Saturday, March 15, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Vayikra/Zachor (Remembering Moses)

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of Moshe Rabbeinu, of whom we are observing today, the 7th of II Adar 5768 his 3280th yahrzeit (d. 7 Adar 2488 AM). He would also be celebrating a milestone birthday, today Moses turns the big 3400 (b. 7 Adar 2368). Happy birthday to my original namesake! Oh look, he's blushing, he's so humble.

Moses was exceedingly humble; whether motivated by fear or humility, he repeatedly rebuffs God's order from the midst of the Burning Bush to deliver God's people from slavery in Egypt. He also gave up everything when, as a prince of Egypt, he slew an Egyptian taskmaster who was punishing an Israelite slave. Moses didn't think an Egyptian taskmaster was more important than a lowly Israelite slave, and though he'd grown up in the palace indoctrinated that Egyptians were supreme and that the life of an Israelite was worth less than bricks or horses, he realized that even from his high station as adopted son of the pharaoh he could not ignore injustice. Though his anger and anguish caused him to smash the Tablets of Law upon gazing upon the Israelites worshiping the Golden Calf, he fasts for months upon additional ascents to heaven and prays on behalf of God's chosen nation, and when God tells Moses He will destroy Israel and create a new nation with Moses as its progenitor, Moses begs for his own life to be taken if God refuses to forgive (for this God says, "salachti kidvarecha", "I have forgiven according to your word", one of the rare occasions in which God's edict has been swayed. Moses allowed his name to be excluded from the Passover Haggadah, allowing God full credit for the Exodus.

In this week's Torah Portion Moses begins the transference of priestly duties to his big brother Aaron, and Moses is happy for him and allows Aaron to have an everlasting dynasty while Moses' fell into disuse after a wayward grandson named Jonathan ben Gershon ben Mnashe, a priest of idolatry(the Nun here is the only letter I know of which is elevated in the Bible, indicating that the letter was added later to not associate Moshe with an idolater). The very first word of this week's torah portion and the very first word of the third book of the bible (and its namesake) is Vayikra, this time with a smaller letter aleph. Again a sign of the humility of Moses, that wanted to downplay that God called out to Moses. A treatment of this verse can be found at my last year's Dvar Torah for this week's Torah portion.

Now I want to examine Zachor. Because we will be celebrating Purim this coming week, we read a special Maftir, which we call Shabbat Zachor. There is a very hard-to-understand mitzvah within: that we must remember and not forget to wipe out the remembrance of Amalek. The Rabbis of the talmud think this is not meant to be taken literally. We take the wiping out symbolically, that we stamp out the name of his most well-known descendant, Haman (yemach shemo uzichro). The three words that I appended to the name of the evil villain of the Purim story means "may his name and memory be wiped out". But we are also supposed to remember! We should recall the sage words of poet-philosopher George Santayana who wrote a little over a century ago, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". We cannot forget the Holocaust and we cannot forget the perpetrators nor can we forget the lessons lest, God forbid, we forget and allow it to happen again. How can we who were attacked by Egypt and Amalek from Haman, Hitler and Hamas, allow genocide to go on under our watch. Wiping out the memory means we can't allow the tyrants and evildoers to proliferate wickedness without attempting to stop them.

Remember and forget at the same time. Memory is a very strange thing. When our ancestors left Egypt they consistently complained that they missed the vegetables and meat they got for free in Egypt. This is memory but not reality. They kind of forgot that they didn't get this food for free but that they had to work as slaves for sub-par food. This is why we must daily remember we were slaves in the land of Egypt, lest we forget.

Shabbat Shalom.

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