Friday, May 28, 2010


In this week's parsha, Behaaloscha, there is a very interesting situation that occurs that deals with leadership and prophesy. In Bamidbar 11:24-26 it says,

כד. וַיֵּצֵא מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל הָעָם אֵת דִּבְרֵי יְ־הֹוָ־ה וַיֶּאֱסֹף שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ מִזִּקְנֵי הָעָם וַיַּעֲמֵד אֹתָם סְבִיבֹת הָאֹהֶל:24. Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said, and he assembled seventy men of the elders of the people, and stood them around the Tent.

כה. וַיֵּרֶד יְ־הֹוָ־ה בֶּעָנָן וַיְדַבֵּר אֵלָיו וַיָּאצֶל מִן הָרוּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָלָיו וַיִּתֵּן עַל שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ הַזְּקֵנִים וַיְהִי כְּנוֹחַ עֲלֵיהֶם הָרוּחַ וַיִּתְנַבְּאוּ וְלֹא יָסָפוּ:
25. The Lord descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He increased some of the spirit that was on him and bestowed it on the seventy elders. And when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did not continue.

כו. וַיִּשָּׁאֲרוּ שְׁנֵי אֲנָשִׁים בַּמַּחֲנֶה שֵׁם הָאֶחָד אֶלְדָּד וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִי מֵידָד וַתָּנַח עֲלֵיהֶם הָרוּחַ וְהֵמָּה בַּכְּתֻבִים וְלֹא יָצְאוּ הָאֹהֱלָה וַיִּתְנַבְּאוּ בַּמַּחֲנֶה:
26. Now two men remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad, and the spirit rested upon them. They were among those written, but they did not go out to the tent, but prophesied in the camp.

The point to take away here is that Moshe gave out some of his ability to prophesize and shared it with these Elders. However, there were two Elders, Eldad and Medad, that remained in the camp and therefore normal people saw these Elders communicating with G-D. This was a shock to the people because they were used to just seeing Moshe prophesize. This leads us to the next part of the story.

כז. וַיָּרָץ הַנַּעַר וַיַּגֵּד לְמֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר אֶלְדָּד וּמֵידָד מִתְנַבְּאִים בַּמַּחֲנֶה:27. The lad ran and told Moses, saying, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!"
כח. וַיַּעַן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן מְשָׁרֵת מֹשֶׁה מִבְּחֻרָיו וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנִי מֹשֶׁה כְּלָאֵם
28. Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' servant from his youth, answered and said, Moses, my master, imprison them!"

Now that the people saw other prophets this scared Moshe's student, Joshua. He was thinking, "How could anyone else communicate with G-D like Moshe?" He immediately became overwhelmed by an irrational fear and shouted for them to be punished. Joshua was thinking, "Only my Rebbe is allowed to do that!" To this the great and wise Moshe answered very simply:

כט. וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מֹשֶׁה הַמְקַנֵּא אַתָּה לִי וּמִי יִתֵּן כָּל עַם יְ־הֹוָ־ה נְבִיאִים כִּי יִתֵּן יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶת רוּחוֹ עֲלֵיהֶם:29. Moses said to him, "Are you zealous for my sake? If only all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would bestow His spirit upon them!"

Moshe was telling Joshua that everyone has a right to communicate with G-D. They do not need Moshe as a mediator. Moshe would be happy if everyone was on his level and able to communicate with G-D. It was not for Moshe to be the intermediary unless completely necessary, which it was.

Moshe was a great leader because he did not covet his power nor did he abuse it. This is why the rebellion of Korach was such a slap in the face to Moshe Rabbeinu. Korach declared that Moshe was a greedy leader that abused his powers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Moshe did not want to be the leader, he HAD to be the leader. Therefore, when other people were given the ability to prophesize Moshe was happy that they were. In fact, Moshe wished everyone could prophesize.

Moshe saw Eldad and Medad's ability to prophesize as a closeness to G-D, this made him happy. "Everyone should be able to get this close to G-D," Moshe was telling Joshua. However, Joshua saw Moshe's role in a comepletely different light. Joshua saw Moshe as a leader that has ultimate power. "No one should be able to contradict Moshe, but if others can prophesize then Moshe's word can be disputed," Joshua was thinking.

I think these different views come from two different views on leadership in the Jewish religion. Moshe's view of a leader is one who guides the people because they need him and would be lost without his unique abilities. Joshue, however, believed a leader is someone who commands the congregation and has ultimate power, like a general in the army. Therefore, Moshe had to tell Joshua that the only time the "General in the army" type of leadership is required is when no one else can fulfill the role of the leader. However, if everyone can fulfill the role of the leader, then there is a much more limited role for the leader.

This limited leadership is seen throughout the Book of Judges. Everyone sacrificed on their own alters and had personal relationships with G-D. In fact, when the Jews asked for a king, this upset G-D and the limited leader, Shmuel HaNavi. Everyone was able to communicate with G-D and follow His ways directly from G-D's mouth, so why did they need a king, the "General of the Army" type of leader? Moshe is telling us and he told Joshua that the limited type of leader is better because it allows the Jewish people to connect to G-D on a much more personal basis.

Nowadays, we also have two different types of leaders. There are those that make every decision for us without us figuring things out with our own heads and there are those that help guide us, but tell us to make the right choices. I think that Moshe is telling us that leaders should have a limited role in our lives and that we should only utilize leaders when necessary. For Moshe, the Jewish people needed him to communicate with G-D on a daily basis. Nowadays, we need leaders to help us when we do not understand or know G-D's desire. However, to assume that anyone nowadays actually knows the will of G-D is absurd. There are no prophets and the best leaders available can only grant their insights and ideas. Leaders should guide us, but are by no means an end all be all like an actual prophet. We must use our minds and seek guidance, but blind loyalty is foolish.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rambam- Yisodei Hatorah Perek 5 Halacha 2- When One Should Give Up Their Life For The Commandments

במה דברים אמורים בשאר מצות חוץ מעבודת כוכבים וגלוי עריות ושפיכת דמים. אבל שלש עבירות אלו אם יאמר לו עבור על אחת מהן או תהרג. יהרג ואל יעבור. במה דברים אמורים בזמן שהעובד כוכבים מתכוין להנאת עצמו. כגון שאנסו לבנות לו ביתו בשבת או לבשל לו תבשילו. או אנס אשה לבועלה וכיוצא בזה. אבל אם נתכוין להעבירו על המצות בלבד. אם היה בינו לבין עצמו ואין שם עשרה מישראל יעבור ואל יהרג. ואם אנסו להעבירו בעשרה מישראל יהרג ואל יעבור. ואפילו לא נתכוין להעבירו אלא על מצוה משאר מצות בלבד:

"What case is the first halacha speaking of (that one must violate the commandments rather than give up his or her life)? In a case of all the commandments except idol worship, illicit relations and bloodshed. However, by transgressing these three sins, if one is given the object to transgress or die one must die rather than transgress.

Also, with what is the first halacha speaking of (that one must violate the commandments rather than give up his or her life)? In a time that the idol worshipper (that is forcing the Jew to choose to die or transgress) is doing this for his or her own benefit. For example, the idol worshipper forces the Jew to build a house on shabbos, cook, forces a Jewess to have relations with him and similarly. However, if the idol worshipper's only goal is to have the Jew desecrate the commandments for that purpose in and of itself then if it is private (less than 10 Jews are there) then the Jew or Jewess should transgress and not die, but if it is public, in front of ten Jews, then the Jew or Jewess should die and not transgress. This holds true even if it is in regard to any commandment."

These two exceptions to the rule of "transgress and do not die" need to be further analyzed. If the idea of the commandments truly is that one should "live by them" and not die by them then why are there any exceptions? How could we find any case where one should die for the sake of the commandment if the whole purpose of the commandments are for us to live and observe them?

I think there are two very unique answer as to why we must die rather than transgress in these two situations. In the cases of illicit relations, bloodshed and idol worship there is an inherent rebellion against G-D in these three sins. The idea of living by the commandments is that one realizes that G-D is the creator of the world and that He is G-D. Illicit relations inherently denies this, bloodshed inherently denies this and idol worship inherently denies this.

Idol worship goes counter to the idea that G-D controls the world. Someone who worships idols asks the idols for rain, money and other events. This detracts from the belief that G-D is the ruler and guider of the world. Illicit relations represents the antithesis of G-D's ultimate power over the granting of life. Someone who has illicit relations uses a forbidden path to form life. Bloodshed is a man taking the power of ending life. These three ideas are the antithesis of Torah and Judaism. When someone falters in one of these three areas it is impossible to worship G-D with the same level of fervor. Therefore, the idea of "live by them" does not apply in these situations.

In the other situation, that a non-Jew is forcing a Jew to transgress a commandment just because he is Jewish and the non-Jew wants him or her to violate the laws of the Torah, this is similar, but a little different. The non-Jew's sole purpose is to hear the Jew renounce G-D. In this situation a Jew is given a choice, is G-D the ultimate truth or is man in charge of the world. The non-Jew or idol worshiper is trying to show that he or she is in charge and not G-D. Therefore, one must stand up and say that G-D is the only one that is all powerful and this disgusting person is worthless. However, it is only necessary to give up one's life in public in this case because if it was in private there is no real statement being made. However, in public there is a public act of acknowledgment that is being conveyed. So in private, one may transgress, but in public it is necessary to give up one's life.