CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 4
Voices of Torah
Torah paints Pharaoh as a dangerous ruler
because his worldview is us-versus-them:
“Look, the Israelite people are much too
numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly
with them, so that they may not increase;
otherwise in the event of war they may
join our enemies in fighting against us and
rise from the ground” (Exodus 1:9–10).
He has no trouble swallowing the absurd
argument of the midwives that Hebrew
women are biologically different from
Egyptian women, because it confirms
his worldview: “The Hebrew women are
not like the Egyptian women: they are
vigorous. Before the midwife can come to
them, they have given birth” (Exodus 1:19).
Most of this week’s parashah is devoted to preparing Moses and Aaron for their encounter with
Pharaoh. But why did God choose Moses?
While we may not see others as
biologically different, or as potential
enemies it seems to me that there is
sometimes undue and unbecoming
competition within the Jewish community
that does not further Torah. I hear rabbis
of all stripes speak about how their
congregation is thriving while others
nearby are dying; they are not mourning
the loss, but rather celebrating what feels
to them to be a “victory.” I have seen
instances of congregations so territorial
that despite the fact that none can
mount a decent adult education program
or religious school, they refuse to join
together to offer Torah learning because
exposure to another synagogue might cost
I am keenly aware of the need for
members for a synagogue to survive and
thrive. I have experienced the problem
firsthand. But I hope we can look beyond
our immediate need and see that when we
view others as “us” and not competition,
we will grow and thrive all the more
because what we offer will be more
exciting, dynamic, and meaningful.
The Torah refers to only three events in Moses’s life prior to God turning to him at the ripe old age
of eighty (!).
The first event was, when he saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating Israelite slaves, he struck down
the Egyptian and hid him in the sand (Exodus 2:12). The second episode was when he saw two
Israelites fighting and asked, “Why do you strike your fellow?” (Exodus 2:13). The third was when
shepherds chased away the daughters of the priest of Midian from the well, Moses rose to their
defense, and watered their flock (Exodus 2:17).
Ahad Ha’am tells us that what all three events have in common is “the prophet’s clash with life in
the name of justice.”
Interestingly, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years, and yet we do not hear
a single example of an uprising or any attempt to rescue them. Thousands of years later, the
residents of the German suburb of Dachau went about their daily lives while at the same time
more than 200,000 prisoners passed through its Nazi internment camp, where more than 30,000
of them would lose their lives. It takes immense courage to stand up to a regime. Even Moses
protested, “I have a speech impediment. How will Pharaoh listen to me?” But when one believes in
the righteousness of one’s cause, one must not give up. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “The
ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience,
but where he stands in moments of challenge.”
When Pharaoh says, “Yes, you may go, but not your flocks,” Moses ups his demands. That isn’t
a usual negotiation technique! More commonly, both sides begin by demanding more than they
expect to get, and then gradually move closer to one another’s position. But in this protracted
negotiation between Moses and Pharaoh, Moses increases his demands, perhaps because with
the passage of time and the progression of events, Moses sees that his position of power has
risen quite dramatically.
As I write this d’var Torah in early December, President Morsi of Egypt has unilaterally
appropriated dictatorial powers, and Egyptians are trying to stand up to this modern-day
“pharaoh.” How astonishing that a story thousands of years old is so strangely relevant.
Same place. Similar issues?
It makes me wonder if we can learn any practical applications from this story for negotiating
or standing up to dictators. I’ve often heard people say that fighting never accomplishes anything,
but this story, and many in history, seems to prove the opposite: unfortunately, in
most instances, freedom and other good things come only after the application of force, and,
tragically, people die.
This seems an opportune time to delve into questions of negotiating strategies in our personal
lives and in our national lives. Do we ask too little? Do we concede too early? Do we overreach?
What is the right amount to ask for? Is it effective to begin by asking for less, with the intent of
increasing our demands over time? What is the role of power in our negotiations?
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 1
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 2
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 3
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 4
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 5
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 6
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 7
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 8
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 9
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 10
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 11
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2013 - 12