Why Did God Use Miracles to Free the Israelites From Slavery? | Aleph Beta

How to Break the Cycle of Abuse

Why Did God Use Miracles to Free the Israelites From Slavery?

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PODCAST

Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

Hidden in the Exodus story is a lesson on abusive relationships and how to break the traumatic cycle of abuse. In this intense podcast, join Rabbi David Fohrman & Beth Lesch as they tackle the difficult subject of abuse from all angles. They define what it means to be a victim, an abuser, and a savior, and how to break the vicious cycle of abuse. They also challenge the idea of "bystanders" in abusive situations. Drawing inspiration from the Exodus story and why God choose specifically to take the Jews out of Egypt in the way He did, Rabbi Fohrman demonstrates that God is not just taking the Jews out of Egypt, but showing an example of what it means to intervene in an abusive relationship. They also suggest that it was critical for God to not only remove the Jewish people from the abusive relationship, but also to show them how not be passive when faced with an abusive situation.


Transcript

Rabbi Fohrman:  Hi, everybody. This is Rabbi David Fohrman. We are here in Aleph Beta central, I am here with Rivky, our producer. I'm also here with Beth Lesch, one of our fantastic writers here at Aleph Beta. You may be familiar with Beth from some of her work on videos that you can find in Aleph Beta in animated form. But the really exciting thing is that we have Beth here in real life form today, not in animated form. Beth, what does it feel like to be here in Aleph Beta central in real life form, not in your animated avatar form? 

Beth:  I don't know. Rivky, can you pinch me and I'll tell you how it feels? I've never been pinched on a video chat before. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  No, but Beth, what can I say. Normally, when I talk to you is just a cartoon figure and I am a cartoon figure. We're both disembodied cartoon figures talking to each other. It just feels incongruous to be in the same room with you for real.

Beth:  Could it be that we're actually not in the same room and this is a dream?

Rabbi Fohrman:  I think that we're getting as philosophical as we often get here, sometimes, in Aleph Beta land. Beth, I wanted to kind of hang out with you today and share with you some thoughts that have been rumbling around my brain. I wanted to kind of get your thoughts on them and allow our listeners to kind of vicariously be a part of the conversation. 

I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the Sabbath. It's something that we know and love, we practice it, it's one of the basic things in Judaism. But I kind of noticed something, and I want to begin to share it with you. It basically began when I was hanging out with a friend of mine from years back by the name of Eitan Zerykier. Eitan is a therapist here, with a practice in the Five Towns. He kind of ran a provocative question by me. I want to run it by you. 

He said that in his experience in therapy, he has noticed something when it comes to domestic violence. When you have domestic violence, some sort of abuse, some sort of terrible trauma like that, that's happening in a family. He says that he's noticed that there are basically three roles that almost everybody in the family plays. It's one of these three roles, and he's also noticed that people cycle through the three roles. So their position isn't fixed. They may start somewhere and then migrate to one or two of the other roles.

Basically, the three roles of the following. Role number one is perpetrator. Role number two is victim.

Beth:  And bystander. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Roll number three is savior. 

Beth:  Ah. Okay, okay. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  The fascinating thing is that you mentioned bystander. There actually is no such thing as bystander. 

Beth:  There's no such thing because his assessment is that the way that domestic violence dynamics play out in a family is that whoever is witnessing doesn't let the crime go unintervened, but rather stands up to do something about it? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Not necessarily. If they're a savior, they do. But what if they don't? They're not really a bystander, are they? 

Beth:  Then they're really a perpetrator. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yes. 

Beth:  I see. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  In other words, they're complicit. 

Beth:  Okay. It sounds very counterintuitive to say that people cycle through these roles, but what I think I hear you saying is that once someone is a participator in this culture of abuse, someone even who's a victim, who's totally in touch with how horrible it is to be a victim, that person is at the risk of making the same mistake that the perpetrator makes, because they've learned some patterns of behavior from just having been a part of that.

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yes. So certainly later on in life they can become a perpetrator, because they've seen that pattern. It's another option. Especially if I go to my never again mentality and I say, never again will I become a victim, so my other option is to become a perpetrator because what else is there, right?

What Eitan was actually saying, and this -- I'm, I guess, not enough of a therapist to have seen this in real life and understand. He was sort of arguing that no, actually within the family, even in real time, people can cycle through those roles. So somebody can, in a strange way, move from victim to savior, or the savior can become victimized. 

To give you a good example of that, I remember a story from my own life. When my kid who was in first grade at the time, Moshe, came home telling me stories about how there was a bully on the playground that was shoving people down slides and just harassing everyone and terrifying everyone. There was one of his friends who was getting terribly harassed and really bullied and beaten up by this kid, and the teachers weren't there or they didn't know. He was bothered by it. I said to him, you can't be a bystander. You need to stand up. If you have some standing in the class, you basically have to stand up to that bully and say, you know, you can't do that to my friend. 

Beth:  Of course, the danger of standing up is that you can become a victim yourself.

Rabbi Fohrman:  Exactly. Now here I was, a sort of green father, easy for me to say that, but I'm not the kid on the playground who has to deal with it. My dear son Moshe, God bless his soul, you know, if Daddy says I have to stand up, well, that's what he's going to do. Lo and behold, he was the next person to be victimized by the bully. Then he was -- so there are no easy answers, right? You can be a savior and then that puts you at risk, and then you could become the victim. It's tough. 

So people can cycle through these roles. They're not fixed. One of the things that was fascinating about what Eitan also said, I think, was the notion that you can't really be a bystander. 

Beth:  Right. There's no such thing as neutral in a situation like that. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Right, and sort of -- I just want to explore that for a moment with you. You know, why is that, that there's no such thing as neutral in that situation? 

Beth:  I think the idea is that if you are watching something happen, right, you're watching something play out that you think is problematic, you have the choice to stand up and put a stop to it. So all of us would say that it's a positive thing to stop and intervene, if you choose to take that option. But if you don't, that neglected opportunity, you are allowing the abuse to continue. You're perpetrating the abuse. So it's a negative choice. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  In other words, what you're saying is that the power of the abuser becomes magnified when bystanders stand by. Their complicity sort of empowers him. There are people who actually see this and allow it to be, and hence the system is rigged against you, so to speak. Before you know it, you have well-meaning people who confine themselves, by virtue of their silence, doing things like having to rationalize to themselves why their silent, and before you know it, they're rationalizing the abuse. Because otherwise, why are they silent? It must be they did something to deserve it. And they really are on the side of the perpetrator. 

Beth:  Right. That's really a very scary dichotomy, because the stakes for the bystander are very, very high. It's easy to expect someone to stand up and intervene, but it's asking quite a lot of them to take on that savior role. Like you said, you end up taking a lot of vulnerability when you do that, and the gap between the heroism of the savior and the villainy of the bystander-turned-perpetrator is a very, very wide gap. You can choose to be the hero, or you can choose to be a criminal. There's no in-between. It's a hard position to force someone into. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yeah, and I can imagine myself being the bystander in such a case, feeling sort of mentally like, I didn't ask for this. Why can't I just remain neutral? I don't want this choice sort of forced upon me, and yet it is. If I can't rise to the occasion, it's a soul-destroying experience. It's kind of profound in that way. 

I remember reading a book years ago by William James, if I'm not mistaken. It was called The Will to Believe. He was arguing for -- an argument for belief in God, essentially. One of the things he said was that agnosticism is not a rational choice. Even though it sounds kind of rational. Because if I say to you, Beth, do you believe in God or not? Is God around or not? It would seem, philosophically, like agnosticism which is, I don't know. 

Beth:  Right. I don't have enough evidence. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  I don't have enough evidence, is a very rational choice. How are you supposed to know? I haven't been to heaven lately. I can't actually see whether there's a God. People say this, people say that. The question is unresolved, I don't know. And yet, one of the things William James argues is that in sort of life, or in philosophy, there are such things called forced choices. In forced choices, you don't have the option of agnosticism.

So for example, if someone were to say to you, Beth, do you think it's going to rain today? You might well say, I don't know. I'm not a meteorologist. I haven't looked into it. I don't have enough evidence, I don't know. That's not a forced choice. But if you were to come to a doctor because you'd seen something alarming in your life. The doctor sends you to an oncologist and, God forbid, the oncologist says you have a rare form of cancer. Luckily, it's treatable with this new form of chemotherapy. But I must warn you that the cancer is stage 3, and if you don't take the chemotherapy your chances of dying are about 95 percent.

So you say, oh my gosh, you know, let me just run and get a second opinion. You go to the second opinion which is the only other oncologist who's an expert in this rare form of cancer other than this guy. The guy does a full scan and says, I have news for you. The other guy doesn't know what he's talking about. You don't have this cancer. What's more, if you take the chemotherapy, it's got a 95 percent chance of killing you. 

So at this point, you can't throw up your hands and say, I don't know. You have a forced choice upon you. You are either going to take the chemotherapy or not, assuming what someone says is a 95 percent chance of dying. There is no way to avoid that choice. He argues belief in God is like that, right, because you have to live your life some way. 

Beth:  Right. You might not have to make up your mind, but you have to either live as if there's a God or not live as if there's a God. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Exactly. 

Beth:  Even with the rain, are you going to take the umbrella or not? Are you going to live like it's going to rain, or not live like it's going to rain?

Rabbi Fohrman:  Precisely. So there are more forced choices than we would imagine in life, and we don't get to say that we want a do-over and that I didn't ask for this. Domestic violence is one of those. When something happens that is as profound, as impactful, it's almost like dropping a boulder in a pond, right. The ripples cannot be avoided. It's going to affect everyone, so everyone's got to choose. 

Beth:  So what's that all got to do with Torah, right? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Excellent.  So what does all this have to do with Torah? So Eitan kind of sets this out for me, and then says, I have a theory -- Eitan's theory. He says, my theory as a therapist, having seen this, is that this explains a lot of Yetzi'at Mitzrayim, which is to say the exodus from Egypt. How? Because theoretically, God didn't have to make such a big profound sound and light show about the exodus from Egypt. I mean, He's God. 

So if you're God and your favorite people is enslaved, you know, you're the same God that ordained the laws of nature. You're the same God that is behind the laws of physics and the laws of chemistry. You have a bias against miracles, it's like miracles aren't a thing, usually, because the God who created nature kind of likes that way. You know, if you have too many miracles, then think about it. Gravity becomes unpredictable, it's like do you even know that it's going to be around? The sun stops too many times and like, you know, that's going to ruin the stock market. You need some predictability in life, and that's one of the great things about the laws of physics, that you can actually count on them because they're laws. If they weren't laws, it would disrupt our life fundamentally.

So miracles are like a real problem. You don't resort to them unless you have to. So if I'm, you know, a ministering angel up in heaven and God is contemplating getting involved miraculously in the salvation of the Jews, I've got another argument I can make. It is, God, let's play it quiet. Like, be creative. Figure out how to get these guys out of slavery without the whole fire and light show. You can be more subtle. Why don't you have Egypt have an economic stock market crash, or suddenly they manage to invent their version of the cotton gin and they don't need slaves to make all these bricks, because they found some sort of technological way to do it. Meanwhile, they're preoccupied with other things and the Hebrews walk out or something. Like, there are ways. 

Beth:  Okay, I hear the question. So why does God manifest Himself overtly, in miraculous form, over and over and over again in the story. Yeah. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Eitan's answer is because God wanted to demonstrate a third possibility in the cycle of abuse. The Israelites were being abused. They were being abused by a parent-like figure. 

Beth:  By Pharaoh, yeah. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Right, and Pharaoh really is a parent-like figure. We talk about some of this in Aleph Beta land, a little bit. If you go back to the earliest interactions between Pharaoh and the first Israelites who were there, namely Joseph, the relationship between Pharaoh and Joseph is a father-son relationship. Pharaoh takes him in, pulls him out of the pit, listens to his dreams, does all the things for him that his own father didn't do, sort of redeems that father role for him. Then he makes him second-in-charge in the family business, just like his own father did. He gives him a car, mirkevet hamishneh, a chariot, and he gives him a job and sets him up.

The relationship of Pharaoh to Joseph is that of father-son. Presumably one could argue -- I would argue that that relationship continues and makes the eventual abusive slavery all the worse. Because if I'm just being abused by some impersonal king, all right, I'm being abused by some impersonal king. But if my father is turning against me, if there's a latent father-son relationship that the Israelites, the children of Joseph have established with the crown of Egypt, and they were taking care of me and they gave us Goshen and it was wonderful, and then all of a sudden there's this new king and they turn on me, it's terrible. It's not just anyone, it's my father who is abusing me. It's worse. 

Also, one of the things that I wondered about, and I told Eitan, is that, you know, if you think about it, at some point in the plagues, it just doesn't become worth it anymore for Pharaoh. You've got to wonder what's in it for Pharaoh in keeping these Jews around, these Israelites around. Figure, you know, somewhere around plague five and six, right, it's like, just in terms of the economic calculus, it's as Pharaoh's servants say, "Haterem teida ki avdah Mitzrayim," don't you know that Egypt is lost already? It sounds like there's something else motivating Pharaoh. It's not just an economic calculus. There's emotion behind it, too. 

Maybe the father piece of it is the emotion. It's like, no, darn it, this is my kid. You know what I mean? It's the abusive father with this power control thing over his kid. So from Pharaoh's angle also, one of the reasons he's hanging on to them is because of this sort of abusive child relationship. 

So basically, to cut to the chase, what Eitan said is that this was a domestic violence situation. That's what it was. It was violence in the home between father and child. The danger was that if we walked out of there without knowing that God is our savior -- 

Beth:  God is the bystander who has to make a choice. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yes. First of all -- well, he didn't actually put it that way. You're putting it that way. I hadn't thought of it that way. What you're suggesting is that it raises the issue of if God never takes the role of savior overtly, does that mean He's complicit and at the end of the day has to be seen as complicit in this? So God at some point says no, I'm not complicit. I am going to be savior. That's one way of seeing it. 

The way Eitan put it was that it was necessary for Israel's sake. Because if this was their memory and they then experienced anything that smacked of an abusive style relationship, or the potential of one, if they would go into the land and they would be in a position of potential power over those who were disenfranchised, if they were going to become landowners, then how would they relate to the ger (stranger) among them? Their only memories were of these power dynamics of abuse when they were on the receiving end, from someone in a position of power. They think there's only two possible positions. 

Beth:  Right. You're either in power, or you're being abused and (inaudible 00:19:20).

Rabbi Fohrman:  Exactly.

Beth:  Given the choice, we'd rather the former. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  That's right. So then that's terrible, right, because that augurs for a kind of history where the never again mentality becomes the, I will always abuse mentality. 

Beth:  Ah. I think I see where you're going with this. So how does it answer the miracle question? The answer is, God could have chosen a naturalistic means by which to free them, but then no one would have seen God's overt hand in the act. The way they would have looked back at the whole experience would have been, we were abused. We were abused in a terrible way, baruch Hashem (thank God) we're no longer experiencing that abuse. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  It is only two possibilities. The savior role had not yet been created. You wouldn't have seen that. You wouldn't have had it modelled for you. You would have seen a system with only two possibilities, presenting with a binary choice. God had to show that there's a third possibility, had to model a third possibility and say, this is how I want you to act. Be like me. You can be a savior. 

Beth:  Of course, I'm wracking my brain and I'm thinking, is that true? Was there really no other model before that? I'm thinking about Moses as the first savior, who we're introduced to before God does any of His tricks. But the Children of Israel as a whole don't know that. Only we, as the readers of the Torah, know that. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Well, I mean, if you think about Moses, just to pick up on your point, isn't it interesting that what are the only things we know about Moses's early life? In other words, you've got to ask yourself, why did the Torah tell us the stories it did tell us about Moses before you get to the burning bush? Presumably it has something to do with the kind of leadership model he's going to bring to the table. Do you see this playing out in those stories? 

Beth:  Right. So what are the stories that the Torah tells us about Moses? We heard that he's a baby in a basket, and then after that -- 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Hold on, one second. Slow down. What happens when he's a baby in the basket? 

Beth:  So someone -- he is not the savior -- 

Rabbi Fohrman:  And who is? 

Beth:  -- but someone intervenes. I mean, there's two courageous people in that story. The primary courageous person is the daughter of Pharaoh. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Daughter of Pharaoh who, by the way, interestingly enough has a name, doesn't she? Or at least the name that the Book of Chronicles ascribes to her. We hear it from the Sages. What's the name that we know of for the daughter of Pharaoh? 

Beth:  Batya. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yeah. Which means? 

Beth:  Which means that she's the daughter of God. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Isn't that interesting? 

Beth:  She's not -- biologically she's the daughter of Pharaoh, but in her actions and virtues it's as if she's channeling God. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Almost as if God is saying, you stole my kid? I'm stealing yours. 

Beth:  Yeah, that's right. But stealing for good this time. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Right, you stole my kid and abused him. I'll steal your kid, who's going to reject your values and elevate herself to embrace my values of saviorship. 

Beth:  That's why Batya leads the Jews out of slavery. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Well, she becomes the human model for the savior role. 

Beth:  Interesting. God also chooses her as the mother figure for Moses, right, so that's not a coincidence. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  That's right. So your father figure is going to be God, but your mother figure is this savior mother. Ultimately, he has to do for the people what she did for him, which is take him out of the water. Which he does in the Red Sea. That's finally when they end up trusting him, "Vaya'aminu ba'Hashem u'v'Moshe avdo." It's a fascinating thing, vaya'aminu comes from the word faith. 

Beth:  Right, emunah.

Rabbi Fohrman:  Emunah, but it also comes from one other word, omein

Beth:  Omein, from -- I only know it from the Megillah. Omein is to nurse? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yes, to nurse. To not be a biological parent, but to assume responsibility for someone who you're not the biological person. To become their nurse. As in Moses, when he complains to the people and says, "Ha'anochi hariti et ha'am hazeh," did I conceive this child? "Im anochi yelidetihu," did I give birth to it that you should say to me, "sa'eihu b'cheikecha ka'asher yisa ha'omein et hayoneik," that you should this child the way an omein holds her? Well Moses, did he ever have any experience with an omein

Beth:  So he had an omein of his own, that was Batya. This is very cool, Rabbi Fohrman. In other words, vaya'aminu is the causative form of omein. When someone nurses you, when someone shows you, I'm going to take responsibility for your welfare even though I don't really have a responsibility to do so, that causes the person to have a feeling towards you. What's that feeling? It's a feeling of complete trust. That's where emunah (faith) comes from. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  That's where your trust -- because your mother gets paid to care for you, right? 

Beth:  Not enough, though. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Right. But in other words, if I'm your mother, okay, so I'm going to care for you. But an omein? You're going to adopt me and you're going to love me like your own child and you're going to care for me? Right, then there's real trust. So Moses had that experience. Someone adopted him and was that savior, that mother figure. He had to do that for the people, "Vaya'aminu ba'Hashem u'v'Moshe avdo." 

When he does it, then they trust him the way he once, probably, trusted her. They establish that caring relationship. Later on, when he complains to God -- it's interesting that God doesn't answer him, when Moses says, did I give birth to this nation? Am I really the omein? And God is like -- 

Beth:  He thinks it's rhetorical, and God says, well? You all don't see this, but Rabbi Fohrman is putting his hands out and shrugging as if to say, well, yeah, Moses, maybe you are. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Right, maybe you are. 

Beth:  That's really cool. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  When you are, if you brought them out of the sea, vaya'aminu, they trust you, you don't have the option anymore of saying it's too difficult for me. That's not what mothers get to do. That's not what omeins get to do. 

Beth:  Just to turn it into a principle, what this is teaching me is, the virtue that God wanted to model and also prioritize as values in leaders, is someone who goes above and beyond. Someone who takes on a responsibility which is not theirs, they're not forced to take on but they say, I see something bad going on in the world. I don't have to do something about it, but I'm going to step up and do something about it.

Rabbi Fohrman:  Exactly. So in essence, what happens with Moses is that he has that experience, right, and then what happens next in his life? Let's get back to that question of, what are his other experiences? 

Beth:  Other stories, right. Okay, so the next story, he grows up, he goes out to the people and he sees a taskmaster abusing one of his brethren. He breaks up that fight, and in doing so ends up accidentally killing the taskmaster. So again, that's another story of I would have been totally happy just staying back in the palace where it's nice and safe and not getting involved in a messy fight. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  You have the option, seemingly, of being a bystander.

Beth:  I.e., perpetrator. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  I.e. perpetrator, right, because if he's silent, what does that do? He becomes enmeshed in the perpetrator role. If I watch this abuse take place -- and he has the guts to stand up to that bully, at great personal risk, and he says no. So he kills the Egyptian. Then what's the next story? 

Beth:  The next story, there's a conflict of two slaves this time, and he stands up and sees that they're causing trouble with one another and tries to intervene. This time it doesn't go quite as neatly, but again, wouldn't it have been easier for him if he just stood on the sidelines, but the answer is no. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Exactly. To such an extent that if you look at the perpetrator argument against Moses, it's a very interesting argument. Put yourself in the shoes of the perpetrator, right. Here's Moses, the perpetrator -- 

Beth:  The perpetrator would be the offending slave? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  In case number two, the offending slave. So one slave is hitting another slave, right. Along comes Moses. "Lamah takeh rei'echa," what are you doing? Now, if I were to defend myself, I could imagine myself defending myself by saying -- 

Beth:  He offended me in some way. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yeah, he offended me in some way. You don't understand, he deserved it. If you actually look at the defense, that's not the defense of the perpetrator.

Beth:  Right. He doesn't defend the act, he just says, who do you think you are to get involved? This is not your jurisdiction. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Isn't that fascinating? 

Beth:  Yeah. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Who do you think you are to get involved? That really is the perpetrator -- it's fascinating, isn't it? He's bringing to life the implicit snake-like grip that the perpetrator has. Because the perpetrator, by nature of his act, is basically making that challenge to all bystanders, which is the perpetrator's ugly argument is, who the heck are you to get involved? 

Beth:  Right. I'm not going to say that what I'm doing is right, because we all know it's wrong. But I have such power that no one can stop me. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Exactly. You are disempowered to stop me. You are not the deputy. You can't do anything. Therefore, in your weakness lies your complicity, and then I corrupt you. And then you are just -- it's like the Borg in Star Trek. You're just an arm of this abuse system. 

So Moses says no to that. I don't care. I don't know. Nobody made me a sheriff, but I will not accept the bystander role because that is complicit. I will not accept the way you have set up this paradigm that I must remain silent because I have no power. I can't explain to you philosophically where I get this power from, but I will not be a bystander. I will be a savior. It's his mother's example coming back to shine for him, right. 

People could have said to his mother too, I mean, imagine you were one of the ladies-in-waiting for the what-do-you-call-it. What argument would you make to her? She's taking on a lot of danger to take this Jewish child. Your father, Pharaoh, has decreed genocide against this people and you, the daughter of Pharaoh, are going to stand up to that? Your highness. 

Beth:  I would say, you're nuts! Your father is a crazy man and you don't want to cross him. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  What should she therefore do? 

Beth:  Therefore, you should do nothing. You should pretend you didn't see anything. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Do nothing. It's not even you should kill the child. Your highness, I'm not saying kill the child, right. But I see nothing, keep on walking. You know, you can't save every child. No, that's not what she did. She refused the bystander role. 

Beth:  Right. So she does something risky. We don't ever see that she has to pay for it. Moses, though, has to pay for his saviorness, right?

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yes. So Moses does pay for it. What's story number three we get? So we've got story number one, Moses versus the Egyptian. Story number two, Moses versus the slave. Story number three? 

Beth:  Are you thinking about the well? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yeah. 

Beth:  Okay. So this is after Moses has already, in some sense, become a victim, because Pharaoh found --

Rabbi Fohrman:  Well, he's running away because now Pharaoh knows -- 

Beth:  Right, Pharaoh found out about the story. He put himself out there, Pharaoh finds out, he's a victim, exactly. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  So now it's just like my son Moshe who's now get -- right, and you see the roles moving. He's gone from savior to victim now because he's being bullied. Now he sees these shepherds at the well. Now, having gone from savior to victim, you might say, what lesson do you learn? 

Beth:  My career in saviorhood is over because I need to take care of my own skin. It's unreasonable to expect me to play this role. But that's not what he says. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  So what happens next? 

Beth:  So he says, who -- he's at the well. These lovely seven women come by. They're trying to draw water for their animals, and a bunch of men come over and harass them. He chases the men away and talks them down and gets -- I don't remember, does he get water for the women? He takes care of them. He takes care of them. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Now, let's just play conscience of Moses, for example. Think about how easy it would have been for him to walk away. You see, the first times around, who was being abused? 

Beth:  The first times it was his brothers, it was the people that he had -- he was related to them, he was invested. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  And now who's being abused? 

Beth:  Total strangers. Total strangers. He doesn't know where he is. He doesn't know how powerful these abusing shepherds are. This is foolhardy risk. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Foolhardy risk. Here I am, it just makes no sense. I've seen already that the savior can become the victim. I've tasted the bitter fruits of that. Fine, I had to do it for my brother, but darn it if I'm going to get involved with these strangers. Who even knows who they are? 

Beth:  Right. I just got to Midian. All I want is some water.

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yeah, and what does he do?

Beth:  He puts himself out there again. This time it pays off, but he doesn't know that. He doesn't know that. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  "Vayakam Moshe vayoshi'am."

Beth:  He saves them. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Look at that language. 

Beth:  Literally, he saves them. It's the same language that we find by the exodus from Egypt. Who else saves? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Where? At the sea. Another body of water. 

Beth:  Before this, does anyone save before Moses? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  I don't know if you get that language before. It might be the first time. 

Beth:  Right. It's God language, really. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  It's God language, because what language do we get at the sea? "Vayosha." 

Beth:  I think we get "Vayosha." 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yes. "Vayosha Hashem bayom hahu et Yisrael miyad Mitzrayim." So it's almost like a prototype that there are these shepherds that are being harassed, and then Moses goes and saves them. Who does he save? Remember the one that he marries, the girl. What's her name? 

Beth:  Tziporah. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  It's Tziporah. What does it mean? 

Beth:  A bird. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  A little bird. Right, if you think about a little bird, a defenseless little bird, of all animals the defenseless bird. He comes and saves the defenseless bird. But now if you think later on, when God saves us, what metaphor do we get for the Jewish People?

Beth:  We are a little bird being carried on the wings of an eagle.

Rabbi Fohrman:  Isn't that right? 

Beth:  That's cool. That's really cool, Rabbi Fohrman. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  We are carried on the wings -- who gets carried on the wings of an eagle? Who gets led by a cloud? What direction finder do you have when you're a cloud, right? Who finds a cloud leading their direction? It's a bird. We are the bird. "K'nesher ya'ir kino al gozalav yeracheif," like an eagle rustling up its little birds. 

So all of this is becoming -- is God -- Moses is emulating his own mother, earthly mother, and his actions are laying down a foreshadow for what Heavenly Father is ultimately going to do.

Beth:  Right, and he doesn't know that it's a job interview, but right after that incident at the well, God says, I've seen what I need to see. This guy's the right guy for the job. Then we get the burning bush. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Right. You're me. You're the guy who can be me. You can be my partner, because our values are the same, because I'm the savior and look what you want to do. All you want to do is save, all you want to do is save. 

Finally, what I would say is if you think about -- well, what I would say getting back to Eitan is, Eitan's question for me was, this is my theory. Do you see it in the verses? His problem was, I don't know where it is in the verses. I think, Beth, the conversation you and I have had is at least a beginning for where you see it in the verses. It really seems like it's not just God who has to model this, there is a human who is doing this and it's Moses. It seems like what qualifies Moses for the job, possibly, you could make the argument, is his renouncing of the bystander possibility and implicitly becoming the perpetrator. But his active embrace of the savior role, which is going to become a model which God says, you got it? That's me, too.

It's the very first thing God says to him at the burning bush by way of introduction. What are you going to say to a guy like this? You'd say, I've heard the cries, I've seen the people, and I'm committing myself to take them. 

Beth:  I'll tell you what I'm thinking, Rabbi Fohrman, which is that the way you presented this theory to me, you said, why did God intervene in the miraculous way that He did? He did it because he wanted to change the way that the Children of Israel remembered their experience of enslavement. He didn't want them just to remember two players, he wanted them to remember that there's a third option. 

This makes me think about all of the commands that we get later on that we remember the exodus from Egypt. Time and time again, when God is instructing us to be compassionate towards others, towards vulnerable people, He tells us, be compassionate towards them because you were enslaved in Egypt. The way that we usually read that is actually the opposite of your theory. The way we usually read that is, if you had an experience of being a victim, you would never, never take on the role of the abuser. You would always remember what it felt like and have sympathy. 

But maybe the way to reread that is to say, no, remember what it was like to be a slave. Do you remember what it was like to be a slave? I came in and I saved your butt, and I taught you that there's a third option. So break the pattern, right. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Right. Also, sometimes, by the way, in that language you get the language, remember that you were slaves "Vayotzi'acha Hashem Elokecha misham." 

Beth:  Ah, there you go. There you go. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Remember that I took you out, which is --

Beth:  We were underlining the wrong part of the sentence. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Right. It's the remember the savior part of it. There is another ending, there is a third kind of ending here. So just to finish the thought, finally, one last little piece. If you think about Moses's own life, there's a fourth time where he does this, too. If all of these actions are the job interview, when do you see, when Moses is actually on the job as leader of the Israelites, when would you say his most heroic savior moment really is? 

Beth:  I'm thinking after the Golden Calf. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yes. Isn't it interesting there, it's a moment where the heavenly savior becomes the possible perpetrator of destruction.

Beth:  Right, and Moses is talking Him down. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  The roles shift, just like Eitan says. It's almost like the savior has been offended, the people have destroyed everything that's made life worth living. They have betrayed God. What reason is it to continue? The savior says, I'll start over with you, I'll get rid of them. Now you have to ask yourself, what's God really thinking when Moses stands up to Him? But Moses does stand up to the former savior Himself. The earthly savior inserts himself. 

Beth:  Right. I love this, Rabbi Fohrman, because you've asked the question in the past, by what chutzpah does Moses stand up to the Creator of the universe and disagree with Him and try to talk Him down? The answer is, maybe it's not chutzpah if what Moses is doing is speaking God back to God. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Exactly. It's like, isn't this why you picked me? Look at my job interview. 

Beth:  And isn't this what you modelled. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  And isn't this what you modelled. And isn't there a part of you that's just waiting for me to do this? You don't really want to destroy them. You do, but you don't. You do, but why do you think you have me around? I'm there because this is what you wanted me for. So it's almost like, what's God doing at the moment when Moses says, "Mecheini na misifrecha asher katavta," if you start over with me, you can just wipe me out of the book. I'm going to give up my own life for this. God says, fine. You can almost imagine God laughing, right, and saying, well why do you think I picked you? 

Beth:  Right. My children have defeated me. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Right, my children have defeated me, my children have defeated me. You can listen to our Yavneh course for that. So Beth, none of this was what I was actually planning on doing with you. It was actually -- well, I'm not saying none of it, but it was a great extemporaneous conversation. It's not the way my conversation went with Eitan at the time. It's a great answer to him. 

Just to summarize, he said, where do you see it in the verses? I think you begin to see it in the verses in the job interview for Moses and its resonance with what God Himself becomes. Then Moses and God become partners in the savior role, heavenly savior and earthly savior, vayoshi'am, vayosha. Those go together. 

What I in fact told Eitan at the time was, see me tomorrow and I'll give you my answer. Tomorrow -- this was Friday night -- so tomorrow was Saturday. I gave a talk on Shabbat in our minyan, trying to kind of answer his question. I saw an answer to the question, strangely enough, in Shabbat. What I talked with Eitan about is that we get Shabbat talked to us a number of times in the Torah. Usually, as a reader, when you read those times -- you read one for Kiddush on Friday night, you read one for Kiddush on Shabbat morning. 

Beth:  Oh, the Torah's talking about Shabbat again. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  The ones in the Ten Commandments, the Torah is talking about Shabbat again. It's all discombobulated, Shabbat here, Shabbat there, Shabbat is really everywhere. 

Beth:  This one is about the exodus from Egypt, this one is about the creation of the world. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  But there's another really interesting possibility which hopefully, when we get together again, I want to consider with you. It is that the real way to read these narratives are in order. The idea of Shabbat actually evolves in the Torah. By going from story to story, you can trace the evolution of Shabbat. In the evolution of Shabbat, we get another answer to Eitan's question. So Beth, I look forward to continuing the discussion with you. 

Beth:  It's a tantalizing prospect. Thanks, Rabbi Fohrman. This was great. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  It is great. Beth, thanks for hanging out with me. I really appreciate the opportunity and I look forward to seeing you again and continuing the discussion. 

Beth:  Next time, I'll bring the moonshine.


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