OzTorah from Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple

Rabbi Apple

Written and Submitted by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple..


The sages believed that God and Moses knew each other well. God allowed Moses to see things that were denied to other people; Moses spoke to God in terms that amaze us. In this sidra Moses says what other people shrank from saying, not only then but at many points in history.

Pointing a finger of accusation at the Almighty, Moses said,

“Lord, why have You done evil to this people? Why have You sent me? You have not saved Your people at all!” (Ex. 5:22-23).

There is a whole history of Jewish confrontations with God, not least because of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel‘s writings are an example. When a Holocaust survivor colleague of mine suffered yet another tragedy, he said,

“In my town they used to say, ‘If God lived in my street I would break all His windows!’”

Moses probably uttered the most searing accusation of all.

How did God reply? According to the Talmud (Sanh. 100a), God told him,

“Ask the patriarchs why they did not question Me even when they suffered setbacks.”

Moses presumably responded,

“What they suffered was personal; what I am doing is speaking for the people of Israel!”

In the Yalkut Shim’oni (B’ha’alot’cha 11), the rabbis say,

“When the Holy One, Blessed be He, realised that Moses echoed the sorrow of the whole people of Israel, He reversed His position and treated him with mercy”.

In a Talmudic passage about the Oven of Achnai (the details don’t concern us here), God says,

“Nitz’chuni banai!” – “My children have defeated Me!” (B.M. 59b)

A Christian chaplain once asked me whether a Jew is permitted to shout at God. The answer I gave was, “Look at Moses!”


Whatever Moses did, the Egyptian magicians were able to counter it (Ex. 7:11). In today’s world, Moses wouldn’t have stood a chance.

The magicians were masters of show, while Moses was a mere stutterer. On television Moses wouldn’t have lasted a moment. He hadn’t an ounce of charisma.

From the perspective of history, however, judged by the criteria of a pre-television age, Moses had the more substance, and that’s why the Torah says (Ex. 14:31) that the people “believed in God and in Moses His servant” (possibly the words mean, “and that Moses was His servant”).

The lesson we learn is that no-one, not even a rabbi, especially not a rabbi, should be judged by spell-binding oratory or flamboyant theatricality. Some people are masters of magic, capable of manipulating minds and hearts, either for the wrong purpose or for no purpose at all other than the pleasure that they get out of wielding their magic.

Not that putting on a show is necessarily always bad, but the rational person should always ask, “What’s behind the theatrics?” The rational person should never be swayed by the drama. It’s harder to ask the hard questions, but without them no decision will ever have real validity.


In Jewish tradition, the Pharaohs are kings who do not want to know. In the first chapter of Sh’mot we meet a Pharaoh who does not want to know what Joseph has done for the kingdom (Ex. 1:8). This week’s Pharaoh does not want to know God.

Approached with the Divine message to let the Israelites go, he says,

“Who is the Lord that I should obey Him? I know not the Lord!” (Ex. 5:2).

Ten times thereafter the story announces the plagues as means of ensuring that Egypt and its ruler will know that HaShem is the Lord (Ex. 7:5, etc.); ten plagues to make Pharaoh see the hand of God and know that human kings are responsible to the Supreme King of Kings.

This explains an otherwise puzzling verse in Psalm 81, the psalm for Thursday. In a reference to Egypt, it says, “I heard a language that I know not” (verse 6). First we must ask, what is the subject of the verse? Who was it that heard the language of Egypt?

One view is that it was Joseph, who, according to Rashi, learned seventy languages whilst he was in prison. Another view is that it was the people of Israel, who heard a foreign tongue in Egypt (Psalm 114:1 calls the Egyptians “a people of strange tongue”).

But there is another possibility: in Egypt the Israelite people heard the language of “I know not the Lord”. It was a shock for Israel to encounter a ruler and people that did not recognise that there was a Supreme Ruler. For when a people lacks answerability to God there is no guarantee that they will hear the cry of the downtrodden and act with compassion.

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple Blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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