Monday, June 30, 2008


The Captive Flock
Rabbi Gustavo Suraski
There is a famous israeli joke about an El Al plane that landed at Ben Gurion during the winter. As the plane landed, the captain's voice came over the loudspeaker as usual saying, "Ladies and gentlemen welcome to Tel Aviv. Please remain in your places with your seat belts fastened until the plane comes to a complete halt at the terminal." And a few seconds later he added: "El Al wishes a Happy Chanukah to those standing in the aisle...and a Merry Christmas to those who are still in their places".

It's well known that we are a people who lack patience. We are far from perfect. We not only want to be first getting off the plane, but we also want to be first to get on the bus, first on line at the supermarket and first to make the left turn when the light turns green. From time of the generation that left Egypt, we are a people lacking patience. A similar thing happened to them. When they were there, they wanted to leave. When they left, they wanted to return.
Perhaps the very night we hurriedly packed our suitcases and left Egypt before the dough had a chance to rise left its mark on our collective memory. It appears that since that night we have the basic feeling that we must hurry, that there isn't enough time...and as we all know, sometimes we pay a heavy price for our impatience.
Tens of explanations have been given about Moshe's sin of hitting the rock in Parashat Chukat. There are those who say that Moshe hit the rock twice instead of once. There are those who say that Moshe lost his balance and hit the rock instead of speaking to it. There are all kinds of explanations accusing Moshe of being unable to control his passions and losing his patience when he should have been setting a personal example for the people.
However, how is it possible to understand the severity of the punishment that Moshe received after this sin? Did G-d really notify Moshe that his mission had ended just because Moshe had lost his patience? Why did G-d decree that Moshe could not bring his people to the Promised Land?
There is a midrash in Midrash Tanhuma that supplies an answer to the question and throws light upon the events of the sin at the "Waters of Contention" (Mei Merivah).
When Moshe begged to enter the Land, the midrash brings G-d's answer. G-d said to Moshe: On what grounds do you want to come into the Land? Like the parable of the shepherd who tended the flocks of the king and the sheep were captured. The shepherd requested entrance to the main hall of the king and the king said, "People will say that you are responsible for the sheep's capture. At this point G-d said to Moshe: "Your greatness is that you have taken the 600,000 out of bondage. But you have buried them in the desert and will bring into the land a different generation! This being so, people will think that the generation of the desert have no share in the World to Come! No, better be beside them, and you shall in the time to come enter with them" (Tanhuma, Chukat).
Professor Y. Leibowitz of blessed memory, analyzes this midrash brilliantly and adds a parable of his own about the fate of a captain whose ship sinks at sea. In the maritime world, says Leibowitz, it is customary that when a ship sinks at sea, even if the catastrophe was caused by external forces over which the captain had no control, he cannot leave the ship until the last of the passengers is saved, and if not he must go down with the ship. Professor Leinbowitz adds, "Moshe Rabennu did not succeed in his mission because of flaws in himself or in his leadership, the flaw lay in that "crooked and perverse generation" (Dueteronomy 32:5). This whole generation was condemned to die in the wilderness, but their leader also lost his right to lead and his verdict was the identical with that of his charges...the fate of a leader cannot be separated from the fate of his charges...and the failures of the generation denies the right of leadership from their leader".
It is really irrelevant to try to clarify who was guilty in the episode of Mei Merivah. The nature of the sin is also unimportant. The important thing here is that the fate of the leader and the fate of the led are identical and it is impossible to separate them, for good or for bad. It is impossible to cut a leader off from his people in the same way that a shepherd cannot be detached from his flock or the captain from his ship. They either go together hand in hand, or else they go nowhere. One has no existence without the other.

Monday, June 23, 2008


The Story of Two Kings and One Crown

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

Parashat Korach is one of my favourites. To me it seems to have a message very relevant to our day, which proves that "stinking manoeuvres" in politics are not an invention of the twentieth century.

The dispute of Korach and his gathering which is described in detail in our portion, is actually the ugly manoeuvre of a dangerous man. Korach leads a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and puts forward claims and arguments that are ostensibly "democratic" and "equitable".

However, in effect, Korach's aim is to lead the people of Israel into anarchy so that he can reap the benefit. A sentence like "all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and G-d is among them. Why then do you lift yourselves up above the congregation of the Lord?" can only be the product of a populistic approach.

Korach is actually a great demagogue who exploits the momentum of uncertainty among the people in order to rebel against Moses.

Just a week ago, it was decreed that that generation would wander for forty years in the desert. A whole generation would for forty years go nowhere. Korach knew that this was a suitable time to undermine the leadership of Moses.

But the main point of this story is that all Korach's arguments were based on a lie. Korach was convinced that Moses had to share the leadership with him.

Democracy is not only a matter of equality but also recognition of the authority of the ruler.

Let me suggest a comparison:

Anyone who has learned how to drive knows that a vehicle has a double system. The person behind the wheel can accelerate but also stop the car. However, even in such a complex system, one thing remains unique: the steering wheel! Only one person can decide whether to turn right or left. There cannot be two drivers of the same vehicle simultaneously.

There is an important rule in the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 27b) which states that two voices are not heard together. For that reason, two people are not allowed to read the Torah together. The person who goes up to read the Torah does not read together with the ba'al kri'a but reads alone at his own pace so that the congregation will not be confused by hearing two voices at the same time.

A leader can allow his people to participate in many matters. He can appoint advisers, judges and ministers, do everything except hand over the wheel.

That was Korach's mistake. Only one person can wear the crown.

Previous Drashot

Korach 5766 – Misguided Dreams

Monday, June 02, 2008


To Be an Adjective

By Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

According to our Sages, Nachshon Ben Aminadav was the first to leap into the water at the time of the parting of the Red Sea, and according to that same Midrash, we refer to all those who jump first into a dangerous and important mission by the name “Nachshonim”, in memory of Nachshon Ben Aminadav.

Unintentionally, Nachshon Ben Aminadav changed his first name into an adjective… a rare and special accomplishment.

If we listen to a Socratic style philosopher, or to a psychologist with a Freudian approach, or a playwright in the Shakespearean style, this linguistic phenomenon does not speak only of the philosopher, the psychologist or the playwright, but of the individual who contributed his name (to the dictionary) and converted it to an adjective.

This same individual who converted his name to an adjective left behind, not incidentally, his imprint on the world. Nevertheless, it is fitting to note that the influences are not necessarily positive ones (to say that a politician has a Hitlerian world concept is not a great compliment). However, Nachshon ben Aminadav, on the basis of his pioneering action, without a doubt a positive action, converted his name to an adjective.

Parashat Nasso is the longest section in the Torah, with 176 verses. However, if we closely inspect the verses, we discover that many of the verses repeat themselves over and over. The twelve princes of the tribes presented, one after the other over a period of twelve days, their offerings for the Mishkan upon the completion of its construction. Twelve times the Torah repeats the giving of the offerings, word for word – changing only the name of the giver.

Nachshon ben Aminadav , the leader of the tribe of Judah, gave his offering on the first day. However, Nachshon ben Aminadav is not called "Nassi" (prince). He is the only one among all of the twelve princes who is not referred to by title but solely by his full name. (“And he that presented his offering the first day was Nachshon the son Aminadav, of the tribe of Judah” (Bemidbar 7:12).

What happened here? Why is this?

There are those who are always referred to with their titles preceding their names (Dr. So-and-so, Professor …. , etc.) But there are those who do not attach titles. They do not require them.

An interesting example is that of Moses our Rabbi. All of the other Rabbi’s names are preceded by their title: Rabbi Akiva, Rabban Gamliel, our Rabbenu Tam.

With Moses it is different. He is not “our Rabbi Moses” (Rabbenu Moshe) rather Moses, our Rabbi (Moshe Rabbenu).


For the simple reason that his name was greater than his title. He was worthy of admiration and honor because he was Moses, not because of he was a Rabbi.

There is a similarity in what happened with Nachshon ben Aminadav…if you are Nachshon, you do not require a title. Your name says it all. Your name rises above any title. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai speaks in the Mishna of "three crowns" or titles of leadership that the Torah requires us to treat with respect.

The "three crowns" are: the crown of Torah, the crown of Cohanim (Priesthood) and the crown of kingdom. But he emphasizes that there is an additional crown, the crown of a good name, which rises above them all (Avot 4, Mishna 13).

We can recognize a person by his title. He is a King, a Rabbi or a Cohen. He is a doctor, a professor or a judge. Yet there is no crown that rises above the crown of a good name. If you have a good name, not title is necessary.

Previous Drashot

Naso 5766 – Take them also