“Real Time” Vs Static Judaism
By Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov Jax, Fl.
A Rebbe is far more than a Rabbi. The latter is a person who is knowledgeable about Jewish laws and practices. The Rebbe, on the other hand, not only possesses such revealed knowledge, but is also an expert on the inner essence of life, the concealed knowledge. The Rebbe is often described as a person touched by G-d, someone who possesses immense powers to sustain the lives of his followers, his Chassidim, on earthly and spiritual planes. The Chassidim, in turn, feel dependent on their Rebbe for guidance and help in accessing Divine grace about all matters — spiritual and mundane (Dr Joseph H. Berke: A Tale of Two Orphans)
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“They believed in G-d and in Moshe His servant” (Exodus 14:31)
Is Judaism a static religion? Or is it a living; “breathing,” religion? To explain the question: Has G-d communicated all the knowledge and guidance He ever wished to share, albeit with eternal relevance, in a prior era and form, or does He, according to Jewish faith, continue to communicate and guide his people in “Real time?” The answer is yes and no. How is that for rabbinical verdict?
What is meant by this is that on some level everything has already been transmitted within the confines of the written and oral Torah, while on another level, Divine guidance is a continuous and ongoing phenomenon. Let us explore the meaning of this assertion, beginning with our very Parsha, Beshalach.
It has been described, in the narrative leading up to our Parsha, how a battery of devastating plagues worked magic in breaking the iron resolve of the Egyptians tormenters. After two harrowing centuries of exile and slavery, the despotic King Pharaoh and his barbaric taskmasters suddenly found themselves all but eager to release the Israelites from their evil clutches.
With their sights set on Sinai and the long awaited rendezvous with G-d, the Children of Israel were free at last; well on their way to a future of hope and promise, or so they thought. But alas, in an unexpected turn of events, their hopes were quickly dashed.
Having experienced a complete change of heart, Pharaoh’s army was now in hot pursuit of their former slaves and closing-in from behind. To add insult to injury, directly ahead lay the fearsome sight of the Sea of Reeds.
Suddenly, the fledgling nation found itself caught between a rock and a hard place, or more accurately, between the extended spears of the advancing Egyptian army and the swelling waves of the fast approaching Sea.
With Egypt on the prowl, Israel’s brief brush with freedom was slipping rapidly. The elation resulting from their miraculous liberation gave way to confusion and alarm. Gripped by panic the newly formed nation reacted in hysteria: “The Children of Israel raised their eyes and behold! – the Egyptians were advancing after them. They were very frightened, so the Children of Israel cried out to G-d. . .” (Exodus 14:10)
The Midrash purports that the Israelites – in what was to become proverbial Jewish tradition – were arguing amongst themselves. Some said: “Let us throw ourselves into the sea.” Others exclaimed: “Let us return to Egypt.” Another faction argued: “Let us wage war upon the Egyptians.” And yet a fourth camp advocated: “Let us pray to G-d.”
In an effort to restore order, Moshe declares: “Fear not, stand by and see the salvation of G-d which He will show you today; for as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again, forever. G-d shall fight for you, and you shall be silent” (Exodus 14:13).
These words, asserts the Midrash, imply Moshe’s rejection of all four options: “Fear not, stand by and see the salvation of G-d,” is Moshe’s response to those who had despaired of the Egyptian threat and wanted to plunge into the sea.
“As you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again,” addresses those who advocated surrender and return to Egypt.
“G-d shall fight for you,” is the answer to those who wished to battle the Egyptians.
“And you shall be silent.” is Moshe’s rejection of those who said, “This is all beyond us. All we can do is pray.”
Yet, if all the stated opinions were wrong, what was Israel supposed to do during this life threatening crisis? Moreover, all of the alternatives seem rather reasonable – solutions that at one occasion or another, in Jewish history, proved effective and even prescribed by G-d.
For example, Israel’s response to the attack on the part of the Amaleikites, related at the end of our very own Parsha, called for the Jewish nation to “Go out and do battle with Amaleik” – an idea rejected in our situation. If this response was right there, why was it wrong here?
The other solutions have also proven valid on respective occasions. Esther, for example asked Mordechai to “Go and gather all the Jewish people and fast for me. . .” Why was fasting and praying correct then, but not now?
Neither is martyrdom without precedent in the annals of Jewish history. We are all familiar with the story of the ten martyrs and the legendary episode of Massada. In fact, wasn’t the binding of Yitzchok, G-d’s tenth test of Avraham, a call to martyrdom? Why then was the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem ruled out here? Moreover, if different crisis require different reactions, how are we to ever know which response is correct in any given circumstance?
The answer to these deserving queries is actually the very point of the entire narrative – the lesson of the legendary blunder at the banks of the Yam Suf.
“Speak to the Children of Israel,” G-d says to Moshe, in response to all their fussing, tell them “That they should go forward,” i.e., they should follow the directives which have been set forth. In other words: “Let Me give the orders while you do the following and not the other way around.”
The varied camps all committed the same error. They all based their opinions and suggestions on their own imaginations. Instead of looking to G-d and Moshe for direction, they turned to themselves. They never even thought to consider whether G-d had something to say about all this and where to turn to find His true will.
The voyage from Egypt to Sinai is emblematic of the perpetual voyage from exile to redemption – the ongoing assignment to transform humanity and the very world into a G-dly domain. At the very inception of the Journey we are taught a critical lesson. Man, in his service of G-d, must seek-out the true intent of G-d.
We must know that G-d’s true will is not found within our own. It has nothing at all to do with one’s own logic, feelings and motives. There is G-d’s will and then there is ours. While at times the two may seem as though they are one and the same, this is usually because we have not yet learned to tell them apart. As we grow in our understanding and service of G-d through Torah, we learn to distinguish between G-d’s intention and our own spin.
Now as then, we are faced with multiple voices and multiple choices at every crossroads in our national and personal journey from Egypt to Sinai and beyond. Now as then, there are voices – inner as well as outer – that claim to be that of G-d. Voices that are eager to share their opinions on when and how we ought to proceed and what G-d’s intentions really are.
The premier message to the newborn nation of Israel upon the onset of its journey, and the premier lesson for every Jew in his personal spiritual journey, is that not all voices that speak in the name of G-d belong to G-d.
But how are we to know which voice is from G-d and which is from elsewhere? This is perhaps the most essential skill taught by Judaism. In fact, much of Chassidic philosophy is designed to help accomplish this very task.
A most basic principle, without which it is virtually impossible to overcome this obstacle, is the need follow the guidance of Moshe Rabbeinu. The lesson of the first Jewish crisis in history is that to follow G-d is to follow and subordinate oneself to a Moshe. In absence of a Moshe there is no Judaism, nor is there a knowable G-d.
In more practical terms, this means that a Jew cannot go-it-alone. A Jew cannot rely on himself to determine and decipher the credibility of every voice – he cannot trust himself to navigate every fork in the road. This is precisely what our sages meant when they say: “Make for yourself a teacher and free yourself from doubt.” – Avos 1:16
Making for oneself a teacher, however, should not be confused with “Teacher hopping,” or “Teacher shopping.” The latter is a common syndrome, which involves, amongst others, people who are new to Torah observance but refuse to follow or commit themselves to an established path. They prefer to glean a little here and a little there, and the rest they make up themselves.
For some the internet, AKA the “Webbe Rebbe,” has become the new Moshe.” They consult various websites etc. and pick and choose from each that which they like, and leave that which they don’t.
Now to be sure, there is nothing wrong with the internet as a source of raw information and knowledge, but by no means does it provide a reliable path and approach to the service of G-d – by no means does it take the place of a teacher and mentor.
As Jews we must always remember the lesson of the fateful experience on the banks of the Red Sea, when G-d said to Moshe…. “Speak to the Children of Israel that they should go forward.” We must look to the Moshe in our lives and discern between the voice of G-d and the voices that wish to present themselves as G-d, be it from within or without. Only then can we be certain that our ideas and ideologies are not rooted in one of the four camps which entirely missed the mark, good as their intentions might have been.
By following the call of the Moshe of our generation, his teachings and guidance through which G-d continues to communicate with us, we will be sure not to veer from the Divine intention and path and thereby fulfill our G-dly mission in making this world into a dwelling place for Him with the coming of the righteous Moshiach BBA.