Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Shiur Theatre: The Day After Liberation, Part 3

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


SHIMSHON: Wow, that was an interesting witness. (pause, wipes forehead) So far, we have Aharon who wasn't authorized to truly lead. We have the historian who says the Jews were not educated, were not empowered, and had too much gold. And we have a Levite soldier who says the people were looking for authority figures rather than taking responsibility for their lives. (pause) That leaves one last witness: Addaya son of Thutmose, an Egyptian who joined us as part of the erev rav when we left Egypt.

Moshe steps in behind Shimshon, taps him on the shoulder. Shimshon looks up, sees its Moshe, and is startled. Stands back in respect.

SHIMSHON: Moshe, sir!

MOSHE: I would like to interview this witness, if you don't mind.

SHIMSHON: Certainly – but why? Have I not done a good job?

MOSHE: You've done a fine job, but I take responsibility for the erev rav, the group of Egyptians I personally brought out of Egypt when they wished to join us. So I'd like to speak with this Addaya.

Shimshon steps away; Moshe takes the lectern. Addaya steps to the other lectern.

MOSHE: Are you Addaya son of Thutmose?

ADDAYA: Yes, I am.

MOSHE: Addaya, son of Thutmose, what possessed you to lure my nation into idolatry?

ADDAYA: (laughing) Moses, Moses, Moses. (pause) Lure them? I hardly needed to do any such thing. Why, they came running to me!

MOSHE: What do you mean?

ADDAYA: Moses, you ought to comprehend, from your own experience when you fled to Midian. You went from life in the royal palace of Ramses to herding sheep in the wilderness, from a world of being waited on hand and foot to fighting off those who would abuse you, your wife, her sisters. Did you not feel the trauma of dislocation? Now imagine the lives of the millions of people you led into the wilderness, whose world has been turned upside down in every way imaginable.

MOSHE: I see.

ADDAYA: But see further, for there were three revolutions at work in the lives of this nation. One, when they ceased to be slaves and became free. Two, when they left the Egypt they knew and entered a frightening wilderness. And yet a third revolution, in the very rules of life. Food no longer came from the ground, but from the sky. Clothing did not wear out. Shelter came from the very vapour in the air.

MOSHE (protests): But these are wondrous changes, amazing gifts!

ADDAYA: True enough – but also scary. Look, Moses, ahead in the future, to the 58th century, to Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, the Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe, the mixed bag that was their liberation. Have you read the work of Anna Porter?

MOSHE: The Canadian woman who will write "The Ghosts of Europe"?

ADDAYA: Indeed. She will point out that the populations of Eastern Europe suffered during their transition to democracy from the lack of an intermediate system, a bridge.[1] Surely the same could be said for these Jews you led into the wilderness. A brand new way of living, a brand new religious system, and no follow-up after that great Hollywood scene at the mountain for the next six weeks… Yes, Moses, they came running to me.

MOSHE: And what of your own identity – Ten times you have seen the miracles of the Lord, and still you have no faith! You came out to the wilderness with us, pledging loyalty!

ADDAYA: Yes, but I was not ready for a new national identity, especially as I quite enjoyed my previous identity until you shredded everything about it. Again, it's the same as the transformation of that Eastern bloc; you cannot expect a culture to adopt a new identity, when they felt much more security in the old one, and no bridge is offered.[2]

MOSHE: Then the blame lies with me? Or with the Almighty?

ADDAYA: This is hardly for me to say – I am but a newcomer, and member of a rejected nation. But heed the words of your brother Aharon. Heed the words of the historian. Heed the words, even, of that Levite colonel. Freedom is not a gift, unless accompanied by the proper tools.

MOSHE: Many centuries from now, an Egyptian Jew, also named Moshe, will declare, "Accept truth from whoever offers it.[3]" I suppose he is correct.




And so Moshe Rabbeinu approached G-d to plead on behalf of the Jewish nation. As we read in this morning's parshah, the Torah's text describes several claims he made upon Divine mercy:
  • He pointed to the covenant G-d had made with our ancestors, the founders of our nation.
  • He pointed to neighbouring countries, and what they would say.
  • He put his own life on the line, declaring, "Wipe me out of Your book" if You will not have mercy upon the Jews.

The Talmud, though, describes another claim from Moshe, far harsher than those that appear in the pesukim. As the Talmud[4] tells it, based on a pasuk in Sefer Devarim, Moshe said to G-d, "This situation may be compared to a man who had a son. He bathed the son, anointed him with oil, fed him well, gave him fine drink, hung a wallet around his neck – and placed him at the entrance of a brothel. How, then, could this son not sin?"

Moshe claimed that the Jews were innocent, like a child who had been set up for failure. The naïve child in his allegory was given every opportunity to sin, and he was left in a situation of great temptation, without any protection. So, too, the Jews were put in a position of great temptation, without protection.

Many have struggled to explain Moshe's point. How could Moshe compare the Jews to the child in this story, didn't the Jews have leaders in Aharon and Chur and the elders? Didn't they have the miracles in Egypt and the spiritual experience at Sinai? Were they not rescued from Egyptian slavery, and granted ultimate freedom?

But seen through the lens of our interviews, Moshe's insight is powerful and on the mark.
  • As the Colonel said, citing George Washington and Jack Nicholson, these former slaves were like young children, they had not been given the chance to understand freedom;
  • As the Egyptian Addaya explained, quoting Anna Porter on the Eastern bloc countries, the Jews were a fish entirely out of water, entering a brand new existence which, for all of its positives and freedoms, still required significant adjustment;
  • As the Professor explained, citing the problems of the American South after slavery, the Jews were not well-educated in their new monotheism, lacked the empowerment to take charge of their religious lives, and had plenty of gold without a sense of how to use it – quite like the boy in Moshe's parable;
  • And as Aharon pointed out, the leaders were not licensed to be proactive at the time of the Golden Calf, just as the world's moderate leadership has watched the Arab Spring largely from the sidelines. The Jews of that time were truly abandoned.

Liberty must be more than a state of freedom. To be able to take advantage of liberty, one must be:
  • guided gently into this new existence,
  • offered a framework and education for using it,
  • empowered to act as an owner, and
  • given leaders who will proactively help him along the way.

So it is that Moshe approached G-d with a remarkable claim. As the Talmud says, הטיח דברים כלפי מעלה, he impudently blamed G-d for the events of the Golden Calf.

Moshe's claim is not only upon G-d, though; it is upon us as well. We are blessed with extreme liberty – we can say what we want, live where we want, eat what we want, marry whomever we want, and so on. The same is true for our children. And so Moshe's claim - Aharon's claim, the Professor's claim, the Colonel's claim, the Egyptian's claim - is upon us: How do we approach our liberty, and that of our children? Are we educated? Do we take charge of our Judaism and our lives as owners? Do we empower leaders to help us along the way? The story of the Golden Calf is not history; it has important messages for us, more than 3,000 years later, as well.

[2] ibid
[3] Introduction to Shemonah Perakim
[4] Berachos 32a


  1. "So, too, the Jews were put in a position of great temptation, without protection."

    Why?? Was the resultant sin "necessary" for some purpose we can understand at our level?

  2. Bob-
    One person there said that we should have had someone play Gd on the stand. But as it was we had to oversimplify a lot to get this far, and that would have been too ridiculous a reach.