From the Rabbi - February 2010 Print
Dear Friends,


For the last two weeks of January and from now on until Simchat Torah in October, we’re reading Torah passages completely suffused by the presence of Moses.  He is such a ubiquitous figure that the Pentateuch is often called “Torat Moshe,” the Torah of Moses.  And that is because the name “Moses” appears in the text almost as often as the name of the deity!


Let me share two ideas about Moses and his popularity.


First, you might note the difference between God and Moses.  God is the giver of the Torah; Moses is the receiver.  Neither one is sufficient without the other, much in the same way that the quarterback is irrelevant unless there is a wide receiver somewhere down the field to catch his pass during the Super Bowl.  Early midrashic texts (about 1500 or more years ago) tell us that God had the Torah in heaven long before the creation of the world, but that the Torah without people to act on it was, in reality, a dead letter.  Nothing could happen with Torah, it could have no effect, until some people on earth received it and took it seriously.  Moses and the Israelites who gathered at Sinai with him – and all of their successors, which means us – became the doers of Torah, the catalyst that made the high ideals embodied in the books come to life.


Moses, then, becomes the symbol for all of us who proudly proclaim that we are “the people of the book.”  (By the way, that expression first was used in the Koran, where Jews are called “ul hakitab.”  Sometimes it helps to read what others have written about us.  Maybe they are not always wrong.)  Our mission, our task on earth, is to make the values of Torah real in the society in which we live.  Like Moses who had to transmit the values of the new revelation to his people, our purpose as modern Jews is no different: we are the people who are commanded by God to make Torah values come into reality in our world.  That makes Moses a pretty important and persistent figure; he represents what we ourselves are supposed to do with our lives.


A second thought – I have been reading Bruce Feiler’s book about Moses.  It is called “America’s Prophet,” and it is a book well worth reading.  Bruce traces how the idea and image of Moses has persisted in American history, motivating all sorts of different people in different eras and ages to thoughts and actions that produced freedom.  From the words of the New England Pilgrims to George Washington to the Civil War (both sides!) to Martin Luther King, Jr., Moses has been summoned to speak for the oppressed and persecuted and to encourage those who would alleviate their burdens.  In a telling passage, the author points out that Moses was called forward more frequently in Civil War rhetoric than even Jesus; he was that important.   Bruce’s point is that no other figure in the mythology of America has been so constant and so important as Moses, and that alone should make us want to hear, over and over, the story of this legendary Jewish leader.

You will enjoy and learn from reading Bruce’s book.  Even more, you will enjoy and learn from reading Moses’ book.  Or better yet, try both.  Like chicken soup, it won’t hurt you, and it might just make a difference in your life.

 

       Shalom,

      Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi