Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk


            Before I get to my Torah thought of the week, I must make an embarrassing confession.  I LOVE movies.  I watch more movies that I should, and I remember movie plots and trivia forever.  As a rabbi and teacher, there are times when I'm teaching a class or I'm studying a text, and in my mind I'm comparing the material to a movie scene, and I've got to resist letting on that my mind has gone off to the silver screen rather than the parchment folio.  There are already a lot of people who think that I'm crazy, I'd rather not convince them of the point.  So, please, forgive me that I want to make two points this week, which are movie based.  When I ponder the stories here at the beginning of the book of Exodus, I not only think of Rashi's comments and Maimonides' philosophy, but I can't ignore the p'shat of Cecil B. DeMille (The Ten Commandments, 1956) and the drash of that Jewish triumvirate of Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen (Prince of Egypt, 1998).  But this year while comparing a clip from the two films for my classes at Bi-Cultural Day School here in Stamford, I noticed something I had always missed before, and that will introduce my thought for the week.

            In 1956, Cecil B. DeMille refused to reveal who did the voice of God, out of respect for the sanctity of the scene.  He took this movie very seriously.  However, the voice is really deep and impressive.  I guess appropriate to a Deity.  In 1998 when making its famous animated version, the SKG team decided to use Val Kilmer who also voiced over for Moshe to do God.  I think that that is really a cool idea.  The voice of God is heard by everyone as their own voice.  We all experience God in our own way.  So, that at Mt. Sinai there were 600,000 different voices of God.  I like that idea.  But this year I observed a change in the Biblical script of the 1956 version, which had slipped my notice before.  After the 'Moses, Moses' and 'Here I am' repartee, Moshe has the chutzpah to ask if God is aware of the fact that the Jews are suffering in Egypt.  This is the only digression from the original Torah text for this scene.  Why would Moshe bring this up before God has said anything?  I think that a cute issue is being raised.  Moshe remains painfully aware of the plight of his Jewish brethren in Egypt, but when God informs him that he will be their redeemer, Moshe claims to be incapable of the charge.  Moshe begins his prophetic career just like the rest of us.  His concern is theoretical.  Isn't it enough to recognize the problem and complain?  Do I actually have to get involved personally?  Well, yes.

            That was all in last week's Torah reading, and the parsha ended with Moshe saying:  O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people (Exodus 5:22-23).  Moshe is still trying to vacate this task.  But by the midpoint of this week's Torah reading Moshe is totally committed to the mission, even though it has barely begun.  What happens at the beginning of this parsha to convince Moshe of his connection to this job?  I believe that there are two issues which convince Moshe that he must play this part. 

            Our parsha begins with God explaining to Moshe that the relationship with the Patriarchs was different than the new situation being forged with the generation of the bondage.  Our earlier forebears discovered God through the powers of nature, and preferred to call God the Being of unlimited power (Eil Shadai).  While the Children of Israel in Egypt would be introduced to the real character of God, Who is eternal, compassionate and the author of miracles which guide the course of history and human destiny.  I believe that the critical statement is:  I will bring you to the land, concerning which I raised My hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and I will give it to you as a heritage; I am the Lord (6:8).  The heirs of the Patriarchs don't inherit, they receive the covenant as a heritage (morasha), which they are committed to pass along intact to their progeny.  This profound concept of generational responsibility begins to weigh upon Moshe, but is not alone sufficient to bring him to accept the role of redeemer.

            After this theological presentation, the Torah records Moshe's genealogy.  We recapitulate the births of the tribes until we get to Levi, and then continue with the family tree leading to Moshe.  Why this digression?  Why this repetition?  I think that it's for Moshe's sake.  Moshe is going through a sixty year long identity crisis.  When Moshe had to run away from Egypt to Midian, because of the slaying of the taskmaster, he was probably around twenty years old.  When he returns to stand again before Pharaoh he is eighty.  He left Egypt an Egyptian, and he is identified in Midian as an Egyptian (2:19).  It's only at this point that he finally is clearly a Hebrew or Jew in his own mind.  Now he can accept the responsibility of the heritage, because at last he is unequivocally part of this nation.  He commits to a role in this covenantal relationship forged between God and Avraham when he views himself as part of that community.  The unvoiced (except in the burning bush scene in the 1998 cartoon) objection to the assignment is that he's not a Hebrew; he's an Egyptian.  Until this moment.  He becomes committed to this undertaking at the moment that he recognizes his place in the heritage.

            All Jews must go through this process, especially in the Diaspora.  How much am I going to commit to the mission of the Jewish people?  Well, that depends on the level of my connectedness to this historical entity.  The more I feel ownership of this ageless tradition, the more I will fight to make sure that it gets passed on to the next generation.  My identification with this past defines my commitment to the future.            



You can subscribe to Rabbi Walk's weekly articles at WalkThroughTheParsha-subscribe@egroups.com