by David Seidemann
Issue of January 15, 2010/ 29 Tevet 5770
I would like to meet the genius that said, “Starve a cold, feed a fever,” or is it the other way around? I suffered through both last week and lay in bed for days wondering whether I should stuff myself or starve myself. During one of my days in bed I availed myself of the opportunity to watch the midday news. The networks were televising the daily briefing by the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. Within minutes I realized I had found someone who actually says less than the president himself.
I counted 24 “I cannot comment on that,” 17 “the president has already commented on that,” 11 “the president will share his comments on that in the future,” and nine “I can’t comment on something the president said that he would not comment on.” But the exchange that caused my fever to spike, or so it seemed, was when one reporter asked Mr. Gibbs if the president intended to answer questions from the press regarding a Nigerian bomber’s attempt to blow up an aircraft headed for Detroit. Mr. Gibbs responded, “I answered that question yesterday when I told you that I will not answer questions about the president not answering questions.”
Somebody please recommend me for that job! It seems so easy.
Thoroughly disgusted and no more informed than I was before the briefing began, I picked up the Bible and read of the encounter between Moses and the Egyptian taskmaster who was striking a Jew. I conducted my own imaginary news briefing and began to pepper Moses with questions. Why does the verse say “and he (Moses) saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brethren?” If the verse said “a Hebrew man” do we not know that this was one of the brethren of Moses? What does the phrase “of his brethren” teach us that we would not know if the verse simply concluded with the words “striking a Hebrew man?”
The next verse begins with the words “he (Moses) turned this way and that way and saw that there was no man.” Which ways did Moses look; what exactly was he looking at? What or whom was Moses looking for? The verse continues “and he saw that there was no man.” Why does the verse use the Hebrew word “Ish,” man, which usually connotes a man of great stature? Why doesn’t the verse simply say and he, Moses, saw that there was no Egyptian, that there was no other person? Who is that “Ish,” that “man,” that the Torah is referring to?
What permitted Moses to kill an Egyptian who was only hitting a Jewish slave? Perhaps Moses should have simply hit the Egyptian in the manner of “an eye for an eye?” Unlike Robert Gibbs, my press conference had answers.
Moses was conflicted. He was born to a Jewish mother but raised in the house of an Egyptian king. And so when he saw an Egyptian taskmaster striking a Jewish slave, Moses was momentarily startled. After all, the Egyptian taskmaster was simply following the rules of the King by hitting a Jewish slave who refused to follow the rules of the King. This slave deserved to be hit and if the taskmaster did not hit him, he, the taskmaster, would himself face royal punishment. The “Egyptian” in Moses related to that reality.
But then Moses hearkened back to his roots. This was not merely a Hebrew that was being struck. It was a “Hebrew of his brethren.” His brotherhood, his roots, trumped his allegiance to the society that raised him. The verse tells us that Moses turned “this way and that way.” He looked at himself; he looked at both dimensions of himself. He looked at the Egyptian in him; he looked at the Hebrew in him. “And he saw that there was no man.” Moses saw that unless he took a stand, unless he decided right then and there whether the Egyptian Moses or the Hebrew Moses should rise to the occasion, then he, Moses, was no man. The Hebrew term “Ish,” man, refers to none other than Moses himself. Moses realized that if he waffled, if he straddled the line between Egyptian and Hebrew, then he was no “man.”
“And he smote the Egyptian.” I believe this to mean that Moses smote the Egyptian within himself. He eradicated all vestiges of the Egyptian culture and any allegiance he might’ve had to the Egyptian king and the Egyptian society. Moses smote the Egyptian within himself so that only the Hebrew Moses remained. Interestingly enough, the numerical value of the Hebrew letters that comprise the word “Hamitzri,” meaning Egyptian, is the same as the value of the Hebrew letters that comprise the word “Moshe,” meaning Moses.
Moses was comprised of two equal parts hinted to us by the fact that “Hamitzri” and “Moshe” have the same numerical value. It was only after Moses was able to rise to the challenge and recognize his true roots, his true allegiance, that he was able to advocate on his people’s behalf. Which brings me back to my original point.
We, the descendents of Moses, need people of substance advocating on our behalf in statehouses across this country and in Washington DC. And I don’t mean lobbyists. I mean members of the House of Representatives and members of the Senate. Major Jewish organizations and institutions such as the Orthodox Union, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Council of America, the ZOA, Agudath Israel, Yeshiva University, Touro College and the like should band together and identify competent men and women across America to run for Congress.
I’ve seen the competition, and it ain’t that great. I simply cannot believe that within our ranks there doesn’t exist at least a few of the brethren that can string a few coherent sentences together and articulate positions that benefit the masses. I simply cannot believe that within our ranks there doesn’t exist at least a few of the brethren that possess the oratory skills and the personality to inspire brethren and non-brethren alike.
I simply cannot believe that within our ranks there doesn’t exist at least a few of our brethren that are sufficiently educated, adequately presentable and sharp enough to navigate the conflicts that sometimes arise in being both an American and a Jew.
The aforementioned Jewish organizations constantly and properly make appeals for financial support. Now it is time for us to appeal to them. Now is the time for them to search in every community, in every city, and in every state for those individuals that possess that knowledge and talent that turns boys into men, girls into women, and both genders into leaders.
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein. He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.