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Parshat Va'eira - Mevarchim - January 17, 2015

Hebrew is a powerful medium of communication, perhaps never more so, than when giving expression to the greatest of concepts and fundamentals of life, as illustrated in the Torah.

To illustrate, the word “sufganiyot,” means? “Doughnuts,” as in Chanukah. Whilst it describes a baked or fried delicacy, it is based on the shoresh, or root, of a three letter word, Samech, Fey, Gimel. Example, “sofeig,” to absorb.

The Rabbis of Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, describe a student who absorbs everything he is taught, as “sofeig et hakol.” Modern cars use springs and shock absorbers to cushion the ride, these are “sapag za’azu’im,” absorbers of movement. If you live in Miami in summer, you need a humidifier, a “sofeig lachut” to tolerate the humidity.

The Parsha opens with a conversation between G-d and Moses, in which Moses resists G-d’s mission to liberate his people four times. Finally, quote,  “G-d’s wrath is kindled in Moses.” Was Moses uninspired? Or was he simply happy with status quo, living comfortably, peacefully,  with his family, as a “shepherd in his father-in-laws business!”

The scenario begs a far larger question. Did Moses finally accept the mission out of fear of “G-d’s wrath”? Do you undertake a job, or project, because of someone else’s anger? Can rage inspire change? Think of a Bar Mitzvah student, who refuses to buckle down and prepare for his big day. When you try to assure him of his future success he says that everyone will mock him on that day. Even if you do persuade him to apply himself, his comeback line might be, “I can’t sing.” When he eventually discovers his voice, he’ll say “Can’t my brother just do it again, this time for me”? The conflict rages for nine months, until that fateful Shabbat morning.

You’re frustrated, angry, exasperated. You yell, threaten, take away privileges and finally, the “big day” comes and the “angel” exceeds your expectations. Am I not describing a familiar scenario? Is there a parent or grandparent here, staring at me in disbelief, saying, “not my child!”??

And then, we ask ourselves – “Am I such a bad parent? Do I lack the necessary motivational skills”? And then worse, when it dawns on us “…I am just like my parent!”

Is G-d like a frustrated parent? Why is G-d “filled with anger”? The Kotzker Rabbi suggests that we pay heed to the language of the Torah. It does not say that G-d was angry with Moses, “Im Moshe,” rather that his (G-d’s) anger burned “In Moses,” B’Moshe. “G-d was only able to convince Moses to undertake this “mission impossible” if he, Moses, was infused with G-d’s passion, felt G-d’s anger and indignation, felt G-d’s pain at the suffering of the Hebrew slaves under Pharaoh. So G-d made “His” wrath burn In Moses, in his rational mind, and, deep inside his heart and soul.

In one word, G-d inspired Moses with his, G-d’s PASSION. When you have internalized, or “absorbed” the passion, you can change the world! As did Moses, and others have done.

Each of us must at some point in our lives felt, or experienced this kind of passion, a burning desire, perhaps in an effort to survive a life-threatening situation, or achieve a lofty goal. There is but one caveat.

Pharaoh was imbued with passion “…I shall not let them go…” Balak was driven to destroy the Jewish people, invoking a misplaced trust in the Godly powers of the greatest prophet of the time Bilaam. Haman was driven by the same blind, senseless hatred, so was Hitler and at what cost not only to the Jewish people, and others, whose names I leave to you!

The caveat in realizing our passion is the clarity to delineate that which advances, or reverses the cause of humanity, the moral clarity to distinguish between Godliness and the opposite.

Let me share the following, from an article that recently crossed my screen:

“Last Saturday night, a day after the terror attacks in Paris, my father called to say that my uncle, Philippe Braham, was killed as he was checking out at the Hyper Cache kosher supermarket, just before Shabbos. He was murdered in a neighborhood I know well, Porte de Vincennes, a few minutes away from my high school, and a mere 10-minute ride from my childhood home. He was one of mine, a relative, but together with all the other victims of the horrific crimes last week, he was also one of ours.

Philippe, who was 45 when he was killed last Friday, was anyone who has ever run into a grocery store with plans to run back out in a few minutes, just as the cartoonists killed in the Charlie Hebdo attach were anyone who has ever exercised their right to speak their mind. We fought for these rights in Europe and in the United States, first for some, then for all, regardless of opinion, religion, race or gender.

History books say that we won the battle. Yet, while the Jewish community in France was shocked and shaken by the events on Friday, we were also aware of a lengthy history of targeted violence.

I remember when everyday life in France began to change.

It was about a dozen years ago, and I was not yet a teenager. We lived in the 10th arrondissement, and all of a sudden, it seemed, I had to stop going to the library by myself to get my books for the weekend. I had a beautiful Magen David with blue gemstones, and my mother did not let me wear it outside. My sister and I were not allowed to go in the lobby of our apartment building alone to get the mail.

Around that time, we found swastikas scratched with car keys on our front door. Our mezuzah was stolen. We put another one on, and it too was stolen. Our car was broken into more times than I can recount. A heter, or religious edict, was given for Jewish men to not wear their kipas outside, to protect them from potential attacks.

Then, in 2006, Ilan Halimi was tortured by a gang of North African immigrants; he was remembered by us, forgotten by many others. Cars were burned. A friend was attacked with an ax. In 2012, Toulouse witnessed a Jewish school shooting that took the lives of a rabbi and three children.

I remember the pain, every time a little bit sharper. The France I loved was under attack.

What is happening in France is very real and concrete, and it can be mistaken for specifically French issue. It isn’t. The question is not about French Jews making aliyah or not. It isn’t about whether France should be blamed for not being safe enough. Jihadism is a transnational issue that affects values that we all claim to stand for. The families of the victims feel the loss of their loved ones, and they hear the cries of their children. These were innocents who were cut down for no reason other than what they represented. But what they represented is all of us. And this is what was attacked. By shooting the journalists at Charlie Hebdo, the terrorists shot all of us who write, read, talk and think. By shooting policemen and policewomen, they shot all of us who have ever protected someone. And by shooting the consumers of a kosher grocery store, they killed all of us who go about the life we have chosen for ourselves.

But if we keep the memory of those who have fallen, then the attackers shot at the power to write, but they missed; they shot at the power to read and think, but they missed; they shot at the responsibility we have in protecting our own, but they missed; they shot at our right to live the lives we have chosen for ourselves, but they missed.

In the midst of everything, all we hope for is to carry on with daily life, and in these times of distress, to stay strong and drink to life. Also, to remember the life of my uncle and the other victims of last week’s attacks. And to be able to stand shoulder with the others doing their last-minute grocery shopping as another Shabbos arrives in Paris.”

Mouchka Darmon Heller, who attended Yeshiva University, lives in New York City and works in the field of corporate regulatory strategy.

Heller, Mouchka D. When the Terror Hits Home. The Jewish Week [updated, 13, January 2015] Available from

France has for far too long, tolerated the growth of terror within her boundaries, a cancer, eating away and eroding the cradle of liberty, equality, fraternity. Why are we surprised when time and again, the very pillars of tolerance, freedom of expression, and religion are assailed by those whose hatred for these principles that underlie democracy is so profound, that it knows no borders.

We must fight back with passion, commitment and unwavering clarity of a mission whose time has arrived. We must strike back in order to end the calculated barbarity and the unbridled hatred that is beginning to encompass the entire world. If we do not passionately rekindle within ourselves that selfsame “wrath” which Moses felt, fire of Chanukah, the light of Liberty, equality and fraternity, how will we prevail?

Shabbat Shalom

Cantor Joel Lichterman

Wed, February 28 2024 19 Adar I 5784