioned explicitly in the passage. Perhaps it is God's being with Moshe – a fact attested to in the introduction to the verse, but does not fit the criteria of a sign, i.e., an event which does not conform to laws of nature.

But the declaration may be read differently. The sign is — in line with the plain reading — the future worship on the mountain. The meaning of the sign is the very opposite of the usual meaning of a sign. Usually, a frightened person, in a state of uncertainty as he faces an unclear future, seeks a clear here-and-now indication which will assure him that the future will develop according to his hopes. God shows Moshe a different way. The distant future, the goal, the destiny, the vision, these are what will give him and the people the strength to cope with the difficulties which the immediate future holds in store.

This reading addresses another concern expressed by Moshe and God's reaction to it. "And Moshe said to God: I will come before the children of Israel and I will say to them the God of your fathers sent me to you, and they will say to me what is his name? What shall I say to them?" And the answer: "And God said to Moshe: Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh — I will be howsoever I will be. And he said: Thus shall you tell the Children of Yisrael: Eheyeh (I-Will-Be) sent me to you."

Most commentators tend to explain the name as an expression of God's eternity. Rav Saadya Gaon writes: "I will be-there"– alludes to preexistence, having no beginning; "howsoever I will be-there" – alludes to the eternal and constant, having no end." What follows from such a description of God? Writes the Rashbam: "God said to Moshe, If you do not know My name, I will tell you that my name is "I will be forever, and I have the power to fulfill that which I promise."

Our understanding makes possible a different reading. God teaches Moshe that His name and His essence is that which will be in the future, not in the present. He who seeks the attendant, who hopes to find the deliverer and savior from all plagues and all evils here and now – will not find him in God. God is the absolute other, not only in relation to substance and space, but also with regard to time. God's revelation will be in the distant future, a marker at the end of the eternal tunnel of the universe, and from there he radiates energy and strength to those in the dark of the present's uncertainty.

Now we can reconsider those 'tangible' signs — the staff which becomes a snake, and the leprosy-stricken arm. There are two kinds of signs – constructive signs, and destructive signs. The former include the extraction of water from a rock, the appearance of soldiers from nowhere, etc. The destructive signs include the group of signs which Moshe received, i.g., the leprosy-stricken arm and the waters turned to blood, and even the snake, as a dangerous and threatening animal which causes Moshe to flee in fear. Why did God choose destructive signs rather than constructive ones?

It may be that an indispensable condition for a vision-motivated life is a devaluation of the worth of the existing, of the current power of rule – which is expressed by the staff, of the body – through its affliction by leprosy, and of life – which is symbolized by water. The process of Moshe's consecration as a prophet is intended to fashion a nation which is prepared to say "NO!" to the present, and to commit its life to a vision of the future.

This line of thought brings about an opposing line, and creates a difficult dilemma regarding the desirable life for the people and the individual. Against the denigration of the present before the future, stands an option offering fullness in the present; not the fullness of hedonism, of "eat and drink for tomorrow we die", but the fullness of a meaningful life deriving significance from the here and now. A powerful expression of this can be found in the thought of A.D. Gordon, and perhaps in it we can discern the realization of the essence of Zionism.

Gordon shaped a new concept in his theory of consciousness: 'experience' (chavaya). The concept took root in spoken Hebrew and received the connotation of sensual pleasure – usually provided by light entertainment; this connotation would have been totally foreign to Gordon. The meaning which Gordon attributes to chavaya can be discerned from its being a composite of the concepts 'havaya' (being) and 'chayim' (life) and from the claim that it reveals a mode of recognizing reality which is opposed to intellectual cognizance. The latter is marked by alienation and an attitude of 'otherness' between buyer and seller. Chavaya is a form of cognition which integrates life with the being, a fusion which occurs primarily in agricultural work. In contrast to: "I will be-there howsoever I will be-there" which is directed towards the future, belittling the present "is" — we have in Gordon's thought an affirmation and a blending with the "is" , a joining of the ' is' with the present, not "will be" in the future. In the words of Gordon:

And when you do your work, the world's space will be your workshop, and you and nature – the workers. You will share a single heart and a sinspirit. And on that day, you will declare: How beautiful is the face of nature, but beautiful sevenfold in the spirit of its life, in its labor . . . on that day, the fruits of your labor, son of man, will be – life, for your life will be in your labor. And not a second of your life will be wasted. (Man and Nature)

Here we find expression of the fullness of the present which binds together man and place, man and earth, man and nature.

In our current world of disintegrating values, it is easy to level at both models the accusation of ’emptiness'. The first nullifies life in favor of a future which lies beyond realization, and the second inevitably leads to consumer hedonism, as per the current usage of the term "chavaya". But I think that it behooves us to see both options as pure possibilities, unweakened by the winds that batter them, standing firm as they face the difficult dilemma presented by a history encompassing a complete world picture.

Many decisions result from the first choice to be made — between establishment of the present on the basis of the future, and fullness of the present in our being.

Moshe Meir teaches Jewish philosophy in the Hebrew University in Yerushalayim.



"The Place On Which You Stand — It Is Holy Ground!" – What is Place?

The word "HaMakkom" — "The place" is be understood figuratively, its application being that Moshe's value was very high, as is written, "Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord, and who will rise in His holy place? One of clean hands and pure heart." (Ha'amek Davar, Shemot 3:5)

"And Avraham returned to his place" – to his humanness; he did not continue to seclude himself and pray, even though it is possible to be alone and pray even without revelation of the Divine Presence; he nonetheless discontinued his contemplation of the divinity once he understood the will of God, and returned to his place. (Ha'amek Davar, Bereishit 18:33)

"And I will go to my place and to my land" – to my value, that I will not be a servant to others, and thus is its interpretation in Bereishit Rabba on the verse "And Lavan returned to his place" – to his bad habits. (Ha'amek Davar' Bereishit 30:25)

". . . Subsequently, language extended its meaning and made it a term denoting an individual's rank and situation . . . It is in this figurative manner that it is said: "Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place", meaning, according to His rank and the greatness of His portion in existence. Similarly in every mention of place referring to God, the sole intention is to signify the rank of His existence, may He be exalted; there being nothing like or similar to that existence . .. (Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed, I, 8)



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The roots of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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Editorial Board: Pinchas Leiser (Editor), Miriam Fine (Coordinator), Itzhak Frankenthal and Dr. Menachem Klein

Translation: Kadish Goldberg

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