Friday, March 1, 2013

Shiur Theatre: The Day After Liberation, Part 1

Here is the script for the first part of the "Shiur Theatre" program our Beit Midrash will present at the Shaarei Shomayim Congregation in Toronto, this Shabbos. The goal, as you will see in the Narrator's introduction, is to provide insight into Freedom. It's part of an overall Liberty-themed Shabbaton in preparation for Pesach (flyer here).


Last year, our Beit Midrash debuted a unique, dramatic form of Derashah on our Shabbaton at Shaarei Shomayim, on our "Occupy Wall Street" Shabbaton. The feedback was so good that we turned this into a regular part of our programming, under the title of "Shiur Theatre". We have since performed "Jew vs. Jew in Jewish History", "Moses Maimonides and Claudius Galen", and "When Konstantinos Met Sarah", in various synagogues.

Today we bring you a new installation of Shiur Theatre, "The Day After Liberation", which is meant to explore what a newly free nation needs in order to survive and thrive. Our main question is: After we become free, what becomes of us?

In order to address this question, we will look at the events surrounding the sin of the Golden Calf, and what we imagine could have been Moshe's attempt to find a good defense for the Jewish nation – and we will throw in a fair bit of anachronism to help out along the way.


Scene opens with interviewer standing before a lectern..

SHIMSHON (businesslike): Good morning. In preparing our nation's brief in the matter of Almighty vs Children of Israel, the Parliament of the Children of Israel is today convened in investigation. My name is Shimshon, I am one of the Elders of Israel, and I will preside over this hearing. Specifically, we seek:
  1. To determine the facts surrounding the violation of the Sinaitic Covenant executed between the Almighty and the Children of Israel, particularly restrictions 1.1, 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3, to wit, "I am the Lord your G-d," "You shall not have the gods of others before Me," "You shall make no idols," and "You shall neither bow to them nor serve them," and,
  2. To prepare a defense for the failure of the Children of Israel to adhere to said clauses in their Covenant with the Almighty.
We have a number of witnesses to call and a fairly short window of time before we must file our defense with the Almighty, so I will dispense with some of the formalities and preliminaries in favour of getting to the heart of the matter. Any objection? (pause)

SHIMSHON: Our list of witnesses, willing and hostile, includes:
  • Former Deputy Prime Minister Aharon son of Amram;
  • a prisoner, Professor Yitzchak son of Asher;
  • a Levite colonel, Jack, son of Nikol;
  • and a former Egyptian, Addaya, son of Thutmose.

I would like to call the first witness, then: Aharon, son of Amram.

AHARON ascends to second lectern

SHIMSHON: Do you, Aharon, son of Amram, swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

AHARON (gently): In deference to Covenantal Clause 3.1, I would prefer to affirm.

SHIMSHON: Approved.

AHARON (smiling): Then I affirm, my friend.

SHIMSHON (looking uncomfortable): With the greatest respect, I request that the witness address the bench with proper titles, to avoid any appearance of favour. (Aharon grins.) It is also worth noting that you do not speak to me alone; your brother, Moshe, is expected to arrive soon. (Aharon stops grinning.) He is currently burying the dead.

AHARON: Oh. Your honour.

SHIMSHON: To business, then. Aharon, son of Amram, I humbly request that you please briefly recount the events of the 17th of Tammuz, 2448. I acknowledge that much of this is familiar to the committee, but it is necessary in order for us to move forward.

AHARON: Yes, your honour. Tension had been building for some time, during Moshe's absence. Our brethren are wonderful, but they were nervous, you know. They recalled that I had brought Moshe to them back in Egypt, and they sought my aid now to replace him. By the end of the fortieth morning the people were in such a state! I thought I could stall them, but it all happened too fast, and there was a calf!

SHIMSHON: Wait; how did that happen? Gold takes a long time to become molten, in the rest of the world – but it happened immediately in your kiln. Are we to believe that gold melts faster in your kiln than any place on the face of the earth? Was this magic gold?

AHARON (sincerely distressed): The gold cooked faster than normal, I don't know. I threw it in a fire – and out came the calf.[1]

SHIMSHON: So you contend that you had no hand in creating the actual idol? Your brother Moshe would appear to disagree; in the Torah, he will write, "And Aharon formed it.[2]"

AHARON: Please do not read my brother's writing without Rashi, who explains that the verse was not referring to me, but to someone else who formed it. (pause) So I tried to stall the people again; I told the people that the celebration would be for the Almighty, and it would happen the next day. I hoped to see my brother's radiant face again before the feared moment would come.[3]

SHIMSHON: But surely you knew that you had no control of the situation, and that the people would do as they wished.

AHARON (gently): It is not for naught that our descendants will label me a lover of peace and pursuer of peace, who embraces even the wicked in the belief that they are capable of better.[4]

SHIMSHON: So your defense before the Almighty is naivete, it appears. (notes this down) But I must ask: The people's murder of Miriam's son, your nephew, Chur, was of no relevance for you? Come now, be forthright: Were you not simply cowed into idolatry, out of fear for yourself?[5]

AHARON: Beware of the mistake of Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra; if you would cite the midrash about Chur, make sure to note its closing words, which say my concern was not for my own life, but to avert a great sin on the part of the people if they were to murder both of us. But even without that midrash, I didn't see where this was going; I am not worse than Barack Obama and the rest of the world's leaders in the so-called Arab Spring of the 58th century. None of those leaders will intervene to influence mattes, either.

SHIMSHON: Hardly a flattering comparison, I should think.

AHARON (still sweet): Does my brother fare any better? He is brilliant, with such leadership acumen and righteousness, and yet what were his words to the elders, before ascending Mount Sinai?

SHIMSHON (consults papers): "Aharon and Chur are with you; if any has an issue, let him venture forth to them.[6]"

AHARON (still sweet): Precisely. I was not charged with any manner of proactive leadership, and neither was Chur. Even you elders did nothing; we were judges, functionaries, tasked with resolving disputes between litigious parties. No one was assigned to fill my brother Moshe's role of setting the daily agenda for the nation. No teacher, no ritual leader, no representative before the Almighty, no spokesman for the Almighty. We were bureaucrats; no one could share the power of our master Moshe, apparently. Like NATO before rioting Arab populations, there was no one at the helm. And

like the leaders of Arab populations after the old tyrants will be deposed, whose freedom to change the system will be limited by economic power players,[7] our power was extremely limited.
SHIMSHON (deeply offended): Do you then lay the blame for this fiasco at the feet of the great Moshe, or his elders? Do you think it our choice? Or do you blame the Almighty for designing this system?

AHARON: Far be it from me, your honour, to assign blame. As a man of peace, I certainly do not wish to battle with anyone, let alone my sainted sibling. But (takes a deep breath, steeling himself) – I'm sorry to say this, but I would wager that our father, Amram, never similarly abandoned his people in Egypt. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned, indeed, and defenses to be offered before the Almighty. (pause) Does your honour have any further questions for me?

SHIMSHON (stares at Aharon for a long moment, before continuing): I have no further use for this witness. You may step down.

[1] Shemot 32:23-24
[2] Shemot 32:4
[3] Shemot 32:5
[4] Avot d'Rabbi Natan 12
[5] Yalkut Shimoni 391
[6] Shemot 24:14
[7] The Middle East after the Arab Spring, London School of Economics,

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