(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times)
In the subtly anti-Semitic worldview of nineteenth century non-Jewish biblical scholars, the Jewish Bible (chalilah) “was evil and cruel.” The Christian bible was loving and kind. Moses was a harsh, cruel and distant leader (chas v’shalom), juxtaposed to the founder of Christianity who was patient, loving, and close to the people.
Yet, we know that this characterization of Moshe Rabbeinu is both entirely inaccurate and fundamentally false. Here are jut a few reasons.
- In Shmos (2:11) we learn how Moshe went out among his brothers, “vayar b’sivlosam – he saw in their pain.” The commentators point to the extra bais – as indicating remarkable empathy. The Midrash Rabba (Shmos 1:27) elaborates: Moshe would cry and say Chaval li aleichem – I am so saddened for you, I would die for you..” He would then join them and “lend his shoulder to help them” – states the Midrash.
- Later, when Yisro visits, he is shocked to find that Moshe Rabbeinu is spending all day with the people, single-handedly issuing rulings, resolving legal disputes.
- In the Midrash Tanchuma (text at the Bodleian Library in Oxford in parshas vaEschonon) we read, “Az Yavdil Moshe” referring to the sanctuary cities. What does “Az” mean? Moshe Rabbeinu said Hallel because he was overcome with joy for the fugitives – now they were to have rest and refuge. Remarkable, hands-on empathy.
- When the judges were to be chosen – it was Moshe Rabbeinu who empowers Klal Yisroel by saying, “You nominate them – you know them..”
Hashem chooses leaders of the Jewish people because of their love and dedication to others, to the weak, to the helpless. Shepherding sheep shows this love and patience. Dovid HaMelech was a shepherd as was Moshe Rabbeinu.
Rabbi Riskin has done enormous work in bringing people back to Avinu sh’bashamayim. While in New York he established a Yeshiva that reinspired hundreds of young men in their Judaism. He created an entire religious city out of scratch. Which is why last week’s Dvar Torah printed in the June 6th edition of the Jewish Week is rather disturbing.
Where have you gone, Rabbi Riskin? Of late, Moshe Rabbeinu receives the brunt of your criticisms and someone else, lehavdil, is the recipient of boundless praise. How could it be?
Chazal tell us that it was the meraglim, the spies who fell from their lofty spiritual heights. Yet, you Rabbi Riskin, place the blame on Moshe Rabbeinu! You write:
“What Moses fails to appreciate, I believe, is that the real problem was with Moses’ own “distanced” leadership, whether from the heights of Sinai or the inner sanctum of the Tent of Communion.”
What?? “Distanced” leadership?? Why lay blame at the foot of Moshe Rabbeinu, when Chazal fault the Meraglim? This is especially problematic in light of the Rambam in his Peirush HaMishnayos Sanhedrin (10:1) regarding the seventh ikkar. To find fault with Moshe Rabbeinu in places where the Psukim do not do so – is quite problematic according to that Rambam.
You go on: As the Torah says, “The Israelites did not listen to Moses because of his lack of patience (kotzer ruah) and difficult Divine service” [Ralbag’s interpretation of Ex. 6:9].
Lack of patience and difficult Divine service?
Rabbi Riskin, is there really such a Ralbag? What the Ralbag actually says is, “mikotzer rucho lesader dvarav b’ofen shalaim” – not his lack of patience – but rather, the Ralbag’s explanation is that “kotzer ruach” is not referring to Klal Yisroel’s state of mind as most commentaries understood the term, but rather to Moshe Rabbeinu’s inability to arrange his words in the most perfect of ways – in a manner that would help them believe that his words are true.
Lack of patience is an outgrowth of pride and haughtiness – the very opposite traits of Moshe Rabbeinu, “V’haish Moshe anav mikol adam.. Moshe Rabbeinu was the most humble of all men (BaMidbar 12:3).” In other words, he was the antithesis of impatience. And there is also no mention of the words “difficult Divine service.” The Ralbag does not interpret the pasuk’s last words in this manner.
Rabbi Riskin, has there been an accidentally twisting of the reading of this Ralbag to mean the exact opposite of what the Ralbag really means? Moshe Rabbeinu’s heart was in the right place but he could not muster up the physical ability to notch up his communicative skills. Is this not what this Ralbag is actually saying?
In your reading of this Ralbag, however, “Moses remains “distant” from the people, a prophet for all the generations; more than a leader for his generation.”
The Midrash Tanchuma (Parshas Tzav Siman 13) understands the word Anav to encompass three traits, Anav, shafel v’savlan – savlan means a person of extraordinary patience. Yet you characterize Moshe Rabbeinu in your article as “a prophet who is in almost constant contact with G-d about theology and law, morality and ethics, rather than being a man of the people, with infinite patience who can “sell” G-d’s program by sugar-coating it. Indeed, Moses never walked among the people in the encampment; instead he speaks to G-d in the Tent of Communion, far removed from the encampment [Leviticus 1:1; Num. 7:89].”
Do not the words, “Vayelech Moshe” mean that he – Moshe Rabbeinu – went person to person – tribe to tribe? When Korach led a rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu, it was Moshe Rabbeinu that went out to him – not the other way around.
The characterization of Moshe Rabbeinu as being “distant from the people” and NOT “a leader for his generation” is painful, especially when juxtaposed to your characterization of the founder of Christianity.
In your YouTube video discussing the founder of Christianity you say, “I was truly fascinated by the personality of Jesus, whom to myself I have always referred to as “Rabbi Jesus”….because I think he is indeed a “model Rabbi” in many counts..”
You further state, “I have constantly come back to the study of his personality and his teachings which are very strongly rooted in Talmudic teachings.”
You also explain that the difference between Judaism is Christianity lies in only one question that will be posed when Moshiach finally arrives. “Is this the first time you’ve come or the second?”
Actually, are there not other differences too – more so than this one small detail or question? There is the idea that we Jews believe that Moshiach is a messenger of G-d – and not actually G-d Himself. The idea of the trinity is also entirely incompatible with Torah theology.
The point is that, we need you back, Rabbi Riskin. Where have you gone? Wouldn’t it be better to drop this business of a thorough fascination with a religion not of our own and get back to teaching the noble ideas and ideals of Torah?
True, you have made much headway in furthering support in the evangelical Christian community for Eretz Yisroel being the homeland of Klal Yisroel -a very laudable and worthy accomplishment. But wouldn’t it also be better, while furthering such support, not to challenge the halachic authority of the Rambam (uncensored editions), and the more contemporary Poskim too such as Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer YD II #11), Rav Elyashiv zt”l, and the vast majority of Poskim who forbid entering a church?
Yet you write on your website, “Evangelical churches do not have icons or statues and it is certainly permissible to enter Evangelical churches. Catholic and most Protestant churches do have icons as well as paintings and sculptures. If you enter the church in order to appreciate the art with an eye towards understanding Christianity and the differences between Judaism and Christianity so that you can hold your own in discussions with Christians, then it is permissible.”
Rabbi Riskin, in these three areas – 1] the embracing of Christianity and the erosion of the differences between that and Torah Judaism, 2] the constant lambasting of Moshe Rabbeinu and the adoption of Christianity’s founder as a Rabbi, and 3] the rejection of the longstanding halachic positions of our Poskim seriously call into question any geirus that you may become involved in.
Any Christian who wishes to convert to Judaism according to your positions can – state that the two religions are basically the same, can negate Moshe Rabbeinu and his teachings, can call Jesus a Rabbi, and continue going into churches.
Publicly crowning Christianity’s founder with the title of “Rabbi” is something that we shouldn’t be doing. It can have further unforeseen consequences to our own people. So please, no more Smichas for people that, well.. just aren’t such suitable Smicha candidates.
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