Great people are not afraid to put their name behind their convictions. “And Calev quieted the people for Moshe and said, ‘We will rise and rise and inherit the land, as we can surely do it’” (13:30). Those of lesser quality prefer to hide behind the cloak of anonymity. “And the people who were with him said, ‘We will not be able to go up’”. It is easy to criticize, complain and condemn; as long as one can hide behind others, it is not “me” but rather “they” who will be blamed should things go wrong. It takes courage to stand up and do the same thing publicly.
It is in times of crisis that effective leadership is most important--and the years spent wandering in the desert represented the first major crisis of the Jewish people. Aimlessly wandering with little to look forward to, knowing that they would die in the desert, the hope and excitement of the Exodus was long gone. It is not surprising that, when faced with a crisis, instead of looking inward, people often look to blame others for their predicament. Who better to blame than one's leader?
One of the great difficulties we often have is making a clear distinction between people and the ideas that they espouse. While one might reject an idea, we may not reject the person who espouses it. This is true even of ideas that we find offensive or heretical.
“And Moshe was frightened and he said, behold the incident is known. And Pharaoh heard about the affair and he sought to kill Moshe” (Shemot 2:14-15). How did Moshe's killing of an Egyptian become public knowledge? Did not Moshe “look this way and that way” and see “that there was no man” (Shemot 2:12)? While it is possible that Moshe simply failed to notice some passing Egyptian, such an interpretation seems highly unlikely. If the Torah tells us that he looked and saw no one, it is most likely that there was no one to see.
"And he saw an Egyptian man hitting a Hebrew of his brothers" (2:11). To the slave in Egypt, being beaten up by our tormentors was the norm, and the Jewish people--having no recourse or justice--suffered in silence. Moshe's act of fighting back on behalf of some "lowly" slave was shocking for those immersed in Egyptian culture, and it nearly cost him his life.
“And Moshe was one hundred and twenty years when he died” (Devarim 34:7). It is a beautiful, if somewhat unrealistic, custom to offer blessings to those celebrating a birthday that they should live to be 120. While this quantity of life is (usually) unrealistic, the blessing to live to 120 relates not only to quantity, but to the quality of life; “his eyesight did not diminish and his strength did not wane” (ibid).
Effort vs. result. The relative value of these two concepts is a fundamental dispute between our western worldview and Jewish teachings. The secular world is, as it must be, bottom-line oriented. From a Jewish perspective, it is effort, not result, that ultimately counts. G-d blessed us all with different and varying degrees of talent; thus, it would be unfair to expect similar results from all. Rather, it is the effort we expend on moral improvement, understanding a Torah text, or performing mitzvoth that is crucial.
This week's devar Torah is dedicated in honour of the bat mitzvah of Temira Koenig. Mazal tov to her parents, Tali and Jason, and to the entire family. May Temira follow in the footsteps of Miriam, sanctifying the name of G-d in all that she does.
“These are the commandments that G-d has commanded Moshe to the children of Israel on Mount Sinai (Vayikra 27:34).” Though it is the Book of Exodus that we associate with Har Sinai, it is at the end of Vayikra that the Torah actually places us there.