Monday, March 4, 2013

Shiur Theatre: The Day After Liberation, Part 2

 [This is the second part of a Shiur Theatre presentation from Parshat Ki Tisa. The first part, with an introduction, is here.] Part Three comes next!


SHIMSHON: I would like to call the second witness: A prisoner, charged and sentenced for his role in the celebration of the Golden Calf, Professor Yitzchak, son of Asher.

YITZCHAK steps to the second lectern.

SHIMSHON: Do you affirm as the previous witness did?

YITZCHAK: I do, your honour.

SHIMSHON: And would you recount for the assembly your role in the Golden Calf?

YITZCHAK: My role was not great, your honour, which is why I escaped death at the hands of the brutal Levites. My guilt was in dancing on the fringes of the celebration. (pause) I wasn't really dancing, actually. Sort of clapping and shuffling. Like someone dancing around the bimah at Lecha Dodi of a Carlebach minyan.

SHIMSHON: Do you agree with the previous witness that this grievous sin could have been averted with the presence of a proper leader during the forty days our master Moshe spent atop Mount Sinai?

YITZCHAK: I am just a simple man, I cannot say.

SHIMSHON: A simple man? Your papers indicate that you are a professor, a historian of 57th century North American culture; has that era something to teach us, something that might be of use in defending our nation before the Almighty?

YITZCHAK: I suppose it might. I specialize in the era of Reconstruction in the American South. Have you seen the film, Lincoln?

SHIMSHON: With Daniel Day Lewis? He is rumoured to play our master Moshe in an upcoming Spielberg film. But enough of him; what is your point?

YITZCHAK: Your honour, in America of that day, former slaves were liberated, but the system of schools lacked the funding, infrastructure and political will required to absorb the tens of thousands who needed to develop literacy. To take the state of Georgia as an example: The state developed public schools in 1870, five years after the slaves were emancipated, and for decades afterward white Georgians tried to limit public funding for black education. Teachers in black schools received lower salaries than those in white schools, regardless of the teachers' race, and construction and maintenance of black schools were neglected.[1]

SHIMSHON: So, Professor, you assert that with greater education, the Golden Calf could have been averted?

YITZCHAK: Well, something beyond the 49 day Aish haTorah crash course in Judaism, yes. Monotheism isn't simple, you know. To take a nation reared in Egypt's pantheistic society and convert them to the idea of one G-d, invisible and indivisible, and to do it that fast? Impossible.

SHIMSHON: So you would not have done your little hora on the outskirts of the celebration, with but a little spiritual education?

YITZCHAK: This, and some empowerment of the population.

SHIMSHON: Is empowerment also a lesson of the former American slaves?

YITZCHAK: Yes – there were hundreds of African Americans who held communal office during Reconstruction,[2] but few of note and not many per capita. Within our nation, our master Moshe appointed judges, but not legislators, people who would actually create structure for our society.

SHIMSHON: Structure? The Torah provided structure with its laws, did it not?

YITZCHAK: Those are laws, I am talking about leaders. A society benefits when its citizens are not limited to a rulebook but are empowered to lead, themselves. Then they do not come looking for statues of calves; instead, they fill the vacuum themselves, and positively. Moshe knows it – months from now, two men, Eldad and Meidad, will defy Moshe and become public prophets, and none will be happier than Moshe himself.[3]

SHIMSHON: You and Aharon seem to be branches of the same shoot; you would defend our nation before the Almighty by sacrificing our leaders, claiming those leaders abandoned the nation to ignorance, without the power to plan for themselves.

YITZCHAK: Well, yes. But another element was a circumstance determined by the Almighty rather than human hands. Leaving us with all of that Egyptian gold at Sinai was really an invitation to disaster. With such wealth, with the influence of generations of slavery as part of Egyptian culture, with the presence of Egyptians in our very midst, with the absence of the leader who mediated our covenant with the Almighty… well, it was only a question of when this would happen.

SHIMSHON: Then you blame… the Almighty?

YITZCHAK: I don't know that 'blame' is quite the word. I sometimes wonder…(hesitates) but I do not wish to be presumptuous, my guilt is already known.

SHIMSHON: Please, speak.

YITZCHAK: Well, what if – what if the entire incident was intended by the Almighty as a lesson of sorts? A lesson in sin, and perhaps even in repentance and mercy?[4]

SHIMSHON: You echo the previous witness, and even I begin to doubt. (pause) I am done with your testimony.

Yitzchak steps down


Colonel Jack son of Nikol steps to the second lectern, wearing a military jacket decorated with medals. His chin is up, his shoulders thrown back. He glares.

SHIMSHON: Colonel Jack son of Nikol: Do you affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

COLONEL (defiant): Am I being charged with a crime? I did my job, and I'd do it again. Now let me go back to my base.

SHIMSHON: You are not being charged with a crime, this is just an investigative hearing. I simply asked: Do you affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

COLONEL (contemptuous): Of course I do.

SHIMSHON (annoyed): Thank you. Colonel, you have been called here to answer some questions about the events of the seventeenth of Tammuz, when it is alleged you executed a Code Red as part of the Levi Platoon.

COLONEL: And what questions do you have about that?

SHIMSHON: Who issued the Code Red?

COLONEL: My commander in chief, Moshe Rabbeinu. His exact words were, "Who is for G-d, come to me."[5]

SHIMSHON: And who responded?

COLONEL: You read the report. We did our job.

SHIMSHON (annoyed again): Did you carry out the Code Red?

COLONEL (strong): We saved lives.

SHIMSHON (frustrated): Did you carry out the Code Red?

COLONEL: I told you, we saved lives.

SHIMSHON (explodes): You don't even know what lives of Jews are like, you Levites weren't even slaves in Egypt. I was a leader of suffering slaves, I took responsibility while you sat and studied and meditated. That's how I came to hold this position as judge.

COLONEL: Ooh, a judge. Your honour, let me tell you something. I eat breakfast eighty yards away from 4000 Amalekites who are trained to kill me. So don't think for one second you can come around here, flash a badge, and make me nervous.

SHIMSHON: You ought to be nervous; I can put you in prison, or worse, if you won't give me answers.

COLONEL: You want answers?

SHIMSHON: I think I'm entitled to them.

COLONEL: You want answers!?

SHIMSHON: I want the truth!

COLONEL: You can't handle the truth! (pause) We live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Judge? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for those three thousand men and you curse Levi Platoon. But deep down, in places you don't talk about in beit din, you want me on that wall. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the clouds my merit provides, then questions the manner in which my merit provides it. I'd prefer you just said Thank You and went on your way.

SHIMSHON: Did you carry out the code red?

COLONEL: You're gosh darn right I did.

SHIMSHON: And now three thousand lives are ended. Why did you do it?

COLONEL: Because Freedom isn't for everyone. Those idolaters you feel bad about, those Jews who made a Golden Calf, they weren't ready for freedom. You think to defend these people before the Almighty, but they don't deserve it. As George Washington will say, "Until the mind of the slave has been educated to understand freedom, the gift of freedom would only assure its abuse.[6]" (pause)

COLONEL: They wanted to have a Calf to worship because they remembered what it was like to have a master, to abdicate responsibility for their existence and rely on an authority to care for them, and they liked it. They were still Egyptian, unable to adjust to the Almighty's religion in which you take personal responsibility. In this they weakened the nation, and made us vulnerable to attack. Don't you tell me about ending lives, I saved them, and I would do it again.

SHIMSHON: I have no further questions.

COLONEL (muttering, as he steps down): Punk.

[3] Bamidbar 11
[4] Avodah Zarah 4b-5a
[5] Shemot 32:26


  1. Shalom RosenfeldMarch 4, 2013 at 5:05 AM


    Glad to see you're having fun.

  2. Some interesting comparisons are made here to things we do understand, but much of the unfolding egel episode is still very mysterious to me.

  3. Shalom-
    You bet. That's what makes the exercise worthwhile. Well, that and the great feedback from the tzibbur.

    Part three is coming Wednesday, Gd-willing...