Monday, February 18, 2013

7 Adar

I wanted to write something new for 7 Adar this year, but I didn't come up with anything I felt worthy. So I'm posting the piece below, from several years ago.

What Soren Kierkegaard did for Avraham’s faith in Fear and Trembling, someone with an equally eloquent pen ought to do for Moshe’s defiance.

Kierkegaard wrote, with moving, powerful, dramatic beauty, of Avraham’s Akeidah, his decision to follow Gd and bring his son Yitzchak as a korban. He decried those who would infantilize Avraham’s obedience to Gd, who would view it with “the child’s pious simplicity.” He demonstrated, vividly, that this Akeidah was not an act of simple faith, but, rather, a soul-wrenching, terrifying, faithful devotion to a shockingly cruel Divine demand.

Someone ought to do the same for Moshe Rabbeinu’s multiple defiances of Gd, celestial acts which are yet fodder for so many aggravatingly simplistic divrei torah.

Like every 7th of Adar, as I observe Moshe Rabbeinu’s yahrtzeit this year I am awed by a new aspect of that human being whose life, whose power, overwhelms anything I can fathom. This year, it’s his defiance.

Moshe defies Gd multiple times, in multiple scenarios, including:
Gd orders Moshe to return to Egypt and save the Jews; Moshe declines.

Gd instructs Moshe to give the Jews the Torah on the 6th of Sivan; per the gemara, Moshe alters the date to the 7th of Sivan. (Granted that commentators see this as reading the mind of Gd.)

Gd declares His desire to destroy the idolatrous, rebellious nation; Moshe denies Gd the opportunity.

Gd informs Moshe that he will die; Moshe instructs Gd in choosing a new leader.

Gd instructs Moshe to remain in the desert; Moshe rails against his fate, before finding acceptance.

And yet, through it all, Gd describes Moshe as בכל ביתי נאמן הוא, the most loyal member of the Divine house. ככל אשר צוה ה' את משה, Following every word Gd instructed Moshe, so Moshe spoke and so Moshe did.

The more I contemplate it, the less I comprehend it.

Or to borrow from Kierkegaard regarding the Akeidah, “The older he became the more often his thoughts turned to that tale, his enthusiasm became stronger and stronger, and yet less and less could he understand it.”

Tanach is filled with people who refuse Divine instructions. Pharaoh. Bilam. And, on the good side, Yonah. What marks Moshe’s refusal as unique (although Yonah’s resembles this) is that his is not denial, it is defiance.

Pharaoh says, “Who is Gd, that I should listen?” Bilaam says, “Gd will have to follow my will.”

Moshe, on the other hand, accepts the reality of Gd fully, accepts the Torah of Gd fully, accepts the service of Gd fully. Moshe believes in Gd, he does not deny Gd’s existence or authority.

It seems to me that Moshe’s awareness of Gd is what fuels his defiance. He is Gd’s child. His refusal is born out of love for Gd, in the way that adult children often absorb and practice their parents’ values, and yet – in fulfilling their understanding of those same values – defy their parents’ instructions.

And so Avraham is labelled by Gd, אברהם אוהבי, “Avraham who loved Me,” but Moshe is labelled בן ביתי, “a member of My household,” the one whom I loved.

I never cease to be enthralled by Moshe. He is so far beyond anything I could ever become, and yet his story speaks volumes to me as a person, as a rabbi, as a Jew. His is iconic leadership and iconic abandonment, iconic selflessness and iconic self-awareness, iconic devotion and iconic defiance, iconic failure and iconic success.

יהי זכרו ברוך.


  1. God created us so He could do good unto us and have a dialogue with us. If He wanted mindless sheep who would quietly follow His orders without question He'd have stuck with the angels. Moshe Rabeinu, a'h, understood this.

  2. Great post. What has always amazed about Moshe is found in one of the last Rashi in Chumash. Hashem praises Moshe for smashing the Luchos. Of all the great things he did, it's breaking the Luchos that is the final "claim to fame". I've always taken this as a lesson that, at times, we have to against the masses, if it means bringing glory to Hashem.

    The Rashi is (thanks to
    before the eyes of all Israel: [This expression alludes to the incident where] his heart stirred him up to smash the tablets before their eyes, as it is said, “and I shattered them before your eyes” (Deut. 9:17). - [Sifrei 33:41] And [regarding Moses shattering the Tablets,] the Holy One Blessed is He gave His approval, as Scripture states, “[the first Tablets] which you shattered” (Exod. 34:1); [God said to Moses:] “Well done for shattering them!” - [Shab. 87a]

  3. Garnel-
    Of course, the angels aren't always so angelic...

    Anonymous 4:20 PM-

    Thank you. I think I gave a derashah about that once...