This week has been a challenge to write this. I had an idea and yet I have not been able to figure out what to do with it. So let me start with the idea.
The synagogue I attend is in a northern suburb of
In January 1963, Abraham Joshua Heschel began a speech at the Edgewater Beach Hotel at the opening of the first conference of race and relations, quoting this week’s Parsha.
At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. Moses’ words were: “Thus says the Lord the God of Israel, let My people go that they my celebrate a feast to Me” While Pharaoh retorted: “Who is the Lord, that I should heed their voice and let
go? I do not know the Lord, And moreover I will not let Israel go.” Israel
The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The exodus began, but is far from being completed. In fact, it was easier for the children of
Israelto cross the Red Seathan for a Negro to cross certain university campuses. [The Insecurity of Freedom p.85]
Closing the conference was a speech by Martin Luther King. Heschel and King left the conference as friends.
Passing Bryn Mawr and Sheridan so often, I don’t always pay attention to the building. Yet this week as I passed the building early Friday morning to attend a class I had the strangest feeling, and a question would not leave me: “What manner of Man is the prophet?” This was the first sentence in Heschel’s Doctoral dissertation which eventually would be translated from German into English by Heschel as The Prophets.
I didn’t understand why this was going around in my head. It seemed like I found what my Shlomo’s Drash would be for the week. Yet this has been very difficult to write without writing another graduate level paper. So most of this week I’ve spent at Spertus’ Asher Library trying to figure out what I wanted to write. I’ve been failing badly at it.
On a fluke I checked the Encyclopedia Judaica on Heschel, and found a rather startling surprise. I was on my way to class on the 12th of Tevet. Heschel’s 35th yartzeit was the 11th.
My original idea was to figure out is Moses was a prophet. However, it pretty definitive since we read in Deuteronomy:
Deut. 34:10. And there has not arisen since in
Moses standing in front of Pharaoh makes him the first prophet of the biblical text to approach a king. As I wrote last year, his story parallels Jeremiah, including his reluctance to take on the role of prophet.
A few days before his death, in an NBC television interview with Carl Stern, Heschel summarized his view of the prophet:
The idea of a prophet is complex and consists above all of two things.
Of the message or the substance of what the prophet has to say from some extraordinary claim to an experience which is not given to other men.
In other words there are two parts to the prophet: the message the Prophet gives and the unique way the prophet receives that message, what some might call divine revelation. Heschel continued (bold mine):
Let us ignore the second, let us take the first.
What's so great about the message of the prophet, about the prophet as a character? I would say the prophet is a man who is able to hold God and man in one thought, at one time, at all times. This is so great and this is so marvelous. Which means that whatever I do to man, I do to God. When I hurt a human being, I injure God.
Moses was not one of the prophets that Heschel described in his book. Yet I wonder: how does Moses fit the Heschel’s model of the prophet? How, in this week’s portion, does Moses act the prophet? Does he act the prophet more now than he does in later encounters with Pharaoh? How given Heschel’s model do we become better people?
Those are a lot of questions for which I have no answers. Finding such answers, I could write a dissertation. But I’m not going to.
Instead, I’m going to make an invitation. You give me your answers.
For those of you in the Chicago Area who can get there, I will be leading the Torah Study portion of the service during the Kahal Shabbat Morning services this Saturday at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue in
If you are not able to attend, then go over to my blog at shlomosdrash.blogspot.com and write down your thoughts as a comment on this weeks entry.