Tuesday, April 06, 2010


The Stork's Flaw
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
A large section of Parashat Shemini that we read this Shabbat deals with the laws of kashrut in general, and with the classification of pure and impure animals in particular.

According to the Midrash, man was the first to give names to the birds, the beasts and animals. There is something wonderful in the Hebrew names of some of the animals, names that define their essence as animals. The first man gazed into the deep-down essence of each animal and gave each one its name. The donkey ("Chamor"), for example, is characterized by the hard work it performs, always carrying loads that are heavy and difficult to bear. The name "Chamor" derives from the same root as "Chomer", that is to say, material. The donkey ("Chamor") represents the material, physical world. The dog ("Kelev") is characterized by its abundant heartiness, and its name indeed includes the word "heart" ("Lev"). It even is written in our sources that the name "Chazir" (Pig) comes from the root "Ch.Z.R" (To return) because in the future to come it will chew its cud and it will be a permitted animal.

And what about the stork?

The Vilna Gaon brings us an explanation that the stork is called "Chasida" (Pious) because it always submerses itself in the water after mating. Rashi claims in his commentaries on the Torah that it is called "Chasida" because of its pious behavior ("Chasidut") of sharing food with its friends.

If all this is so, then why does the Torah include the stork among the impure animals? That doesn't make sense!

If it performs pious acts...what could be more kosher than that?

In the writings of Rabbi Yitzhak Meir from Gur (the founder of the Gur Hassidic movement in the 19th century) there is a nice explanation concerning this matter. The generosity of the stork is restricted to its immediate circle of friends and totally disregards those who are not a part of its small group. This is not the kind of piety that Judaism believes in. Therefore, the bird is impure.

I don't know whether from a zoological standpoint this is true, but it doesn't really matter. Rabbi Yitzhak Meir from Gur says that to be pious and to be Tzadik are not necessarily the same thing.

Ten years ago I worked as a Rabbi for Jewish prisoners in the main prison in Buenos Aires. Over the course of two years, every week I provided spiritual support to criminals, Jewish thieves and even murderers, who sat in prison (some of them) for more than ten years. One of the lessons that I learned from this experience is that there is no limit to the loyalty of man, even in a setting such as this.

I remember once arriving at the prison during the intermediate days of Pesach. We were supposed to celebrate the Feast of Freedom there, of all places, and so I had brought matzah and prepared food from home for the occasion. However, when I arrived, I learned that one of the prisoners was on a hunger strike...and no one wanted to eat as a sign of identification with their friend's struggle. They were criminals, stole, cheated and even murdered. Yet they still knew the meaning of friendship and loyalty...

I read an interesting piece of research about the lives of vampire bats. It appears that if one bat doesn't succeed in obtaining blood one night, another bat that did succeed (and is a part of its group or "family") will donate some of its blood to the hungry bat. The bat that succeeds in finding a "victim" sucks blood representing 50% - 100% of its body weight, and he requires this amount on a nightly basis. However, if upon returning he finds a hungry "relative", he will contribute part of his blood to the hungry bat until be can find a victim to suck its blood. This is a basic instinct needed for survival.

In any case, the bat cannot be considered a merciful animal because of this since he remains cruel and bloodthirsty.

To be pious and to be a Tzadik are not necessarily the same.
That is the flaw of the stork.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Fortunate is the Generation

By Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

Parashat Vayikra opens with the subject of the Korbanot (offerings). One of the offerings mentioned is that of the ruler, the king and the governor.

“When a ruler sins, and does through error any one of all the things which the Lord his G-d has commanded not to be done, and is guilty: if his sin, wherein he has sinned, be know to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a male without blemish. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt-offering before the Lord; it is a sin-offering.” (Leviticus 4, 22-24)

In Rashi’s commentaries on the Torah, he says the following regarding these verses:

"When (Asher) a ruler sins" is an expression of "good fortune" (Ashrei). [Implying that] fortunate is the generation whose leader is concerned to bring an atonement for his inadvertent sins, all the more so would he regret his intentional sins".

If we read over the previous verses, we can well understand the motive of Rashi's commentary. Regarding the priest (cohen), the Torah says: "If the anointed priest shall sin" (Vayikra 4, 3). Concerning the congregation, it is written: "And if the whole congregation of Israel shall err” (Vayikra 4, 13). When speaking of an offering from an individual, it is written: “And if any one of the common people sin” (Vayikra 4, 27).

But in regard to the ruler the phrasing is different, and Rashi was sensitive to this fact. “When a ruler sins” it says in this case, and Rashi interprets the word “when” as coming from the root “fortunate” (asher/ashrei).

On the other hand, Professor Y. Leibovitz Z"L has a less optimistic interpretation of the verse.

He also sees that the language concerning the ruler is different….

"In all of the other instances it is stated “If the priest shall sin”, “and if the whole congregation shall err” – but for the ruler it is said “when a ruler sins”.

And so we find in our sources something extremely. Every soul in Israel, and even the anointed priest, might sin, but neither reality nor logic requires that they will. Hence it says "If"

But it is certain that a ruler will sin. Why? Because he is a ruler, and the power of rule has the power to spoil and corrupt the man. Therefore the Torah doesn’t speak of the event as a possibility (if a ruler sins), rather states from the beginning “when a ruler sins” because it is certain that he will sin. It is not possible that there will be a government that will not falter and err or trespass. And that is the Torah’s general attitude towards government: it recognizes it and its authority, but warily".

I don’t know which of these two interpretations is correct… possibly both of them and a word to the wise is sufficient…

May we have the privilege of having leadership with the ability to guide us along the correct path and to also have the ability to admit its mistakes and failures for the common good and in order that we might be able to say “Fortunate is the generation…”.

Previous Drashot

Vayikra 5766 – The Steps of Moses

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vayakhel - Pekudei

Builders and Inheritors

By Rabbi Gustavo Suraszki

Torah Portion Vayakhel deals with the building of the Tabernacle while the Haftarah, in Kings 2, deals with the maintenance of the Temple (except in those years when on that Shabbat we read Parashat Ha-Chodesh).

More than once have I thought that the Tabernacle is preferable to the Temple. The Tabernacle gave the people of Israel a constant feeling of building. The Tabernacle moved from place to place and it was necessary to dismantle and reconstruct it tens of times in the course of the years.

As soon as the Temple was built, the work was done. There was no more building, only maintenance.

While it is true that the Shechinah received a permanent place with the building of the Temple, we as a people lost something along the way. We stopped being builders and became inheritors, the opposite.

We lost the courage, the creative thought and the initiative that characterize generations of builders. We became inheritors and took the building for granted.

This always happens, not only with the Temple and the Tabernacle. We can see this situation on the national level and on the congregational level.

We too can ask ourselves whether we are the builders of the country or simply the inheritors. The same question is relevant today if we speak about our congregation.
Do we take it for granted or do we see it as something that needs us as builders and not just as inheritors?

Some time ago, when I spoke to our Bar-Mitzvah group about the building of the Tabernacle, one of the boys asked me a brilliant question: Where did the people of Israel find the wood for the building of the Tabernacle?

The source of the gold for the Tabernacle was clear to all. It is written in the Torah that Israel left Egypt "with great property" (Genesis: 15, 14).

The source of the material for the curtain of the Ark was also clear. The Torah tells us that we left Egypt "with flocks and herds, very much cattle" (Exodus 12, 38).

But wood? Where are there trees in the desert?

The midrash (Tanhuma, Truma) tells us that our patriarch Jacob planted them.

When he went down to Egypt, he said to his sons: "My sons, in the future you are destined to be delivered from there, and when you are redeemed, the Lord will tell you to build Him the Tabernacle! Then rise up and plant cedars now so that when you are told to build the Tabernacle, the cedars will be ready immediately." They raised up and planted trees as they were told to do.

That is a wonderful midrash. Jacob knew that neither he himself nor his sons would ever see the Tabernacle, but to build, from the Jewish viewpoint, is not only a matter of sand and plaster, stones and bricks.

To build is an enterprise that links the generations. To build is not just an action. To build is a view of life, an onward vision.

We might say that at first glance the portion Vayakhel is a general description of the architecture and interior design of the Tabernacle. But to define the Tabernacle as an arrangement of wood, metal and curtains is as absurd as to say that a Torah scroll is a hundred metres of parchment and a litre and a half of ink.

The portion Vayakhel is a call to all generations of the people of Israel to enable us to distinguish between building and vision, and simple inheritance.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Ki Tissa

Decisions with many consequences
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
If we take a look at the Ki Tissa portion in every Chumash, we will notice quite quickly that there is a very un-proportional division of the Aliyot. The first two Aliyot cover approx. 60% of the reading, and the other five Aliyot are relatively short. The impression left after the reading is that the Babylonian Sages who divided the Torah in Aliyot put a lot of thought into the division of this particular portion and within this division is a very deep message.


The idea is that they wanted only the Levites to read the second Aliyah which talks about the sin of the Golden Calf, simply because they are most deserving of this. Thousands of years ago, when Moshe came down from the mountain and saw the Golden Calf, he yelled "Whoever is for G-d, join me!" (Exodus 32, 26). That day, the great great grandfather of the Levite who stands up to read this Aliyah heard him and stood by him. My great great grandfather didn't hear Moshe and continued dancing around the Golden Calf.

The son's of the Levi tribe made a principal decision thousands of years ago to stand by Moshe as a sign of their trust in G-D. And today, hundreds of generations later the consequences of that decision still live on when we read this portion. Only a Levite will read from the Torah about the Golden Calf.

In life there are no random decisions. Every decision, every initiative, each choice may be of great consequence even in generations to come. And I do not speak only of Kohanim (Priests) and Levites. I speak of us.

I remember one of the saddest days of my life. I was 12 years old when my parents decided that the high school I chose to attend along with all of my friends was "not for me".

From the age of 8 I wanted to be an architect and that school had an architectural department. My father, for reasons that still remain unknown, decided that my future lay in a Jewish School in the center of Buenos Aires where 90% of the students were girls.

I cried all night. I had no friends there, my friends made fun of me saying I was going to a girl's school. But most importantly I cried because I wanted to be an architect, not to study Judaism!

Only today, at the age of 39, do I understand how justified my parents' decision was and just how many implications it had on my life. If not for this decision today I would probably be just another (unemployed) architect driving a cab through the streets of Buenos Aires like my "to be colleagues". If not for my parents' decision on next Shabbat at 5 in the morning I would be finishing the night shift in my cab. But as you know things did not work out that way. Instead, due to my parents' choice of that Jewish School for me, on Shabbat I will stand in my synagogue in Israel along with my family and congregation and I will speak of the Torah portion Ki Tissa..

Simply because every decision has consequences.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tetzave (Zachor)

Short Term Memory

by Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

When you talk to young people today about memory, it is inevitably about computers. This Shabbat, memory is also the central theme, but we are talking about a different process - a complicated process which takes place in our brains and not in a metal case.

However, this process, which seems so different from that of the computer world, is in actual fact quite similar. Computers also have a short term memory (RAM) and a long term memory. Every time we type letters into the computer they are stored in the short term memory (RAM) until we instruct the computer to store them in the long term memory (which is the hard disk). But if the computer should suddenly shut down for some reason before saving the data, these words would be erased from the computer.

We have thousands of files in the hard disk, but there are those which we do not generally open. We have saved them over the years – perhaps as a rough draft – and they are there somewhere in the disk, some of them probably never to see the light of day again. They will remain there until the end of time, until they are forgotten.

But sometimes there are files which we must save and back-up as these are the files which are vital to our lives, those without which, if lost forever, we would lose our way (and also mourn their loss!).

"Shabbat Zachor" is one of those backed-up memories which sees daylight every year. It is a vital file without which we would be lost.

"Remember what Amalek did unto thee, by the way, at your coming forth out of Egypt; How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. And it shall not come to pass, when the Lord thy God giveth thee rest from all thy enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the rememberance of Amalek from under the heavens; thou shalt not forget." (Deuteronomy 25, 17-19).

RaSHI said, in his interpretation of the book of Deuteronomy, that the word "Korcha" is derived from the word "Kor" (cold):

"...All the nations feared to engage in battle with you (with Israel), but he (Amalek) came and made a start and thereby showed the way to others. It may be likened to a boiling bath into which no creature is able to descend. Then came a reprobate who sprang into it; even though he was burned, he cooled it off for others."

The war with Amalek was in some way a war which opened the door to terrorist warfare, a war which targets the weak, women, the elderly and the young. And even if Amalek is beaten in the war, we have to remember that same incident.

The late Rabbi Mordechai Hacohen had this to say in his book "Al Ha-Torah" with regard to the final words of the Amalek portion "Lo Tishkach":

We have already been commanded to remember what Amalek did to us, so how are we to fulfill the command "not to forget"?! And he answers as follows: "Lo tishkach" (Thou shalt not forget) is not a commandment - lest we forget, but a real story for the future and forever. That is to say that in every generation there will be an Amalek who will renew his decrees and his persecution and that you will never be able to forget him under any circumstances…"

Thus, this Shabbat we will remember once again because there are files in the history of the Jewish people which require back-up and opening up again each year, and because without the function of memory even an entire nation can lose its way.

Previous Drashot

Tetzave (Zachor) 5766 – Brain Gym

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Deeds, not Words
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
Parashat Terumah includes the details for constructing the sanctuary in the desert and begins with the request for an offering to support this effort.

Why does the parasha open with this request? In order to be able to answer the question, we must refer to the previous Torah reading. Last week, in the last verses of Parashat Mishpatim, we heard the people of Israel say, "All that the Lord has said we will do and obey." (Exodus 24:7).

The Gemara (Eruvin 65b) tells us (by a wonderful play on words "b'koso, b'kyo ub'kaaso") that man may be known through three things: his cup, his purse and his anger.

A man's personality is revealed in these three situations: if you want to know a person, see how he behaves after drinking one too many cups of wine. What is the nature of his gayety? (The Gemara also says "wine enters, secrets leave" (Eruvin 65a) and it is worth noting that "wine" and "secret" are both 70 according to Gematria). Do you want to get to know a person? Pay attention to his behavior when he is angry. To what extent is he able to exercise self restraint? What is his temperament and you will come to know him through his temper. Do you want to get to know a person? Ask him for money! You will then see the nature of his generosity and his concern for the needs of others. You can get to know him when you come to understand why he opens his purse, to gamble or to give to charity.

Again, why does our Parasha open with the request for offerings to build the sanctuary? It appears that G-d wants to understand the nature of the people that only a week ago said "We will do and obey". "You say "We will do and obey"? Open your purses! I will come to know your true nature by your attitude to money".

It is as if G-d says, "Standing at Mt. Sinai was very exciting, but the real test is now: only now will I understand how much you believe in the words that were said there, and what is the real distance between the written record and reality.

We can learn more about this idea by a more modern example, the history of the peace agreements signed by Israel and the Arab states. I remember when the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt was signed, I was nine years old and the world stood still for two hours. I was then in the fourth grade in a Jewish school in Buenos Aires, all lessons were stopped and we all sat opposite the one black and white 14 inch television and witnessed that historic moment. The second ceremony that I remember, between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 I watched by myself at home. The third ceremony between Israel and Jordan in 1994 I watched by myself, on and off. I don't even remember if I watched the fourth ceremony at all. I don't remember when it was and I think it was scarcely mentioned in the news. Today, every sensible person understands that a ceremony is a ceremony and nothing more than that. Ceremonies and declarations are important things, but behind the ceremonial must lie honest and serious intentions.

Our Parasha which deals with the building of the sanctuary shortens the distance between the world of words and the world of deeds. "We will listen and obey" was only an impressive declaration. But declarations do not make history unless they are followed by deeds. G-d himself hints at the beginning of our parasha that the stage of words only has ended.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


To go according to the majority?

By Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

A well-known text appears in our Torah Portion, Mishpatim: "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil, neither shalt thou speak in a cause to incline after a multitude to pervert (justice)." (Exodus 23:2) Actually, only the last words Acharei Rabim Lehatot (to incline after a multitude) are the famous ones. To go according to the majority is a kind of slogan that supports democratic regimes.

However, if we discuss the spirit of the verse, we will see that the Torah says the opposite of the impression gained from the text during the generations. The Torah says that the majority does not always make right decisions.

There are several midrashim on this verse that try to settle the issue, especially as it is known that the majority opinion was a supreme value in several fields of the Halachah. However, if we focus on the literal meaning of the biblical text, we will see that the Torah says the opposite of what is generally understood

At any rate, those last words (to incline after a multitude) received high standing among the Sages regarding several legal issues in the Gemara, and particularly in the famous case of Achnai's oven (Baba Metzia 59b). "Achnai's oven" deals with the severe controversy that erupted among the sages regarding the impure clay oven that broke and was put together again with sand.

The Gemara tells us that Rabbi Eliezer declared the oven to be pure and the sages declared it impure. Rabbi Eliezer, who held a minority opinion, called forth many signs from heaven to prove his point. A carob tree was pulled out of its place. An aqueduct changed its course. The walls of the Beit Midrash tilted as though they would fall, and even a celestial voice was heard to justify his stand. However, the majority opinion prevailed over the minority, even though G-d was on Rabbi Eliezer's side.

This issue has current relevance beyond the limited field of halachic decision.

Democracy is not just a matter of statistics that result from election campaigns. Democracy is not just a matter of "going according to the majority". Democracy has an obligation to safe-guard the rights of minority groups and freedom of expression. Democracy must be subject to high moral standards.

For example, many voted for the Hamas movement in the Palestinian Authority. Does that make the movement a legitimate entity? Does a majority vote legitimize a terror organization?

According to prevailing opinion (even among those states that that do not support the Hamas financially) there is some legitimacy here because it was the choice of an absolute majority of the population.

But sometimes democracy is only the illusion of justice, as is said in the well-known saying: "Democracy is like Mathematics: The one (1) draws strength from the number of zeros that follow it."

RaSHI, the greatest interpreter of Biblical texts tries to settle he issue. RaSHI says:

"Regarding this verse, there are various expositions by the Sages of Israel but they do not fit the syntax of the verse". After he mentions several midrashim on the subject, he continues: "But I offer an explanation to fit the verse's syntax according to its plain meaning. And this is its interpretation: If you see wicked men distorting justice, do not say, 'Since they are the majority I may as well lean towards them'."

RaSHI says unambiguously that the majority occasionally offers an illusion of the right way. This is hinted at in the famous fable about the flies. "If a milliard flies eat garbage, a milliard flies can't be wrong."

At any rate, let's leave the garbage to the flies…

Previous Drashot

Mishpatim 5766 – The most important letter

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Burning One's Ships
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
few months ago a member of our congregation told me that, prior to the establishment of the State, she used to spend Passover with her family in Cairo. She would take a train from Tel Aviv and reach the capital city of Egypt within twelve hours.

How would you travel nowadays from Tel Aviv to Cairo? Which is the shortest way?
It is, without a doubt, the same way described in Exodus 13, 17 as "through the land of the Philistines".

"And it came to pass, when Pharoah let the people go, that God did not lead them the way through the land of the Philistines, because it was near; for God said: Lest the people repent when they see war, and return to Egypt. But God led the people about, by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea" (Exodus 13, 17-18).

That journey in the desert did not take twelve hours, but forty years. In any event, even though the journey was not supposed to have been a long one in the first place, God preferred to choose the long way (through the desert) and not the short way ("through the land of the Philistines"). Why? God feared that the nation would want to return to Egypt "when they saw war".

To enter the country via the land of the Philistines would not be an easy feat. Nor would it be an easy task to enter via the Jordan. Would the way there be free of wars?
There would also be wars across the Jordan. There would also be wars in the land of Israel…

So what was the difference then between the long and the short way?

Perhaps the answer lies in Rashi's explanation:-

"Had they travelled the straight way they would have returned (to Egypt). Now, if when He led them by a roundabout way they nevertheless said 'Let us appoint a leader and we will return to Egypt' (Numbers 14, 4) Had they gone on a straight way certainly [they would have returned to Egypt]".

Apparently God wanted to prevent them from even wanting to return to Egypt. God knew that with any sign of trouble the easiest way in their eyes would be the way back. It is always harder to deal with new problems than to go back to one's former problems.

A story is told of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, who arrived with his army at the Phoenician coast in the 4th century BC. He very quickly understood what the outcome of this war would be. The Phoenician army was three times larger than his own and the war would be totally asymmetrical. The soldiers despaired even before the battle began.

So Alexander of Macedonia planned a brilliant strategy. He asked his men to burn the ships in which they had arrived at the Phoenician coast, then gathered them together and spoke to them: "Look how the ships are burning…just because of that we will have to win the war. There is only one way to return home, and that is by sea. And after we win the war we will go there in the only remaining way: in the Phoenicians' ships!".

Facing a new reality is a long and complicated journey. The way from which there is no going back. That is the desert path. The path chosen by God to teach that particular generation which had not yet reached maturity that sometimes the only way to face challenges is to burn your ships.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


With our Young and with our Old
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
The departure of the children of Israel from Egypt already appears in Parashat Bo. After years of suffering and tears, and under the heavy pressure from his slaves, Pharoah the king of Egypt allows the people of Israel to leave for the desert to worship G-d.
However, a very tense dialogue takes place between Pharoah and Moses. Pharoah asks Moses: "But who are they that shall go?" and Moses answers: "We will go with our young and with our old." Pharoah is not overly enthusiastic about this idea: "Not so, go now you that are men and serve the Lord for that is what you desire." (Exodus 10:8-11)
It is possible to say a great deal about Pharoah king of Egypt. He was cruel. He was a child murderer. He was an egoist. But he was very astute. The condition that he lays down is brilliant in terms of preserving his own interests...
But Moses is stubborn and insists on going out to the desert with both the young and the old.
Why was it so important for Moses to leave Egypt with everyone? Why did Pharoah object? Two questions and one answer.
Both Pharoah and Moses knew that it is impossible to go very far without a new generation. Perhaps one of the most brilliant definitions of youth was given by Rabbi Yosef Kahanman from Ponivez when he said "A child is an orphan when he does not have parents. A people is an orphan when it does not have sons and young people."
And what about the old? Can one say that the future of a people is dependent on them? Definitely yes. The old people constitute the roots, the source of traditional practices and texts. When Pharoah said to Moses that he will not allow the young and the old to leave, he said to hin: "Your hope and your roots remain with me! Let's see how far you'll get without them...".
It is impossible to build a people without a past and without a future, without roots and without hope, without tradition and without dreams. The moving force of any people lies in these two extremes. And without a moving force,it is impossible to achieve anything...
Both Pharoah and Moses were aware of this.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


A hard-of-hearing people
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
It's true that Moses had severe speech difficulties, but there was an additional problem in Egypt. The real problem wasn't that Moses couldn't speak well. The real problem was that that the people of Israel didn't want to listen.

To leave Egypt??
The G-d of our fathers?
Who are you, Moses?

Moses was right. Those slaves were never convinced that it was preferable to be free men in a desert than to be the slaves of the pharaoh in the most important empire in the world. Already at the beginning of their journey in the desert , the first feelings of regret appeared, because at times there are people who see freedom as a real threat.

Some time ago I read about a new immigrant from the former Soviet Union who wanted to buy a pair of shoes in Natanya. She was very confused. She entered a store where there were twenty different kinds of shoes. What should she do? In the Soviet Union it had been easier. When she wanted to buy shoes, she bought the only model that was available.

To become a free person is a serious challenge. It break's a person's routine. It changes one's life completely. Moses began to understand that his brethren would have preferred to remain stuck in the past with the illusion of the fleshpots, rather than face the challenges that accompanied freedom.

There is a story about Rabbi Nahum of Chernobyl who once came to an inn and decided to spend the night there. When it was time for the evening prayer, maariv, the landlord, a simple Jew, saw the Rabbi praying with great concentration and reverence.

The Jew, who scarcely knew how to read, asked him, "Rabbi, what are you doing?"
"I am praying that with the help of God we will soon see the end of our exile, that the Messiah will come soon in our time and we will all be able to go to the Holy Land, the land of Israel."

The landlord was in shock. He went upstairs and told his wife.
"My dear, do you know that the Rabbi who arrived today just prayed for the end of our exile? Soon the Mashiach will come and take us all to the Holy Land, the land of Israel."

"The end of exile?! The Mashiach? The land of Israel?" said his wife. "Have you thought what we will do with our cows if the Mashiach comes tomorrow? And what will we do with the horses? And what about our inn?"

Again the man was in shock. He went downstairs to Rabbi Nahum and asked him, "Tell me…If the Mashiach comes and we go to the land of Israel, what will we do with our cows? And what will we do with the horses? And what about our inn?"

"Is that what you're worried about?" asked Rabbi Nahum. "Tell me: when the Cossacks come and chase you down the streets of the shtetl, do you like it? Don't you understand what I'm telling you? When the Mashaich comes, there will be no more Cossacks. We will all go to the land of Israel."

Again the landlord went upstairs and told his wife, "My dear, Rabbi Nahum is right. When the Mashiach comes, that's it! No more Cossacks! We will all go to the land of Israel!"

His wife looked at him and said, "I understand. But you go downstairs and tell this Rabbi Nahum that tomorrow too he can pray for the coming of the Mashiach, but ask him to tell the Mashiach to take the Cossacks with him to the Holy Land and leave us here in the shtetl with the cows, the horses and the inn."

Not everyone sees the coming redemption as a blessing.
The real problem was not that Moses couldn't speak well. The real problem was that the people of Israel didn't want to hear him.

Friday, January 08, 2010


I and Thou

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

In 1923 Martin Buber wrote his book I and Thou in which he developed his Dialogic Philosophy. Buber maintains that in the system of relationships between human beings, there are two completely different views regarding our attitude towards our fellow man. We can see him as an object without a soul (like an orange that can be squeezed, for example) or we can see him as "Thou" (as a subject).

Without doubt it is easier to regard the other as object. The world of objects does not demand love, compassion, devotion or commitment. But the source of morality, according to Buber, is in the ability to realize this dialogue, to see the other as "Thou".

This is not only philosophy. Buber's Dialogic Philosophy sheds light on our relationships and makes us consider our attitudes to our children, our parents and our spouses.

The Torah portion Shemot tells of Moses' entrance to the Biblical stage and opens a new page in the history of the people of Israel in general and in the life of Moses in particular. The spoilt boy Moses, who grew up in Pharoah's palace, starts moving towards the great enterprise of his life: leading the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to redemption.

We know in retrospect that Moses had several essential leadership qualities. But the question is what G-d saw in Moses before choosing him. Our Sages say that G-d examined Moses through the flocks. When Moses was Jethro's shepherd in the desert, a kid ran away and he ran after it till it reached a pool of water and wanted to drink. "I didn't know that you ran because you were thirsty…you are tired", said Moses and carried the kid on his shoulders. G-d said, "You have compassion in leading your flock; thus will you lead the flock of Israel." (Shemot Rabbah, 2,2)

Devotion, compassion and love are required qualities for every leader. But Moses had an additional advantage. The Torah portion tells us of three events that serve as background to the choice of Moses as leader.

The first encounter was with the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. "And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren and looked on their suffering, and he saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his brethren. He looked this way and that and saw there was no one; he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand." (Exodus 2, 11-12)

That event, which changed his life completely, is a prelude to the second story. "And when he went out the second day, he saw two Hebrews fighting, and said to the one who was in the wrong, 'Why do you strike your fellow man?' The Hebrew said, 'Who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?' Moses feared and said, 'This thing is known.'" (Exodus 2, 13-14)

Two verses after that, we have the third story. "Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father's flocks. The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and helped them and watered their flocks." (Exodus 2, 16-17)

We have three different stories, but in substance they are identical. The central motif is caring about the other person, no matter who he is. In the first story he is a Jew; in the third he is a Midianite.

It does not matter who your fellow man is. The main point is to see him as "Thou", as Buber defines him. Only someone capable of seeing the other person in this way is capable of leading an oppressed mass of people, that mass without shape or distinctiveness, from slavery to redemption.

Previous Drashot

Shemot 5766 – The Eternal Burning Bush