Jonathan Muskat

My Drasha at the AIPAC Shabbaton: We Are All One Family

The following is a summary of my drasha that I delivered at the AIPAC Shabbaton this past Shabbat.

Parshat Ki Tissa is one of the most dramatic parshiyot in the entire Torah.  It tells a story of the ultimate betrayal when the Bnei Yisrael worshiped the golden calf and the subsequent reconciliation between God and our people.  After we sinned, God called Bnei Yisrael an “am kshey oref,” or “a stiff-necked nation.”  The image that is conveyed by being stiff-necked is that I can’t turn my neck in either direction for a different view or a different perspective.  God called the Bnei Yisrael stiff-necked because they are a nation that didn’t listen, they are a people that will refuse to listen and therefore, God later tells Moshe that an angel, and not God, will lead them into the Promised Land.

Later in the Parsha, Moshe pleads with God to lead the Bnei Yisrael directly without an angel as an intermediary because “am kshey oref hu,” i.e., they are a stiff-necked nation.  Why, though, does Moshe use the exact argument that God used as a reason to distance Himself from the Bnei Yisrael?  Why didn’t Moshe say that, yes, they are stiff-necked, but please still dwell amongst them because they are kind-hearted people, or they have some other redeeming qualities?  The Ramban (Nachmanides, 13th century Spanish Biblical commentator) explains that Moshe turned to God and said that the reason why God argued that he needs to distance Himself from them is the exact reason why they need Him.

What was God’s argument and what was Moshe’s argument?  There is, at least, a duality in our relationship with God.  On the one hand, God is our King and God advanced the argument that since He is our king and, being stiff-necked, we were disloyal by worshipping the golden calf, then the natural result is that He should distance Himself from us.  However, Moshe turned to God and said, “God, You are not merely our King.  You are our Mother.  You are our Father.  When does a child need a parent the most?  Not when he’s an A student.  The child needs a parent the most when the child is struggling, when he’s failing and when he’s being “kshey oref.””  Ultimately, Moshe’s argument wins the day because ultimately, God and Bnei Yisrael are family, and family members never give up on each other.

Beyond the obvious implications of this discussion on how we raise our children, this discussion has implications for our relationship with the state of Israel.  At times, it is legitimate to criticize Israel, perhaps for certain governmental policies or perhaps because of some of its religious policies.  Indeed, after the Kotel controversy, there was tremendous criticism of how the Israeli government flip-flopped on its policy.  There were even voices that we should curtail support of the state of Israel because these policies.  This should never happen.  Even if we believe at times that the state or the government of Israel is “kshey oref,” our support must remain unwavering.  Why?  Because we are all family.  It is my hope and prayer that throughout the AIPAC Policy Conference we should learn and listen, argue and debate, but also emerge with a stronger feeling of unwavering support for our beloved country even if at times we disagree with certain policies because, after all, we are family.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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