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16th Sivan 5773 ~ 25th May 2013
Shabbat Times (London) begins 20:44 / ends 22:01
By Rabbi Stuart Altshuler
There are many interesting sections in this week’s Torah
portion, including the description of the lighting of the first
Menorah, the section referring to Pesach Sheni, a make-up
Passover for those who missed the first one, and Miriam’s and
Aaron’s gossip against their brother, Moses. Perhaps the most
fascinating episode occurs in a short exchange between Moses and
his second-in-command, Joshua, an interchange that says much
about Moses, his leadership and the kind of society he
envisioned for the nation of Israel.
to this point in the text (Numbers, chapter 11), Moses is
clearly the sole leader of the people; dictatorial in a sense,
for it was he who pronounced all legal judgments(despite the
advice of Yitro, his father-in-law, Exodus 18), solved all
problems and disputes among the people. Here(Num. 11:14), Moses
asks for assistance, and God tells Moses to appoint seventy
elders of Israel to come for a training course, so to speak, in
helping Moses carry out his governance of the people.
gathered the seventy chosen leaders, but one snag arose. Two
men, Eldad and Medad did not leave the tent for God’s training
course, and instead walked around the camp prophesying, speaking
in God’s Name. Not liking this apparent challenge to Moses’
ultimate authority, one of his servants ran to tell Moses and
Joshua what was occurring Eldad and Medad were doing. Joshua,
Moses’ most trusted assistant, wanted Moses to put an end to
this brazen challenge to Moses. What is Moses’ response? “Are
you jealous for my sake? Would that everyone speak with God’s
spirit”.(v.29) Leave them alone.
Moses was certainly no weakling when it came to false and
scurrilous challenges to his authority, as in the case of Korach
and his cohorts. Against those true rebels, Moses fought to the
end to destroy those with nefarious motives to seize power over
the people. But not here—Eldad and Medad were not rebels and
neither were they kooks or crackpots. To Moses, they were well
meaning individuals who deserved a listen, despite the fact that
their views might have been in contrast with those of Moses.
Contrary to the vehement reaction of Joshua, Moses showed
patience, understanding and discernment. Instead of demanding
absolute obedience to his will, Moses respected, tolerated, and
even applauded the right and obligation of those who had
differing views than his. Perhaps the very foundations of
Israel’s nascent democracy and freedom were underscored by
Moses’ respect for diverse opinions. How especially relevant his
wisdom appears in light of what is happening in so many places
in the world—in Egypt, where dissidents and political satirists
are arrested arbitrarily; in Syria which has radicalised its
populace leading to a bloody civil war because of its
leadership’s intolerance for dissent; in the Palestinian
territories, where Facebook comments critical of Abbas are met
with imprisonments without trial; in North Korea, Iran, Gaza,
Saudi Arabia , China, Russia, and so many other places where
political disagreement is severely punished by authoritarian and
arbitrary decree. Increasingly so, the ability to discern
between rebellion and honest and necessary dissent is
world is still battling an age-old problem—the assault against
the integrity of differing viewpoints, aired honestly in
literature, the media, and on the street. Societies where people
are still yearning for true freedom to speak and to believe as
they wish without causing harm to others are battling,
oftentimes from prison cells, a right that our Torah guaranteed
under the leadership of Moses. The principle that the struggle
for control of a people does not depend upon brute force from
one side against the other, but instead is to be contested in
sincere and honest debate and discussion, was Moses’ gift to the
Jewish people and to our inherited values.
Despite the fact that Israel today faces numerous challenges to
its security from external and internal threats during its
sixtyfive years of existence, it has shown remarkable resilience
in allowing legitimate dissent. There is a need, for sure, to do
better in this regard, especially in the struggle to tolerate
many voices of Judaism, a righteous debate that requires a
strong Masorti presence both in Israel and abroad. In the
political realm, our people would also be wise to heed Moses’
sage advice: on both sides of the political spectrum, left and
right, there is room for debate, protected by Judaism’s most
precious inheritance of respect for differing views. Moses knew
at this early stage of our people’s existence that a society
that nurtures legitimate differences of opinion is a healthier
and stronger society. He did not shut Eldad and Medad down for
he knew that he had no monopoly over interpreting God’s Word.
is a lesson for us all today—we do not have all the answers, no
one person possesses such moral or political purity. Thanks to
Moses here in B’ha’alotecha, the Rabbis sanctified our respect
for diverse views by teaching us in Pirke Avot, that “eilu
va’eilu divrei elohim chayim”—“These views and these views are
words of the Living God”, and a “machloket”, a difference of
opinion, for the sake of Heaven, voiced with sincerity and for
righteous aims, is necessary, right and an appropriate way in
which we all strengthen our beliefs and faith in God.
Today, voices in politics and religion react like Joshua to
views contrary to their own and say, “Stop them! Restrain them!
They are dangerous to tradition, to Judaism, to halacha!” Our
challenge is to respond as Moses did to those who disagree with
us—to affirm that we can learn from each other and cherish the
multiplicity of ideas and opinions.
we heed Moses’ words, then our synagogues, Judaism, Israel and
our world will become places of true freedom and peace.
Rabbi Stuart Altshuler is a
Masorti Rabbi and the Rabbi of Belsize Square Synagogue
What’s in a name?
By Rabbi David Golkin
Question: If a person's name was changed during an illness,
when this person dies, should one also engrave the new name on
the gravestone? If both names are engraved, which name should
Responsum: Changing the name of a sick person is a custom
that appeared in Germany, France and Spain in the time of the
Rishonim. Since it is only a custom, it is possible to follow
different traditions. One can engrave both names in every case,
or only if the person completely recovered from his illness, or
only if he lived at least thirty days after his name was
changed, or only if he was called to the Torah by his new name.
case should be judged on its own merits. If the person died
shortly after the changing of the name, and the new name will be
a painful reminder to the family that the change did not help,
it is preferable not to engrave it on the gravestone. But if the
person recovered from his illness and lived a few years after
the changing of the name, it is preferable to engrave both names
on the gravestone since he was already known by his new name for
a few years. Finally, if one engraves the new name on the
gravestone, it should appear before the original name.
Rabbi David Golinkin
Rabbi Professor David Golinkin is a rabbi, author and President
and Rector of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Israel.
He is a major halachic authority in the Masorti (Conservative)
movement in Israel. Rabbi Golinkin is a Conservative rabbi, and
a member of the Rabbinical Assembly.
is the editor or author of eighteen books, and over 150 responsa,
articles, and sermons. He is also a professor of Jewish law at
the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, and was the chair of
the Va'ad Halakha, the law committee of the Rabbinical Assembly
of Israel. He is responsible for uncovering and re-publishing
dozens of responsa of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards
of the Rabbinical Assembly, making them available to the general
public in a three-volume set.
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