Monday, September 04, 2006

Moses and Jeremiah: They whom I love

There is a certain kind of fairytale that enthralls me and holds me spellbound, a certain kind of idea that inflames me with desire. This is the idea of the individualist alone, a man who is both doomed but blessed, condemned by his mission but motivated by a greater power or desire. This is the kind of character I envy and admire, the kind of character I wish to be. My favorite books are the ones that describe him, all my ideas are bound up in him. This is the hero character, for he is honored by his mission but damned by all others, and it is he alone to whom I owe allegiance.

This is the character I see described in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest; this is McMurphy, this is Frodo. In those scenarios McMurphy and Frodo volunteer for their missions, which makes them all the more tragic. "I will take the ring," says Frodo, after a period of silence that is profound and vastly disturbing. No one compels him to take it, no one forces him to make that choice. It is his willing decision, his statement- he accepts it upon himself and it becomes his task.

It is the same with McMurphy, initially antagonizing Big Nurse out of blindness and fear but eventually doing it for the people, because of them and for them, so that they might be free. His actions can lead to only one end; it is obvious that he cannot survive them. He knows this and he bursts forth in the end with a high, keening cry, perhaps similar to Samson's cry as the buildings fall upon him. It is McMurphy's choice to do as he does, as much as Chief Bromden says otherwise, he is mistaken. Directions beamed at him by light-mages or not, McMurphy is the one who attacks Big Nurse, who shatters the combine, who breaks her hold upon all the others.

These are the men who chose their fate, even as Howard Roark chooses his, and eventually Dominique chooses hers. But what of the men who do not choose this fate, to whom this is not a doom that is accepted voluntarily but rather thrust upon them, the men who must suffer and live while thus apart, separated from all others because of their purpose, because of their mission, lonely men chafing because of their existence while simulatenously sorrowing for all those to whom they are sent?

Such men are Moses and Jeremiah, and it is they, therefore, who capture my imagination, absorb my interest, provoke my thoughts. Moses and Jeremiah are the most central characters of their generations, pivotal in their strength but also in their missions. They are alone, men who are misunderstood and hated, tormented, forced by God in what seems a cruel duty to serve the people while the people repel them, push them away, and weary them. These men did not choose to accept their burdens; instead they were thrust upon them by God. We see by Moses that he delays, claiming that he is unworthy, that the Children of Israel will not heed him, and finally:

    י וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-יְהוָה, בִּי אֲדֹנָי, לֹא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים אָנֹכִי גַּם מִתְּמוֹל גַּם מִשִּׁלְשֹׁם, גַּם מֵאָז דַּבֶּרְךָ אֶל-עַבְדֶּךָ: כִּי כְבַד-פֶּה וּכְבַד לָשׁוֹן, אָנֹכִי.
    10 And Moses said unto the LORD: 'Oh Lord, I am not a man of words, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.'

    יא וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֵלָיו, מִי שָׂם פֶּה לָאָדָם, אוֹ מִי-יָשׂוּם אִלֵּם, אוֹ חֵרֵשׁ אוֹ פִקֵּחַ אוֹ עִוֵּר--הֲלֹא אָנֹכִי, יְהוָה.
    11 And the LORD said unto him: 'Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh a man dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? is it not I the LORD?

    יב וְעַתָּה, לֵךְ; וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה עִם-פִּיךָ, וְהוֹרֵיתִיךָ אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר.
    12 Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt speak.'
    יג וַיֹּאמֶר, בִּי אֲדֹנָי; שְׁלַח-נָא, בְּיַד-תִּשְׁלָח.

    13 And he said: 'Oh Lord, send, I pray Thee, by the hand of him whom Thou wilt send.'
    יד וַיִּחַר-אַף יְהוָה בְּמֹשֶׁה, וַיֹּאמֶר הֲלֹא אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ הַלֵּוִי--יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-דַבֵּר יְדַבֵּר הוּא; וְגַם הִנֵּה-הוּא יֹצֵא לִקְרָאתֶךָ, וְרָאֲךָ וְשָׂמַח בְּלִבּוֹ.

    14 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and He said: 'Is there not Aaron thy brother the Levite? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee; and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.

    Exodus 4:10

We see, of course, the same interaction between God and Jeremiah:

    ד וַיְהִי דְבַר-יְהוָה, אֵלַי לֵאמֹר.
    4 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying:

    ה בְּטֶרֶם אצורך (אֶצָּרְךָ) בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ, וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ: נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם, נְתַתִּיךָ.
    5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.

    ו וָאֹמַר, אֲהָהּ אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, הִנֵּה לֹא-יָדַעְתִּי, דַּבֵּר: כִּי-נַעַר, אָנֹכִי. {ס}
    6 Then said I: 'Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak; for I am a child.' {S}

    ז וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֵלַי, אַל-תֹּאמַר נַעַר אָנֹכִי: כִּי עַל-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר אֶשְׁלָחֲךָ, תֵּלֵךְ, וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר אֲצַוְּךָ, תְּדַבֵּר.
    7 But the LORD said unto me: say not: I am a child; for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak.

    Jeremiah 1:4

The duty of prophecy, the burden of carrying the nation, of dealing with their complaints, their cruelties, their angry words...this was thrust upon both Moses and Jeremiah, though they tried to protest. It is yet another example (or perhaps, in Moses' case, the precedent) that one cannot run from God. Jonah physically ran whereas both Moses and Jeremiah verbally sparred, but in the end the will of God cannot be overriden, and in the end both of them are doomed.

Jeremiah and Moses are both persecuted at every corner. Moses must abandon the only family he has ever known, at least according to the literal Torah, that of Bityah and Pharoah, because of his desire to be one with his people. He must lose their love and pit himself against them. He must suffer because of Dasan and Aviram, traitors in Egypt and later in the desert. He must bear the complaints of an unwieldy nation, so fickle that, even after seeing the most wonderous miracles of God they state, "Why did you bring us here to die? Were there not graves in Egypt?" He must suffer on account of the rebelliousness of the nation, their Golden Calf, even what seems to be his brother's betrayal at that moment in time. He is exhausted because he must judge this people, and even with Yisro's plan he is still overburdened. He must travel in frustrating circles, moving forward only to be told to turn round once more. He must suffer the political rebellion of another leader, Korach, who desires to set himself up as head of the people. He prays over and over again for a people who do not seem to deserve his prayers, for they are only a source of trouble to him. He is not to enter the land on their account.

What was Moses if not the lone sufferer? He could not remain close even to his wife, for he was told to remain separate from her so that if God would call, he could respond. He did not merit to see the sons of his body become leaders or men of great stature. Moses was a stricken man, a man who was hurt by God, forced by Him to assume a command that could only frustrate and exasperate him.

And we see it. We hear Moses' cries:

    יא וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-יְהוָה, לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָ לְעַבְדֶּךָ, וְלָמָּה לֹא-מָצָתִי חֵן, בְּעֵינֶיךָ: לָשׂוּם, אֶת-מַשָּׂא כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה--עָלָי.
    11 And Moses said unto the LORD: 'Wherefore hast Thou dealt ill with Thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in Thy sight, that Thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?

    יב הֶאָנֹכִי הָרִיתִי, אֵת כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה--אִם-אָנֹכִי, יְלִדְתִּיהוּ: כִּי-תֹאמַר אֵלַי שָׂאֵהוּ בְחֵיקֶךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר יִשָּׂא הָאֹמֵן אֶת-הַיֹּנֵק, עַל הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לַאֲבֹתָיו.
    12 Have I conceived all this people? have I brought them forth, that Thou shouldest say unto me: Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing-father carrieth the sucking child, unto the land which Thou didst swear unto their fathers?

    יג מֵאַיִן לִי בָּשָׂר, לָתֵת לְכָל-הָעָם הַזֶּה: כִּי-יִבְכּוּ עָלַי לֵאמֹר, תְּנָה-לָּנוּ בָשָׂר וְנֹאכֵלָה.
    13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they trouble me with their weeping, saying: Give us flesh, that we may eat.

    יד לֹא-אוּכַל אָנֹכִי לְבַדִּי, לָשֵׂאת אֶת-כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה: כִּי כָבֵד, מִמֶּנִּי.
    14 I am not able to bear all this people myself alone, because it is too heavy for me.

    טו וְאִם-כָּכָה אַתְּ-עֹשֶׂה לִּי, הָרְגֵנִי נָא הָרֹג--אִם-מָצָאתִי חֵן, בְּעֵינֶיךָ; וְאַל-אֶרְאֶה, בְּרָעָתִי. {פ}
    15 And if Thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray Thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in Thy sight; and let me not look upon my wretchedness.' {P}

    Numbers 11:11

In light of all this, in light of the demands, the complaints, the inconsiderate remarks- there is a Rashi on the words "Ma'asechim" literally "your deeds" in Devarim 1:12 that states that the people would talk- if Moshe was late, they would claim it was because of x, but if he was early they would claim it was because of y- they could never be satisfied- in light of all this, it seems utterly impossible to fault Moshe for exclaiming

    י וַיַּקְהִלוּ מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, אֶת-הַקָּהָל--אֶל-פְּנֵי הַסָּלַע; וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם, שִׁמְעוּ-נָא הַמֹּרִים--הֲמִן-הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה, נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם.

    10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said unto them: 'Hear now, ye rebels; are we to bring you forth water out of this rock?'"

According to some, the fact that Moses used the word "rebels" in this sentence is considered his tone, either because the wording was not appropriate or because the tone was inappropriate.

In Devarim 1: 37, Moses explains that:

    לז גַּם-בִּי הִתְאַנַּף יְהוָה, בִּגְלַלְכֶם לֵאמֹר: גַּם-אַתָּה, לֹא-תָבֹא שָׁם.
    37 Also the LORD was angry with me for your sakes, saying: Thou also shalt not go in thither;"

"For your sakes," Moses states there. It is because of the people that Moses shall not enter the land.

Now, I read a very interesting account of Moses' sin (or lack of it) here. The end result of this analysis seems to suggest that Moses as an individual did not sin at all, but that he failed as a leader, failed to inspire the people. Therefore, says this interpretation, making much of the word "lead," Moshe cannot lead the people into the land but he still requests to see the land and does, atop the mountain.

The problem with this approach, I think, is that if it is true it seems completely unfair. God appoints Moses against Moses' express wishes, God is the one who claims that Moses is capable of being a leader and must be a leader. If Moses' leadership capabilities are in question, doesn't that reflect on God? More importantly, what does this approach make of the word "tavo" in the earlier statement, that Moses cannot "come" to the land because of the Jews? There the idea isn't the word "lead" at all!

For the moment, then, let us consider that Moses is punished for his use of the word "mordim," rebels. In light of everything that has been done to him, it seems completely justified and more. Moses has suffered. His entire mission, his entire career as a leader has been stressful, problematic. There have been attempted usurpers, battles, the ever-present guerilla attacker Amalek, and what is more, the divisiveness inside the camp of Dasan, Aviram and Korach.

Now let us considere Jeremiah, also appointed leader by God, also dealing with a task that has been thrust upon him, that is not of his choosing.

Jeremiah laments his status and his life consistently throughout the Book of Jeremiah. He begs God for vengeance, where in an act of extreme self-control he refrains from taking it himself. In all his prayers he turns to God and reminds him, even, dare I say it, accuses Him- showing God all that it has cost him to be this leader:

    טו אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ יְהוָה, זָכְרֵנִי וּפָקְדֵנִי וְהִנָּקֶם לִי מֵרֹדְפַי--אַל-לְאֶרֶךְ אַפְּךָ, תִּקָּחֵנִי; דַּע, שְׂאֵתִי עָלֶיךָ חֶרְפָּה.
    15 Thou, O LORD, knowest; remember me, and think of me, and avenge me of my persecutors; take me not away because of Thy long-suffering; know that for Thy sake I have suffered taunts.

    טז נִמְצְאוּ דְבָרֶיךָ, וָאֹכְלֵם, וַיְהִי דבריך (דְבָרְךָ) לִי, לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחַת לְבָבִי: כִּי-נִקְרָא שִׁמְךָ עָלַי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאוֹת. {ס}
    16 Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy words were unto me a joy and the rejoicing of my heart; because Thy name was called on me, O LORD God of hosts. {S}

    יז לֹא-יָשַׁבְתִּי בְסוֹד-מְשַׂחֲקִים, וָאֶעְלֹז: מִפְּנֵי יָדְךָ בָּדָד יָשַׁבְתִּי, כִּי-זַעַם מִלֵּאתָנִי.
    17 I sat not in the assembly of them that make merry, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of Thy hand; for Thou hast filled me with indignation.

    יח לָמָּה הָיָה כְאֵבִי נֶצַח, וּמַכָּתִי אֲנוּשָׁה; מֵאֲנָה, הֵרָפֵא--הָיוֹ תִהְיֶה לִי כְּמוֹ אַכְזָב, מַיִם לֹא נֶאֱמָנוּ. {ס}
    18 Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, so that it refuseth to be healed? Wilt Thou indeed be unto me as a deceitful brook, as waters that fail? {S}"

    Jeremiah 15: 15

Jeremiah has suffered, he has been persecuted, for God's sake. He has been an outcast, both because of his words but also because of his incomprehension of how people can want to destroy themselves. God's anger has become his anger. But in the face of that he desires revenge, he wants those who tried to kill him to suffer as well. Even then, he knows, he will not be released from his task. His pain is perpetual, his wound incurable, there is now release for him...there is nothing for him, except pain and in the future, death.

But it is more than just physical suffering, more than the mocking people and their taunts. Jeremiah suffers over what he has become, over who he is. He states:

י אוֹי-לִי אִמִּי--כִּי יְלִדְתִּנִי אִישׁ רִיב וְאִישׁ מָדוֹן, לְכָל-הָאָרֶץ; לֹא-נָשִׁיתִי וְלֹא-נָשׁוּ-בִי, כֻּלֹּה מְקַלְלַוְנִי. {ס}
10 Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have not lent, neither have men lent to me; yet every one of them doth curse me. {S} "

Jeremiah mourns his creation, this creation of the "man of strife and a man of contention." He does not want to be this man, this lonely creature set apart against his people, this man who must condemn them, accuse them, this man who brings strife and misfortune in his wake. He does not want to see them suffer. He is a man of compassion but simultaneously of righteousness and indignation; he upholds God's law but weeps at the price he must pay for it.

How can we remain silent when we see how he speaks?

    ז פִּתִּיתַנִי יְהוָה וָאֶפָּת, חֲזַקְתַּנִי וַתּוּכָל; הָיִיתִי לִשְׂחוֹק כָּל-הַיּוֹם, כֻּלֹּה לֹעֵג לִי.
    7 O LORD, Thou hast enticed me, and I was enticed, Thou hast overcome me, and hast prevailed; I am become a laughing-stock all the day, every one mocketh me.

    ח כִּי-מִדֵּי אֲדַבֵּר אֶזְעָק, חָמָס וָשֹׁד אֶקְרָא: כִּי-הָיָה דְבַר-יְהוָה לִי לְחֶרְפָּה וּלְקֶלֶס, כָּל-הַיּוֹם.
    8 For as often as I speak, I cry out, I cry: 'Violence and spoil'; because the word of the LORD is made a reproach unto me, and a derision, all the day.

    ט וְאָמַרְתִּי לֹא-אֶזְכְּרֶנּוּ, וְלֹא-אֲדַבֵּר עוֹד בִּשְׁמוֹ, וְהָיָה בְלִבִּי כְּאֵשׁ בֹּעֶרֶת, עָצֻר בְּעַצְמֹתָי; וְנִלְאֵיתִי כַּלְכֵל, וְלֹא אוּכָל.
    9 And if I say: 'I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name', then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I weary myself to hold it in, but cannot.

    י כִּי שָׁמַעְתִּי דִּבַּת רַבִּים, מָגוֹר מִסָּבִיב, הַגִּידוּ וְנַגִּידֶנּוּ, כֹּל אֱנוֹשׁ שְׁלֹמִי שֹׁמְרֵי צַלְעִי; אוּלַי יְפֻתֶּה וְנוּכְלָה לוֹ, וְנִקְחָה נִקְמָתֵנוּ מִמֶּנּוּ.
    10 For I have heard the whispering of many, terror on every side: 'Denounce, and we will denounce him'; even of all my familiar friends, them that watch for my halting: 'Peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him.'

    יא וַיהוָה אוֹתִי כְּגִבּוֹר עָרִיץ, עַל-כֵּן רֹדְפַי יִכָּשְׁלוּ וְלֹא יֻכָלוּ; בֹּשׁוּ מְאֹד כִּי-לֹא הִשְׂכִּילוּ, כְּלִמַּת עוֹלָם לֹא תִשָּׁכֵחַ.
    11 But the LORD is with me as a mighty warrior; therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail; they shall be greatly ashamed, because they have not prospered, even with an everlasting confusion which shall never be forgotten.

    יב וַיהוָה צְבָאוֹת בֹּחֵן צַדִּיק, רֹאֶה כְלָיוֹת וָלֵב; אֶרְאֶה נִקְמָתְךָ מֵהֶם, כִּי אֵלֶיךָ גִּלִּיתִי אֶת-רִיבִי. {ס}
    12 But, O LORD of hosts, that triest the righteous, that seest the reins and the heart, let me see Thy vengeance on them; for unto Thee have I revealed my cause. {S}

    יג שִׁירוּ, לַיהוָה--הַלְלוּ, אֶת-יְהוָה: כִּי הִצִּיל אֶת-נֶפֶשׁ אֶבְיוֹן, מִיַּד מְרֵעִים. {ס}
    13 Sing unto the LORD, praise ye the LORD; for He hath delivered the soul of the needy from the hand of evil-doers. {S}

    יד אָרוּר הַיּוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יֻלַּדְתִּי בּוֹ: יוֹם אֲשֶׁר-יְלָדַתְנִי אִמִּי, אַל-יְהִי בָרוּךְ.
    14 Cursed be the day wherein I was born; the day wherein my mother bore me, let it not be blessed.

    טו אָרוּר הָאִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר בִּשַּׂר אֶת-אָבִי לֵאמֹר, יֻלַּד-לְךָ, בֵּן זָכָר--שַׂמֵּחַ, שִׂמְּחָהוּ.
    15 Cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying: 'A man-child is born unto thee'; making him very glad.

    טז וְהָיָה הָאִישׁ הַהוּא, כֶּעָרִים אֲשֶׁר-הָפַךְ יְהוָה וְלֹא נִחָם; וְשָׁמַע זְעָקָה בַּבֹּקֶר, וּתְרוּעָה בְּעֵת צָהֳרָיִם.
    16 And let that man be as the cities which the LORD overthrew, and repented not; and let him hear a cry in the morning, and an alarm at noontide;

    יז אֲשֶׁר לֹא-מוֹתְתַנִי, מֵרָחֶם; וַתְּהִי-לִי אִמִּי קִבְרִי, וְרַחְמָה הֲרַת עוֹלָם.
    17 Because He slew me not from the womb; and so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb always great.

    יח לָמָּה זֶּה מֵרֶחֶם יָצָאתִי, לִרְאוֹת עָמָל וְיָגוֹן; וַיִּכְלוּ בְּבֹשֶׁת, יָמָי. {פ}
    18 Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed in shame? {P}

    Jeremiah 20

God has prevailed, Jeremiah says. God has chosen and Jeremiah cannot escape. Jeremiah is a laughing-stock, he is set apart from his people, hated, hurt, victim of all kinds of offenses, but he cannot choose to refrain from prophecy, he cannot set down his burden. Jeremiah bears it and must continue to bear it; his only refuge is God. The same God who appointed him this leader! This same God, who has chosen him to bear all this; this is the God to whom he pours out his anguish, his pain, the only one whom he can trust. This is God transcendent, God who is both Judge and Father, God whom Jeremiah loves and must, then, simultaneously try to disobey. Because, remarkably, against all odds, Jeremiah loves his people, too.

In Jeremiah 20: 9 we see what this is like, as Jeremiah demonstrates his exhaustion and weariness:

"And if I say: 'I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name', then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I weary myself to hold it in, but cannot. "

There is no choice in what Jeremiah does, in what Moses did. They are born to their fates, born to their duties, born to be the greatest leaders who lived and simultaneously to suffer the most. But what is chilling, what is fascinating, what is the greatest characterization of either of them is that despite all this, despite this cruelty and awful behavior, despite the torture, being thrown into pits and jail cells, despite being denied and hurt over and over again by their people, they continue-

because they love their people.

What is this love? How can we understand it? This love for people who do not deserve it, who are absolutely undeserving, people who have done all in their power to kill or hurt these two men. How many times do we see Moshe praying to God, praying for the forgiveness of the Jews? And how many times does Jeremiah implore the people to listen, does God tell Jeremiah that he should try to save them no longer? We see Moshe stand up to God, stand up to Him and tell him that his name should be erased from the Torah if the Jewish people die. We see the same in Jeremiah's laments, in Eicha; we see his mourning over the people and the city, the grandeur that is lost.

We see this...and we stand astonished.

For how can these men, these men who must be weary, exhausted, unhappy, leading solitary, lonely lives, detached from their can they convey such a depth of feeling, so much emotion...and on behalf of whom? On behalf of the very people that disowns them, that is cruel to them! It is something that is incredible, something astounding, something strange and frightening...something terribly, terribly beautiful.

Jeremiah confides in God his deepest, darkest, most terrible moments whereas Moses speaks to him as a friend and almost-equal, his voice sharp and strong. But even he, Moses the advocate of the people has times where he must despair, where he must feel the awfulness of the task that has been set before him.

Admire them, o' Israel, and face them with a terrible awe, these men who tried to save you even though you did everything to push them away. Admire them and weep! Pity their pain, Israel, and your share in causing it. For they loved you though you did not deserve their love, and it was this love that made them continue despite their misfortune. God commanded, this is true, and it was forced upon them, but even then they could have, had they truly desired, chosen death, and they did not.

So tell me, how many of these men must we have? Were not Jeremiah and Moses enough? Must God appoint more, must there be more of us forced to serve, feeling a great love for the Jews, a simultaneous hatred of their wickedness, and feeling torn between the two? Wanting revenge upon those who wronged us but simultaenously, blindly hoping that we can fix it, forestall it, fix the problem, change those who judge us wrongly, who make us sit alone, who are cruel, cruel...and yet our people?

It is a terrible thing, a blessing and a curse, to feel such empathy and compassion for the people, to be chosen by God. When we are children we are taught of Moses the leader, Moses the savior. People dream of being Moses. Dream! And for what? To understand Moses, we must understand suffering, for Moses and Jeremiah are alike in that as in many other ways. This Moses, whom we now speak of happily at our Sabbath tables for our divrei Torah, this Moses whom we blithely talk about as merrily leading the Jews out of Egypt, this exciting, action-figure Moses...did not exist.

And to truly understand the one who did exist, the one whose joys and sorrows must necessarily have been bound up with the fate of the people, the one who could not ignore his people but must try to change them and persuade them to serve God as they ought; the kind of prophet who, like Jeremiah had a "fire burning in his bones- the word of God" and who could not hold it back even though he did not desire to accuse, the kind of man who grieved over his being the cause of strife, over what he had become- this man, this man, this man, I tell you, is our ideal. This man deserves our kindness, our respect, our thanks, our most devout thanks.

I cannot think about Moses and Jeremiah without awe, without feeling close to them. They have held my hands, as it were, when I have been alone, because they know what it is to be alone. Jeremiah confided in God, and from there I learned that it was proper to confide in God, that God could know my every thought, my every word, all that was written in my heart, be it good or bad. And from them I also learned that we cannot ignore what is happening, but it must press upon us, it must hurt us, it is the fire in our bones, and that our love for our people is what motivates us, even when they push us away, or mock us, or claim that we are the false prophets, the liars, the evildoers.

From Moses and Jeremiah I have learned about leadership, I have learned the toll it takes upon a person and the kind of man who can be a leader. From Moses and Jeremiah I have learned also about love and hatred, about all emotions, and most of all about God...who does not always make our mission voluntary, but may thrust it upon us so that we have no choice. And though we may rebel, God will prevail. Such, then, is our doom.

But such is also our greatest triumph.


Anonymous said...

Although your post is eloquent and most of its analysis sound, I believe that your critique of Rav Leibtag is incorrect. You state that: "God appoints Moses against Moses' express wishes, God is the one who claims that Moses is capable of being a leader and must be a leader. If Moses' leadership capabilities are in question, doesn't that reflect on God?" However, the possibility exists that God chose moshe based on his leadership potential, potential that moshe failed to fulfill. Moshe's failure, under such a scenario, reflects on his own shortcomings far more then it does on god. Such an approach, however, would raise a troubling question. What would have happened if Moshe failed in egypt? I do not know the answer, or if my explanation is better then yours, but I felt that Rav Leibtag's pshat was good enough that it deserved to be rehabilitated.

Anonymous said...

Here's something to enjoy on Yom Kippur...

Yonah fled to avoid reforming Niveh and therefore enabling them to eventually conquer Israel or to stand as an accusation at Israel's own lack of repentance. So why is it that Hashem doesn't just let Yonah run and pick someone else for the job? Why does He make Yonah's life miserable until he finally agrees to go to Ninveh?

R' Chaim Shumelevitz- because any man who is willing to risk life, both temporal and eternal for the sake of Israel, is far too beloved of G-d to be ever left in peace.

Looking Forward said...

as a fellow outcast i think i have alot to say about this.

the prophets where all hated, every single last one of them. Yishaiyah, Shmuel, Eliyahu, all of them. People who speak the truth are often labled "lunatics" "mentaly unstable" or elsewise.

often the brightest and best are hated and given no peace.

i remember being in crownheights speaking against what was going on there, speaking out against insanity. Many didn't like it.

those who are different will allways be hated. G-d loves the outcast, yet what does he do with him? he causes him to be more seperate. some of us are chosen for this job, and often we/they are distinguished from a very young age. Frequently the difference between the insane and the prophet is several hundred years time, because both are regarded as mentaly unstable in their own time. it is not untill they are long dead that everyone looks at one and says what a genius one was.

i also look up to moshe, to jeremiah. I also look up to the other prophets who lived through similar times. in a sense there is a certain kindred, and i'm not sure what i'd say if hashem invited me to join their ranks.

for now though we're just outcasts living the best life we can, waiting, to see if we are called upon to make yet more sacrifice.

but above all, do you hear that blessed lunatic calling out in the streets? to you hear his cries and his shouts about what will be? listen to him, head him well, likely hashem has placed a message for you in his words. They know g-d in a way others don't.

i'm going to end this rant now.

e-kvetcher said...

"this exciting, action-figure Moses...did not exist."

Oh yes he did!

Tobie said...

I think it is a Rashi on the words "Moshe me'uchar," literally "Moshe was late,"

I think it's actually on the words "tirchachem" in Parshat Devarim. Beautiful post.

dbs said...

Couldn't have been more than about 1,200 words. Looks the the academics at Stern are just plain crushing.

I loved the post.

Here is a (maybe too) provocative thought:

Perhaps both Moses and Jeremiah wrote their own characters.

Perhaps they chose to portray themselvs as reluctant servants of God because it lent far more appeal and coherance to their stories, like Frodo and Roark. Perhaps Moses was a genius of moral and political leadership, and had the brilliance to create himself as the most memorable figure in literature.

And how would the Jeremiah story read if he were the eager bearer of admonition and doom? Or if he had been taken seriously by his people and lived a life of security?

Well, just a thought.