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Parashat Shemot -Jeopardizing all our accomplishments- Rabbi Meir Kahane and Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane

By killing the Egyptian, Moses bound himself inexorably to his nation and to his destiny. He jeopardized all his property, his glittering life-style, even his very life, if his deed would be discovered – but nevertheless, he did not hesitate. As the Mekhilta says:

[Moses] gave his soul for Israel, and they were called by his name… And where do we find that Moses gave his soul for them? – It is said…“and he went out to his brothers…and he smote the Egyptian”. So, because he gave his soul for Israel, they were called by his name (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Shirata 1, s.v. “et hashira hazot”).

Now, Moses could have thought this through carefully, and run away from the problem. He could have reasoned: Is it really worth while to endanger myself by killing this Egyptian? Would it not be better for me to ignore this one incident, to remain the king’s son, and thereby be able to help the Israelites in the future? More than this: perhaps it is not worth killing this Egyptian, for in any case, he has already killed the Jew, so what good will killing this Egyptian do? Will that bring the Jew back to life? And in any case, maybe it is forbidden for me to endanger myself, since this is not a case of saving a Jewish life, since this Jew is already dead? And more than this: perhaps I am not allowed to kill this Egyptian, for I am not a duly constituted court, and perhaps the verse Neither is it good for the tzaddik to punish (Proverbs 17:26) applies to me. (See Berakhot 7a: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi wanted to harness G-d’s “moment of fury,” which occurs once every day, to curse a heretic and kill him, but when the time came, he dozed off. His response was that presumably this happened because Neither is it good for the tzaddik to punish.)

Moses, however, understood that this accounting is false. He understood that in a situation of hillul HaShem, all these arguments together carry no weight – even pikuah nefesh (saving of lives), which usually takes precedence over all other commandments, does not justify hillul HaShem (even for an individual in private, unless there is definite danger to life; in public, even if there is an absolute certainty of being killed).

Neither can one make a finely-balanced accounting, to the effect that “perhaps I can do better another way, in another time and another place”.

In the commentary that Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane wrote on Parashat Shemot, we find a similar concept that he also links to our present situation:

At the end of “Parashat Shemot” we find a confrontation between Moses and Aaron on the one hand and the officers of the children of Israel on the other: On the one side stood Moses and Aaron who had been assigned by HaShem to carry out a seemingly suicidal mission: to enter uninvited into the house of the king, of the imperial, menacing kingdom of Egypt, and to request that he let the Jewish slaves go free. In spite of the odds, Moses and Aaron, with faith in HaShem, went and fulfilled their mission completely. (According to our sages, all the elders that accompanied them dropped out along the way because of tremendous fear, until Moses and Aaron alone remained to face Pharaoh). And certainly Pharaoh rejected their request out of hand. [The officers then accused them:] “May HaShem look upon you and judge, for you have brought us into foul odor in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to place a sword into their hands to kill us!”.(Shemot 5:21). And truthfully, reality proves the officers were correct.

Seemingly, just after Moses and Aaron leave Pharaoh's presence, a harsh decree is put upon the nation. And with all this...the officers were not right! The reason (and also the lesson from this) is that there is almost never a revolution or change where the first stages do not involve a loss of accomplishment!

...And sometimes, even in the case of true accomplishments, we must know that in order to bring change, there is no choice but to lose real accomplishments, at least temporarily. Because there will always be one Pharaoh or another who will threaten that if we don't sit quietly he will nullify our achievements, “and you will lose out because of this.” But if we give in to his threats, we will remain captives in the hand of Pharaoh, we, our children and our children's children ... until the end of the generations. ...Whoever wants change needs to warmly thank the “existing officers”for their accomplishments, but say to them: now we are going further, we are going to progress.

It is possible that part of your accomplishments of some of your accomplishments will be lost, either temporarily or permanently. But this is the price to pay for reaching the greater and ultimate goal. We were not born in order to be slaves with improved conditions in Egypt; we were born to be redeemed. We were not born to live in villas in settlements surrounded by fences, like ghettos [...], we were born to conquer and rule all of the land of Israel. [...] And if the price, more or less temporarily, is the loss of status...due to lack of participation on the part of the existing regime, or the necessity to gather our own straw to make bricks for a while, the price is worth it. For we were not born to live with the status quo, after the fact. We were born to establish and ideal world, as it was at the beginning!

Rabbi Meir Kahane continues in Peirush HaMaccabee on Shemot: And he smote the Egyptian, measure for measure. He killed the Hebrew, and Moses killed him. Samson expressed this same sentiment to the Jews who were afraid when they came to hand him over to the Philistines after he smote them: And they said to Samson: Do you not know that the Philistines rule over us? What have you done to us?! And he said to them: As they did to me, so I did to them (Judges 15:11).

This is a Jewish response – not to let the Gentile smite with impunity, for every single blow desecrates the Children of Israel and is blasphemy against G-d’s Name. Anyone who smites a Jew must be smitten in return. More than this: Moses’ smiting the Egyptian was the Children of Israel’s first response ever to the blows they had received, and foreshadowed all the blows, all the plagues, that G-d would yet inflict upon Egypt.

And buried him in the sand. This symbolizes the humiliation of the arrogant Gentile who, in his self-pride, thinks that he can reach the very heavens. The prophet said, Take up a lament for Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and say to him: You likened yourself to a young lion among the nations, but you are like a crocodile of the seas… With the swords of the mighty I will bring down your multitudes…and they will despoil the glory of Egypt (Ezekiel 32:2, 12). But now, instead of ascending to heaven, the Egyptian whom Moses killed was buried in the sand, in the ground – as low as possible – foreshadowing the humiliation of the whole of Egypt.And such will be in the future, too, when G-d will destroy the nations’ pride and show the glory of His might. Enter the rock, and bury yourself in the dust because of the fear of HaShem and the glory of His greatness. Man’s arrogant eyes will be humiliated, and people’s haughtiness will be humbled, and HaShem alone will be exalted on that day (Isaiah 2:10-11).

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