Weekly Davar: Beshalach 2022

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Davar Thought

God tells the Jewish People to turn back towards Egypt, that Pharoah would chase after them with his army and then God would finish him off completely. The next verse says that they did so without question. The Medieval commentator, Rashi, says that this is a praise of the Jewish People. Even though they had just left Egypt – and the last direction they wanted to turn was back – they did so at the command of Moses. They trusted Moses.

However…just a few verses later, when Pharaoh does indeed chase with his army, the Torah says that the Jewish People were terrified. But surely, if they trusted Moses to turn back, in full knowledge that Pharaoh would chase them, why did they not trust Moses when he had said that God would save them?

On some level, I think this happens to all of us in life. We have the courage and determination to make a right decision, but when it comes to carrying it out, we lose heart and fall at the first hurdle. The diet that only lasts a few days, even though we felt so strongly about it; the person who gets angry, in a circumstance where he was determined not to. The utterly sincere New Year’s resolution that fails on January 2nd. It happens to the best of us because we are all human. The Torah still praises the Jewish People, however, in spite of their immediate failure – and I believe that our own heartfelt decisions are also precious, even if we don’t ultimately live up to them.

But Rashi is pointing out something further.

Why did they fail? Because they trusted Moses. Not God. They trusted the judgement of a human being, not their own inner truth. Whilst trusting our own inner truth is no guarantee of success, trusting human beings is almost a guarantee that we will fall at the first hurdle.

When I go into a shop with a mask on because the government has told me to do so – and no one else is wearing one – it’s incredibly hard to keep it on. But, when I wear a mask because it makes sense to me to do so, trusting my own judgment inoculates me from the social pressure. If my wife tells me it’s time for my son to go to bed, and I run off to do so like a good husband, it’s not hard for my son to twist me round his little finger and stay up longer. But when I see for myself that he needs to go to bed now, that’s what will happen.

Doing things because others have told us is not necessarily a bad thing – but it’s a weak reason and we will likely fail as soon as the going gets a little bit tough. Doing things, on the other hand, because of our own inner truth and conviction is strong as steel. It’s no absolute guarantee. However, the most likely way for us to follow through on the decisions that we make is to follow what we know in our hearts, not what others tell us to do.

Shabbat Shalom

Parsha in a Nutshell

The Jews leave Egypt. Pharaoh chases. The sea splits. The Jews come out the other side; the Egyptians don’t. God provides mannah for the hungry and complaining Jews. Amalek attacks and is repulsed. It’s all heading towards the big climax next week.

Weekly Davar: Shemos 2021

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

What does one have to do to be remembered?

I visited the disused Rice Lane Cemetery in Liverpool a few months ago. Three of my great grandparents are buried there. Whenever I walk through an older graveyard like this, the above thought occurs to me. Because I start to think that human beings, living, breathing, feeling human beings, just like me, have become nothing more than meaningless names on stones. No one remembers them. No one is interested in them. Gone, as though they never existed. And then I consider that the same fate awaits me.

And yet, when in this week’s portion Moses is born, I see there is another option. Because three thousand, three hundred years later, he is by no means forgotten.

I used to believe that to be remembered you had to write a book – and it had to be a really good one. Or paint a masterpiece. Visiting the Van Gogh immersive experience a few weeks ago reminded me of that. One hundred and thirty years after his death, he is more famous than ever – and will likely never be forgotten. Did you know, by the way, that he painted most of his paintings in the last two years of his life. Hundreds of paintings, that sell for upwards of $100,000,000, he painted in a day and a half each. A reminder of how much productivity is available to us human beings.

Nowadays, however, I think that being remembered can happen in many ways. But, most fundamentally, you must do something that matters – for better or for worse. Hitler will be no less remembered than Churchill, Stalin, no less than Mandela. You must do something that impacts society as a whole. That’s the only way not to become just a name on a gravestone in a forgotten cemetery.

I’ve talked before about the grave of Israel Poznanski in Lodz. A mausoleum larger than my house, of marble, and a mosaic made up of millions of pieces of glass……lies forgotten and decaying, in a forlorn graveyard, bereft of its once vibrant community. It’s deeds that matter, not monuments. And Moses had the deeds – not the monument.

But I want to share something my wife says whenever I share such morbid reflections with her. Do we really want to be remembered? Do we need it? Is it not simply ego and vanity?

Surely, it is the contribution itself that matters? Living in the feeling of life and sharing that with others for as long as we are blessed to do so. What means more than that? That others remember you when you are gone? And then these remembers, themselves, become the same dust that you did? It seems so irrelevant.

So, let Israel Poznanski’s mausoleum crumble to dust. What matters is how he lived his life. What matters is how each of us live our own lives. We get a tiny fraction of a moment to enjoy this world and make our own unique contribution. I, for one, am going to do my best to live my life right now. And, if I am remembered or not, matters not one iota. I’m happy to become a forgotten name in a neglected graveyard.

Shabbat Shalom

Parsha in a Nutshell

Egypt is the prototype for future Jewish settlement in exile. Firstly, the Jews move out to the suburbs, in this case Goshen. Then they become successful. Then they assimilate into Egyptian society and make vast contributions. Then social acceptance and complete integration, right? Not quite. A new Pharaoh arises who decides that Jewish children are far better off swimming at the bottom of the Nile. And so the persecution begins.

A child is born who is to be the saviour of the Jewish nation. Saved by Pharaoh’s daughter, he is brought up as a prince. She names him Moses. He does not forget his origins and when confronted with an Egyptian murdering a Jew, he kills the Egyptian and flees to Ethiopia. Many years later, God appears to him at a burning bush. After some arm-twisting, Moses agrees to return to Egypt to lead the Jewish people to freedom. Not surprisingly, Pharaoh is none too enamoured with the idea of losing his entire unpaid workforce overnight. He decides to put down the potential mutiny before it begins and significantly increases the workload on the Jewish slaves. Again, not surprisingly, the Jews are not too excited with Moses’ efforts so far and the portion ends with him in everyone’s bad books – part and parcel of being a leader, in particular in the Jewish community.

Right On

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Amazingly, in the portion of Pinchas, Moses records an incident in which he is proven wrong by five young girls. It’s hard to imagine how Moses can possibly maintain his credibility as the leader of the nation and the lawgiver if a few youngsters know the law better than he does!

One thing is clear: In a world where power, control and personal honor reign supreme, Moses and other biblical figures stick out like a sore thumb.

Continue reading “Right On”