Attias’ Resting Place Is Jewish Honor

In the obituary for Benzion “Nick” Attias (“Belated Goodbye,” June 27) , it is stated that “his admiration for the soldiers who liberated the Jews from the Nazis inspired Attias’ choice to be buried in the Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery in Owings Mills, instead of a Jewish cemetery.” It should be noted that he was interred in the separate consecrated Jewish section of Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery, a benefit to which he was entitled as a veteran.

Retired Army Col. Erwin A. Burtnick
Commander, Department of Maryland
Jewish War Veterans
Baltimore

Piety and Learning, Not Power, Is Eternal

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take for yourself Joshua the son of Nun, an individual who has spirit within him, and lay your hand upon him. Stand him up before Elazar the Priest and before the entire congregation, and command him before their eyes. And give of your glory upon him in order that the entire congregation of the children of Israel may obey him.”

In these three verses we see the “passing of the guard,” the succession of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Embedded within the three different actions that God commanded Moses to perform, we may begin to define three different forms of traditional Jewish leadership. Firstly, Moses was to “lay his hands” upon Joshua, an act which expressed a conferral of rabbinic authority, semikha (literally a laying upon or leaning upon) from master to disciple. Since Moses was traditionally known as Moshe Rabbenu (our religious teacher or rabbi) and since Joshua is biblically and midrashically pictured as Moses’ devoted disciple, it is perfectly logical to assume that the first transference from Moses to Joshua was that of religio-legal authority. Moreover, Moses was a great prophet who conveyed the Divine word to his nation; since the scholar is heir (and even superior) to the prophet, and since the prophet was always expected to be a great intellectual and spiritual personality, Moses was bestowing upon Joshua his own authority as religious master and prophet by the act of his laying of his hands upon Joshua.

Moses is then commanded by God to “stand Joshua up” before Elazar the Priest. The Kohen Gadol or High Priest was certainly a leader in ancient Israel — but his Divine service was formal, ritual and external, very much limited to the Sanctuary or Holy Temple. It was necessary for the rabbi-scholar-prophet to be recognized and respected by the High Priest, and vice versa; however, whereas the former had to constantly bring the living word of God to the people and in the process often came into conflict with the ruling authorities and even with the majority of the Israelites, the latter merely had to perform the precise Temple ritual so that the continuity of the Divine service from generation to generation could be maintained. Joshua therefore had to appear, or be stood up, before the High Priest, but he was not given the ritual authority of the High Priest. Moses and Joshua were the seat of religious, moral and ethical authority; Aaron and Elazar were the seat of ritual authority. The rabbi was expected to teach and interpret God’s word for every generation; the High Priest was expected to ritually perform and maintain the ritual structures from generation to generation.

And finally, Moses was to “give of his glory upon [Joshua] in order that the entire congregation of Israel may obey him.” In addition to being the rabbi-scholar-prophet, Moses also served as authoritative king, the chief executive officer of the Israelite nation. This authority was the power, or glory, he conferred upon Joshua as well. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, defines the distinction between both aspects of Moses’ leadership as that of influence verses power. Moses, as master prophet and religious teacher, wielded enormous influence, not only in his generation, but in every generation, including our own, which still studies Moses’ Divine words. Moses, as King of Israel, controlled much power, and so, in the final analysis, managed to quell the rebellions of all his detractors: Korah, Datan and Aviram, and Zimri ben Salu.

But influence and power are very different sources of authority. Rabbi Sacks sees this distinction as emanating from the Midrash, which compares the giving over of power to “a pouring out from one vessel to another,” whereas the conferral of influence is likened to “the kindling of one candle from another candle.” When wine, for example, is poured from one goblet into another, the first goblet becomes emptied and devoid of its joy-giving liquid. Similarly, when a political leader leaves office and his successor takes over, no authority remains in the hand of the incumbent.

How different is the realm of influence. After the initial candle has kindled its flame onto another candle, the light of the first candle has in no way become diminished; much the opposite, now there are two candles shining brightly, providing double the amount of light in the room. My revered teacher, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, went one step further, when he interpreted the biblical text of our weekly portion at the celebration of my class’s rabbinical ordination.

The “laying of the hands” is usually interpreted as an inter-generational conferral of authority: The master from a former generation is “handing over” the authority of our ancient tradition to the younger generation.

However, says Rav Soloveitchik, that is not the picture presented by the biblical text. The Hebrew word used in the text principally means to lean on, so that the picture being conveyed is that of an elderly Moses leaning with his hands upon a younger Joshua. The message seems not to be that of a young Joshua dependent on the authority of an elder Moses; it rather seems to be that of an elder Moses dependent for his support on a younger Joshua. Rabbi Soloveitchik looked at us, his student rabbis, with great yearning and expectations.

“It is I who am dependent upon you,” he said. “Without you, my Torah and my unique teaching, indeed all of the traditions which I imbibed from the previous generations, will all die with me. You are my insurance policy. It is through you and your teachings that my Torah will continue to live.”

This is why Moses had to put down Korah — who wanted to usurp power for a false end — but encouraged Eldad and Medad, who were influenced by a Divine spirit. And this is the true meaning of our Sages’ adage that a father is never jealous of a child nor is a teacher ever jealous of a disciple. Politics yields power, which disappears in the sand-dunes of times; learning and piety breed influence, which last for all eternity. The Israelite kings are scarcely remembered while the Israelite prophets and sages are still being studied and interpreted today. Lust for power is ultimately consumed by fiery flames, while the influence of Torah education will enable the light of the menorah to emblazon the path to the tree of life in our return to Eden.

Upon Further Review

The hagiographic discussion of how the ”Rebbe’s Teachings Continue to Inspire” (June 20) omitted salient data.

First of all, despite the fact that most rabbinic commentators insist that aliyah and settlement in the Land of Israel is one of the 613 commandments, Rabbi Schneerson not only never set foot on its holy soil, but — unlike the common devotional practice of observant Jews — he is not even buried there.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb may laud Rabbi Schneerson’s “care and concern for every Jew,” but such solicitude did not extend to Jewry’s seminal 20th-century creation, the State of Israel. Many of his followers do not sing “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. Continuing this legacy of opposition to Zionism, in 2008, when the bodies of their emissaries were flown to Israel after the terrorist attack in Mumbai, Lubavitch protested when the coffins of the deceased were wrapped in the Israeli flag.

As regards Jewish unity, Rabbi Schneerson rejected the legitimacy  of non-Orthodox Jewish denominations (especially their clergy). Meddling in Israel’s internal affairs, Rabbi Schneerson was the behind-the-scenes mastermind of the Israeli Knesset’s 1989 “Who is a Jew?” legislation and campaign. Of local interest is the fact that this divisive enterprise was only beaten back thanks to yeoman efforts spearheaded by Baltimore communal icon Shoshana Cardin.

Lastly, as a matter of full disclosure, it should have been noted that the author of this article holds Lubavitch rabbinic ordination; and, in light of the untrimmed beard displayed in his JT “Opening Thoughts” photo, remains an adherent. Halachically, such conflict of interest would seem to fall into the category of genaivas da’as (transgressive deceit).
Rachmiel Gottlieb
Pikesville

‘Kosher’ Votes Worth Celebratin

Your post-election analysis of the June 24 primary election falls a little short of the mark.  The Democratic and Republican candidates for governor, who will be competing in the upcoming general election, present the voters with a dismal choice. Neither Anthony Brown, the Democrat, nor Larry Hogan, the Republican, has the moral and ethical qualifications to serve as the next governor of Maryland. Keep in mind that Brown raised  at least $10 million in campaign contributions/bribes. As for Hogan, living off his father’s coattails enabled him to buy the nomination with campaign contributions/bribes.

It appears to me that come November, voters will have another excuse, once again, not to show up at the polls. I believe your failure to properly cover Ralph Jaffe’s Movement to bring about real, true ethical reform was  a tremendous disservice to your readership. You deprived readers from  receiving  a significant eye-opener into what needs to be done to start the process of getting rid of all the corruption in Maryland government; this realization might have propelled more people to cast their votes.

My most recent vote total in the 2014 gubernatorial election is 3,092.  These votes were obtained by ethical means on a specific budget of $450.

Per dollar I got more votes than  either Brown, Doug Gansler or Heather Mizeur. More importantly, though, I would not trade my votes for all of the Brown-Gansler-Mizeur votes put together because my votes were obtained using “kosher” means.  I would like to thank all of the people who had the courage to say enough is enough with corruption and let it be known it is time for ethical change.

Although the Jaffe Movement did not win the war, we did win a battle.  It’s a victory that will advance the Jaffe Movement into its next phase on the road to real, true ethical reform.

Ralph Jaffe
Baltimore

Why the Presbyterian Divestment Vote Matters

The recent decision by the Presbyterian Church (USA) is hurtful on real-world terms and gets in the way of what most Israelis and Paletinians want: two secure states. Most Israelis support the formal establishment  of Palestine, as do most American Jews. The Palestinian Authority has actively stated that the movement  for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is inimical to Palestinian interests, recently arresting a BDS activist in the West Bank.

I deeply appreciate the Christian calls to peacemaking and justice that inspires the PCUSA. Even so, this decision to divest from three U.S.-based companies undermines the church in its ability to do either.  Instead, it has marginalized its voice from the Israeli and American Jewish communities who would be willing partners in realizing common aspirations and goals. Its ability to be a respected and trusted partner in these critical conversations has been deeply, perhaps irrevocably, damaged.

This unfortunate move comes on the heels of the church’s publication of “Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide,” which is widely viewed as anti-Israel and anti-Jewish in that it denies the right of the State of Israel to exist as the Jewish state.  As noted in an open letter signed  by more than 1,700 rabbis, cantors, rabbinical students and cantorial  students, it charges Zionism and  Israel as “false theology,” “heretical doctrine,” “evil pathology,” “racism” and “cultural genocide.” (Disclosure: I am a signatory.)

The official “State Department Guidelines on Anti-Semitism” includes denying Israel’s right to exist as well as applying Nazi imagery to Jews or Israel in its list of offensive actions. By this definition “Zionism Unsettled” is anti-Semitic. This confluence of action is all part of a larger movement of  the PCUSA to place the entire onus of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict solely and squarely on Israel, to view the Palestinians exclusively as victims  and to appease an extremely vocal  minority subset of the church at the expense of any semblance of fairness. As noted in an open letter to  the PCUSA by Rev. Christopher Leighton, the executive director of  the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies and a Presbyterian minister, it turns the church “from peacemakers to polemicists, and from honest dialogue partners to partisan ideologues.”

This lack of balance is reflected in how the PCUSA process mainstreamed Jewish Voices for Peace, outliers in the Jewish community, for its own purposes and at the expense of the relationships with the Jewish community’s recognized leaders in interfaith dialogue. Jewish Voices for Peace ostensibly shares the same goals as the Israeli government and majority of the American Jewish community: a just and secure peace built on a two-state solution. Yet, the organization goes beyond the pale in its absolute support of BDS.

It is not the mainstream representative of the American Jewish community as are the Jewish Council on Public Affairs and the Council of Jewish  Federations. It is they who represent  all the Jewish religious denominations and Jewish communities across the country through the Israel Action  Network. Not only did the PCUSA cadre responsible for hijacking the process of open conversation rely on JVP outliers, while ignoring the overwhelming chorus of American Judaism, it even disallowed their own church members who have gone on interfaith trips with Jewish sponsorship from  providing their perspectives of witness and testimony to the proceedings at  the General Assembly.

If the American Jewish community feels frustrated and ignored, Israelis feel an even more pernicious betrayal. Protections for Christian in Israel are taken seriously by the Israeli government. Israel is the only area in the Middle East that safeguards the practice of Christianity in its widely diverse presentations. Government funds build churches and parochial Christian schools. Only in Israel proper does Christianity thrive in the region. Yet, these values and commitments are ignored by the Christian BDS activists as are the Christian tribulations under Palestinian rule. Israelis do not understand how these facts on the ground can be ignored.

The PCUSA decision is even more distressing, especially to Israelis, when three Israeli teenagers had been kidnapped (and subsequently murdered), Hamas has been shooting rockets at southern Israel and the Golan Heights is being bombed. It seems that the only concern that commands the attention of the Presbyterian Church is Israel and the Palestinians. It is befuddling that the church has nothing to say about human rights abuses in China, the attacks against Christians in Africa and the Middle East, Buddhist oppression of Muslims in Asia, the Russian annexation of Crimea, repression of or attacks against women such as the laws forbidding women to drive cars in Saudi Arabia or ongoing kidnappings of Nigerian girls by Boko Haram. There has been no call to divest from companies doing business with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen or the like. One wonders what makes Israel so special in the hearts and minds of the PCUSA to warrant such exclusive attention.

The PCUSA has led the way in creating a roundtable including other Protestant and Roman Catholic  representatives. Sadly, the majority of the mainline Protestant churches are represented in this effort. While the financial reality of divestiture may have limited impact, these denominations share a message that reaches millions of Americans. When these messages are built on anti-Semitic agendas that demonize Israel and Jews, the concern extends far deeper than investment dollars. The movement from anti-Israeli activism to anti-Jewish theology might not be overt or even conscious. That does not make the threat any less pernicious or the concern any less real.

­­Rabbi David Greenspoon is an educator,  theologian and writer who has been deeply
involved in interfaith dialogue and education  efforts for more than 25 years. A former Navy reserve chaplain, he is a guest rabbinic scholar in a wide variety of Christian and Jewish settings. He is based in Baltimore.

In the Footsteps of Abraham

Except for the saints among us, we all boast. Sometimes, we boast about our own natural endowments, our good looks or our athletic prowess. Often, we boast about our achievements, social or professional.

There is one type of boasting that seems to be unique to the traditional Jewish community. That is boasting not about oneself, but rather about one’s teachers or rebbeim. Thus, you will find young people saying, “My rebbe is greater than yours!” Or, “I am a student of so-and-so, so you better respect me for that!”

For some of us, it sounds strange that a person would claim religious or intellectual superiority on the basis of the identity of his teacher. After all, the piety or wisdom of a teacher does not necessarily filter down to the disciple.

My paternal grandfather, Reb Chaim Yitzchak Weinreb, of blessed memory, was particularly perturbed about this phenomenon. He felt it was much more important to be able to claim that one was actually walking in the footsteps of the master, behaviorally emulating his virtues and accomplishments.

One of the proof texts which he adduced to help drive this lesson home was a passage in the fifth chapter of “Pirkei Avot,” which reads:

“A generous eye, a modest demeanor and a humble soul are the traits of the disciples of our father Abraham. An evil eye, an arrogant demeanor and an insatiable soul are attributes of the disciples of the wicked Balaam.”

My grandfather would expound upon the above text by saying: “Imagine that a person studied for years under some great Chassidic rebbe, dressed like him and imitated his every gesture. Or imagine the student who attended the lectures of some great yeshiva head and could actually repeat every word verbatim. But if that person or student was guilty of envy, of arrogance or of selfishness, he would be categorized by our Sages not as a disciple of the great rebbe or Talmudist, but as the disciple of the wicked Balaam.”

He would continue to drive home his point by stressing the flip side of the teaching: “On the other hand, imagine the person to whom circumstances denied the privilege of spending time with a great Chassidic rebbe or the chance to study under the tutelage of a Talmudic giant. But if that person was generous, modest and humble, he could lay claim to the title ‘disciple of our father Abraham.’”

Balaam is the main character in this week’s Torah portion. There is much to be gained from a careful study of Balaam’s behavior. One major lesson is that a person can be wise and famous, internationally renowned and endowed with mystical powers and the gift of prophecy, yet be done in by the flaws of his personal character.

I no longer remember whether or not I asked my grandfather the question that occurred to me long ago about the passage in “Pirkei Avot.” I remain puzzled by why our Sages choose not to compare Balaam with his contemporary and adversary Moses. Why do they instead choose to contrast him with Abraham, who lived centuries before Balaam?

I have come to believe that our Sages had good reason for preferring the Balaam/Abraham comparison. I suggest that our rabbis were fascinated by the many similarities between the two. They were both prophets, but prophets whose missions were not confined to the Jewish people. Balaam was designated as a prophet for all the nations of the world and Abraham, although the biological father of the Jewish people, was also the av hamon goyim, the spiritual father of all of humanity.

Both Abraham and Balaam shared the unusual power of being able to bless others effectively. Of Abraham, it is written, “I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” And Balak, king of Moab, is sufficiently confident of Balaam’s abilities to say, “For I know that he whom you bless is blessed indeed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

Furthermore, both Abraham and Balaam set off on long journeys, one to the binding of Isaac and the other to nefariously undermine the people of Israel. Both wake up in the early morning to load their donkeys in preparation of their journeys. And each of them is accompanied upon his journey by two young servants.

The message seems clear. Two individuals who are similar to each other in so many ways can ultimately be so different that one’s disciples “inherit the World to Come,” whereas the disciples of the other “inherit gehinnom and go down to the pit of destruction.”

One fails to properly use his divinely given blessings and, because of his “evil eye, arrogant demeanor and insatiable soul,” becomes the archetype of perversion and treachery.

The other cultivates “a generous eye, a modest demeanor and a humble soul” with such success that those of us who emulate him, even if we live millennia after his death, can lay claim to being his disciples.

The next time someone asks you, “Under whom did you study? Whose disciple are you,” I hope that you can say that you are at least striving to become a disciple of Abraham.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is the executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union.

Peres, Dershowitz, Obama — and Pollard

Last week, a perfect storm of sorts formed over Washington in the long campaign to win Jonathan Pollard’s release from a life sentence  for espionage. Both Harvard professor Alan
Dershowitz, a Pollard supporter for decades, and outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has a tangled relationship with the Pollard case, urged President Barak Obama to grant clemency to the 59-year-old former civilian Navy analyst.

Dershowitz’s request came in the form of a June 22 letter, signed by Dershowitz and nine other North American legal scholars, including Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian justice minister, and former ACLU President Nadine Stroessen. They offered 10 now familiar arguments for Pollard’s immediate release, including that Pollard’s life sentence on one count of  espionage is “unprecedented … excessive, grossly disproportionate, unfair and unjust” for a crime that is normally punished by “six to eight years.” And, they argued, the sentence is “a breach of [Pollard’s] plea bargain, wherein the prosecution had agreed not to seek life imprisonment in return for Pollard’s guilty plea.”

The day after the letter was released, Peres visited Obama at the White House and made a personal plea for Pollard’s release. Peres was Israel’s prime minister when Pollard was arrested outside the  Israeli Embassy in Washington in 1985 and charged with espionage. Peres’ attempt at moral suasion is a belated effort to win some justice for a botched Israeli spy operation that occurred on his watch and for which Pollard paid the price.

After the presidents met, Peres told reporters that Obama said he will have the U.S. attorney general consider an “offer” Peres made. Whether further effort in support of this “offer” is needed is unknown. But Pollard is eligible for parole in 2015. With that date looming, we wonder whether it is the best and highest use of the time and resources of those seeking Pollard’s release for what might be a very short period of early release.

Over the years, Jonathan Pollard has amassed a large number of very staunch supporters —  Dershowitz among them. If those supporters choose to continue their long effort for Pollard, and believe that even a token amount of  early release time is worth it, we won’t stand in their way.

‘Our Boys’

People gather for a vigil for the three Israeli teens outside the  Israeli Consulate on June 16.

People gather for a vigil for the three Israeli teens outside the Israeli Consulate on June 16.

In the weeks since their disappearance while hitchhiking home from their West Bank yeshiva, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel became household names for many. For those who held their photos aloft at vigils, taped their pictures to their front doors or tied three yellow ribbons around a front-yard tree, they became familiar faces, deeply embedded in our hearts. Here and in Israel, they became “our boys.”

The news on Monday that the three teens were found dead in shallow graves north of Hebron does not loosen those bonds. We all feel the grief and the loss as extended family.

It is expected that this tragic waste of sacred human life will serve to enflame relations between Israel and the Palestinians at a time when conciliation and cooperation are needed. If that was the killers’ objective, they succeeded. But the consequences and reactions to these horrific crimes won’t be pretty. Israel has an obligation to protect her citizenry whether they live in the Golan, the Negev, Central Israel or the West Bank.†And the tension, distrust and hatred that will flow from these horrific crimes is inevitable.

As we go to press, the facts of what happened are still coming in. But last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the  abduction, and after massive searches of the  West Bank during which dozens of Hamas  operatives were arrested, two men tied to Hamas were named as prime suspects. If Hamas is responsible for these crimes, that would be further evidence of how unsuited Hamas is to be part of a Palestinian government that seeks international sanction. If Hamas is shown to have been complicit in the kidnappings and murders, it deserves nothing less than international  condemnation and isolation.

And if, unlikely that it is, Hamas is found  not to have authorized the kidnapping or the murders, it still deserves condemnation for both celebrating the abductions and creating an environment in which the hatred that motivated the teens’ killers can thrive.

There will be those, of course, who will try to make excuses for the Palestinians, pointing out that the teenagers were settlers and that the Palestinians are an “oppressed” people. And there will be those who will counsel restraint in response to these events. But as we commented after news surfaced of the teens’ abductions, the targeting of  innocents is not the hallmark of a civilized society. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. Thus, when the face of Israel’s enemy includes those who slaughter children, the word “restraint” shouldn’t be the first thing to come from the lips of Israel’s allies.

We mourn with the families of our boys. We condemn those who prey upon innocents out of pure hatred and who target the young as a means of causing the most pain to their adversaries. Such acts of cruelty are beyond the pale and cannot be tolerated.

May the memory of our boys be for a blessing, and may we and our Israeli brothers and sisters overcome our revulsion and pain as we pray for peace in our homeland.

Unity in Tragedy

runyan_josh_otThis column was supposed to begin on a positive note, seeing in the recent fundraising prowess of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore a message that Jewish unity is alive and strong and can be marshaled to face the challenges of poverty and generational apathy.

That all remains true, but Monday afternoon, the world learned the fate of “our boys”: Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, had been murdered, their bodies found in shallow graves in an open field just north of Hebron. Investigators indicated that they were likely slain soon after their June 12 disappearance, meaning that not only had the international campaign to bring them home come to naught, it was in all probability futile from the very start.

Responses to the tragedy, whether here in Baltimore, in Israel or elsewhere in the world, are predictably raw. These teenagers were not soldiers, they were innocent children. That their blood was spilled has only highlighted the barbarity of the perpetrators and put in focus the culture of Palestinian hatred that celebrated the crimes.

As Owings Mills JCC receptionist Tzippie Mahr told the JT, when she found out, we are all “shattered and frightened.”

But as the boys’ parents, joined by the worldwide Jewish community, mourn, the issue will invariably turn to where to go from here. The boys’ disappearance three weeks ago unlocked a groundswell of fraternal identification: They were not somebody else’s children, they were ours. It was not some distant nation’s problem, but a pain that pierced the soul of many a Jew.

The pain will of course remain, but let’s not forget the unity that revealed itself in tragedy. Let’s always remember that what happens on one side of the Jewish world affects those on the other side, that the pain — and happiness — of one is the pain and happiness of us all. At the end of the day, ours is a global community like none other; since time immemorial, the Jewish people’s strength has come to the fore when we’ve been able to look past our individual differences in responding to external threats.

In the desert, the challenge was how to channel divinity in a physical world, and it was only through the communal efforts of individuals — rich and poor, strong and weak, each contributing just a half shekel — that the Tabernacle could be constructed. Today, the challenge is how to make a community of Jews into a Jewish community, making sure that each person matters and is fulfilled, both materially and spiritually. The Associated’s annual campaign, which tellingly did not decrease despite the halting pace of the greater economic recovery, is a step in the right direction. Over the past year, the number of donors who collectively contributed $30 million in unrestricted funds increased by more than 10 percent to 10,000. Over the coming year, more people should “buy in” and do so as well at their synagogues and day schools.

The task is not easy, but building community is ultimately a communal endeavor.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

A Promise to Protect Us

Even though he led the Jewish people through great adversity, Moshe, a man so righteous that he spoke mouth to mouth with G-d, never set foot in Israel. What sin could be so great as to not permit such a holy leader like Moshe to enter Eretz Yisroel?

This week’s parshah provides commentaries with potential sins Moshe could have committed to deserve such a punishment. In the parshah, Miriam dies, and the Jewish people thirst and complain for water, so G-d tells Moshe to speak to the rock and command it to bring forth water. However, Moshe, angered by the Israelites, strikes the rock. Some commentaries, such as Rashi’s, believe that Moshe’s sin involved striking the rock instead of speaking to it as G-d had commanded. Others, such as that of Maimonides, explain that because Moshe became angered by the Jewish people and addressed them as “Hear now, you rebels,” he was denied entrance to the Holy Land.

However, in the Torah, Hashem says to Moshe, “Because you did not believe in me, you will not enter the Promised Land.” Nachmanidies elucidates that Moshe’s sin was his failure to recognize Hashem in the miracle of water flowing out from the rock. Instead, Moshe tells the Jewish people, “Shall we (Moshe and Aharon) get you water out of this rock?”

As Jewish people, we are persecuted and experience anti-Semitism, yet somehow we persevere and continue to survive. It is crucial to recognize that our unnatural survival stems from Hashem’s greatness and promise to protect us. While it is easy to dismiss this and believe that our survival and success is accredited to our own accomplishments, we must acknowledge G-d’s immense role in our resilience.