CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 5



(Ruth Adar)

These are the names of the sons of Israel... (Exodus 1:1).

dangerous and desperate act of resistance.

We find not a single woman's name in the list that
opens Sh'mot. But here's the irony: after the list of men's
names, the portion is filled with the daring actions of
women, actions without which there would have been no

Miriam follows along on the riverbank, watching over
the baby boy. Midrash tells us that Moses's sister has
the gift of prophecy; she knows her little brother is no
ordinary child. Nevertheless, imagine the nerve it takes to
watch the basket while avoiding crocodiles, snakes, and
Pharaoh's soldiers; yet young Miriam never abandons
her brother.

In chapter 1, we meet the midwives Shifrah and Puah
who refuse to murder Hebrew babies. They blatantly
defy the most powerful man in the world. Realizing
they aren't cooperating but unable to catch them at it,
Pharaoh pursues another plan. Yet the fact remains:
children survive because two women defy the king of the
world to his face.
In chapter 2, another woman defies Pharaoh! A Levite
woman hides her son for three months from the king's
minions. When she can hide him no longer, she puts
the infant in a basket and sets it afloat in the Nile, a

In chapter 4, the young wife of Moses, Tziporah,
witnesses her husband's near-fatal encounter with God.
She thinks quickly, grabs a knife, and circumcises their
son. The story is very mysterious, but one thing is certain:
"Tziporah" may mean "little bird," but she herself is no
shrinking violet.
So yes, Exodus may begin with the names of men, but it
is the deeds of women that set this great saga in motion.

Va-eira (Amy Scheinerman)
The story of the Exodus is one of nested hierarchies
of power-and reversals. God stands on the top
rung. Pharaoh stands above the Israelites and
Moses; he believes himself to stand at the top, but
learns otherwise. Moses believes he stands beneath
Pharaoh until God reverses the power dynamic with
the plagues (the first seven are enumerated in Vaeira). The Israelites are organized in a hierarchical
system; the heads of the clans are enumerated in
Va-eira. The story turns on coercion, control, threat,
and punishment.
God and Pharaoh deal in control, threat, and
punishment. Moses is far less self-assured (in Vaeira he tells God that his speech impediment is a
disqualification for authority and power) and far
more inclined, at times, to empathy and compassion.
In The Moral Molecule, Paul J. Zak, the "vampire
economist" and professor of psychology, reports
his studies on the effect of the pro-social hormone
oxytocin on human behavior. Zak argues that

oxytocin is the molecule behind love, loyalty,
virtue-and ultimately, prosperity. "Testosterone
specifically interferes with the uptake of oxytocin,
producing a damping effect on being caring and
feeling" that makes hunters and warriors "less
squeamish about crushing skulls in order to feed and
protect the family," far more likely to take risks, and
far more likely to coerce, punish, and extract revenge.
Zak draws lines from molecules to
families to societies.
Zak's work can inspire us to ask: What makes a
great leader: the qualities of oxytocin, testosterone,
or a combination? Based on extensive experiments,
Zak concludes that "the benefit to the group in
having at least some of its members wired to love
punishing is that it reinforces morality by increasing
the cost-as well as the likelihood of having to
pay the cost-for anti-social behaviors." We might
well explore how his work informs our models of

Bo (Michael Boyden)
We tend to focus on the release of the Israelites from
slavery, but of no lesser interest is the collapse of Egyptian
society. It is the tale of a mighty empire, its leaders, its
people and their beliefs, and of the path that led to their
Certainly the Children of Israel have to adjust to the
notion of freedom. But those who enslaved them also
had to come to terms with the fact that the game was
over. That is why the saga of the plagues includes the
statement: And the Egyptians shall know that I am
Adonai (Exodus 7:5).
Ultimately, it is the tale of a stubborn dictator over a
corrupt society struggling to hold onto power. As the book
of Proverbs puts it: A stone is heavy and sand is a burden,
but the anger of a fool weighs more than both of them

Living after the Holocaust, one cannot help but draw
comparisons with another tyrant who fought until the
bitter end at the expense of his people. The Germans, like
the Egyptians, were complicit in their leader's genocidal
goals. The latter did not care about the Israelites'
suffering but only about the threat that they posed to the
status quo. As they put it: How long will they be a snare to
us? (Exodus 10:7).
Egypt's empire could not survive without addressing the
evil in its midst. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from
a Birmingham jail, "We are caught in an inescapable
network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."
And so our parashah teaches us: One law shall you
have for the native born and for the stranger who resides
among you (Exodus 12:49).

(Louis Rieser)

The Piaseczner Rebbe, Kalonymus
Kalmish Shapira (1889-1943, also
known as the Warsaw Ghetto Rebbe),
finds in the opening verse of the Song
of the Sea the idea of divine sod,
secret. His explication of the notion
offers a humbling reminder that all
learning depends on the heart.
A sod, secret, is personal, something
we hide from others for our own
reasons; that we reveal only to those
who have earned the privilege of
hearing it. These secrets belong
to us and are of our "essence and
God also has secrets, like Kabbalah,
revealed only to those who have
earned the privilege. This is where it
gets interesting. We can each learn
the particulars of Kabbalah according
to our own level, but intelligence is
not sufficient. In order to penetrate the
depths of that divine secret, one "needs
to draw close to God, blessed be, join/
unite with the Holy One, and then
God reveals the sod that is his essence
to them, according to the extent of
the person's closeness." Secrets are
intimate, and we gain them by opening
our heart, accepting the risk, and
entering that intimate realm.
Shapira's extended exploration teaches
that gaining such intimacy requires
introspection and meditation in addition
to love. There is much to be learned
from Shapira's detailed description, but
the take-away is simpler. The Torah of
the mind is partial at best. If we wish
our teaching-regardless of topic-to
penetrate into the hearts and souls of
amcha, we need to pursue that difficult
and intimate journey into our own soul.
In discovering our own depths, we may
touch the Divine.

Yitro (Amy Scheinerman)
The long-running debate concerning
precisely what was revealed at Sinai-
the entire Torah? Sefer D'varim?
Aseret HaDib'rot? just the first two
commandments? only the first word,
anochi?-culminates in the Chasidic
teaching of Menachem Mendel of
Rimanov that the Israelites heard only
the silent alef of anochi. Revelation,
Menachem Mendel teaches us, was an
encounter with the Divine more than the
(Continued on page 6) VOICES OF TORAH



CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014

CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 1
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 2
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 3
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 4
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 5
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 6
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 7
CCAR Newsletter Nov-Dec 2014 - 8