Dear Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, Mill Hill United Synagogue

I’ve been meaning to ask you this question for some time. Why is there no mention of Moses in the Haggadah?

Leah

 

Dear Leah

I’m a firm believer of better late than never. But being we are only just over 49 since Pesach and nearly 300 days till the next Pesach, it’s only fair to answer you now rather than keep you waiting.

The short answer is simply that we risk perceiving him as the ultimate saviour who redeemed us, thereby diminishing the enormity of the miracles and the hand of God. It’s what Moses himself would have wanted.

The longer answer which is relevant to every one of us is this: In Israel some years ago, there was a musical produced about teenagers who had such a vague sense of their Jewish identity that they could not even formulate sensible questions. When they asked the director, Joyce Klein, what inspired the musical, she said that it was actually her Israeli electrician who was called in to fix a flickering light fixture in her home.

While standing on her dining room table, examining the short circuit and the frayed wires, he pronounced his diagnosis: “You have a problem: Loose connections!”

Then, as Israeli electricians so often do: he began to philosophize: “Actually all of us Jews,” he said, “share that problem of loose connections, poor communication among parents and children and a disrupted flow of energy between our past and our future.” Joyce turned that insight into a full blown musical.

Our task is obvious, we need to make sure that our children do not have a “loose connection”, that each child feels connected to their past, their history, the traditions, their people.

This can only be done through education. And when we talk about children, we don’t mean just the little ones. Every soul is a student and each is a teacher. Each of us has influence on others.

And there’s an insight in the Torah that tells us how important that influence is.

The Torah distinguishes between two kinds of leaders: prophets and kings. The kings were always fighting each other, waging war against external enemies, or facing schemes from their enemies within. Monarchs had power, and people fight for power.

But the prophets were leaders of an entirely different kind. They led almost against their will. When G-d summoned Isaiah, Isaiah said: “I am a man of unclean lips”. Jeremiah, when called, replied: “I can’t speak; I’m just a youth.” Jonah tried to flee.

As for Moses, the greatest of all prophets, hero of the Exodus, at the burning bush, when God said “lead”, Moses kept saying: “No. Who am I? They won’t believe in me. I’m not a man of words. Send someone else”.

Yet who do we remember all these centuries later? Most of the kings are long forgotten, but the words of the prophets continue to inspire, which is odd, since they had no power.

They commanded no troops, and headed no government, but what they had was more enduring than power. They had influence. And as Kierkegaard once put it: “When a king dies, his power ends. When a prophet dies, his influence begins.”

Not all of us have power. But we all have influence. Whether we’re dealing with friends, family, employers, employees, in the street or at home, we influence every relationship we have, there are no exceptions. Influence is the most basic fabric running through life.

But we often are unaware of how we use our influence. We make the people around us better or worse than they might otherwise have been. Worse, if we infect them with our cynicism; better if we inspire them with friendship and acts of kindness.

When we sit around the Seder table or indeed each Friday night at the Shabbat table with our friends and family, especially with our children, talking about Jewish history and destiny, we are doing what the prophets did. We are using words to change lives for the better. This is not the power of the king.

This is the influence of the prophet. You see there’s a little bit of Moses inside every single one of us.

The Jews in Egypt turned to Moses to lead, to guide and to inspire. Our children and others besides, they look to you and me to be their Moses. We don’t mention him in the Haggadah because each of us on Seder night is a prophet – reaching for that little bit of Moses inside ourselves.

A timely message to consider even now, as we’ve celebrated the culmination of Pesach – and the Exodus it represents, with Shavuot and the giving of the Torah at Sinai which is the blueprint for our Jewish lives.

The ancient Sages said, “True freedom can only be experienced through submission to Torah (and Jewish values). By definition, leadership seeks no power.

It is the leadership of influence that changes lives. We have that ability and that responsibility. And when we do it right, then we – like Moses – bring freedom into the lives of the next generation.

 

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Dear Rabbi

There was a recent article in a leading Israeli paper that was promoting a centre where “you can meet stars and learn Jewish mysticism.” Isn’t that something of a contradiction? Jewish mysticism is about spirituality far removed from celebrity lifestyle.

Raymond

 

Dear Raymond

Maybe when they said stars they meant the ones in the sky, not celebrities. Or maybe the imbecile who wrote the article might have duped like so many others into thinking this centre (no doubt the Kaballah Centre) has something to do with authentic Judaism, when it is far removed from anything to do with real Kaballah or authentic Jewish principles.