Parshat Yitro: Below Mt. Sinai–Elazar & Gershom, Joshua, Datan & Aviram

Yitro: Voices Off

Moses prepares to climb Mt. Sinai, leaving Aaron in charge of an exceedingly nervous People. The Prophet ascends, penetrating the Very Thick Darkness, where he will remain for forty days and nights. The Israelites hear the Lightning and see the Thunder; the Mountain shakes, the People fear, and stand afar off. The Torah-Text itself passes from Human Drama to Words of Teaching, through the Ten Statements/Aseret Ha-Dibrote, known popularly as the Ten Commandments.

Gershom & Elazar, the Estranged Sons of Moses: We are the Sons of Moses, but we scarcely appear in the Text of the Torah. It is hard to be the Sons of a Great Man. And truth to tell, Papa was rarely home: he was always off, somewhere—speaking with He-Who-Is, teaching Torah to the People, judging their legal matters: Is this chicken kosher? Who moved the boundary-line of whose property? Or arguing with the Mixed Multitude about why such-and-such was forbidden, or might cause God to become Angry. He was a fine Go-Between, a Diplomat of years’ experience, always smoothing the negotiations between a backsliding Nation and an ever-more-demanding God.

But he was never really there for us: when we were young, he had no time to play; when we were teenagers, he was not there to answer our questions—that became the job of Grandpa Jethro, who knew very little of this New Faith which Papa was creating, along with his God and his People, though Grandpa did his best. And when we became men, setting out on our own lives’ paths, we did not think to tell Papa Good-by—who was there to say it to? Mama had died, of a broken heart, and Papa had checked out, long ago.

It is sad when a man is married to a community, and not to his family….You say, it happens often? That is cold comfort, indeed.

Joshua, Moses’s hand-picked Disciple & Successor: I cannot say the same as they. I don’t know why, but Rabbi Moshe was always there, for me. From the start, he groomed me for leadership, and I strove to fulfill his expectations. It is true that I was more a Man of Action, and he a Man of Thought, but what of that? We complemented one another. That time I took the field against Amalek, it’s true I was afraid– but I knew that Moshe would be seated there, between Uncles Aaron and Chur, lifting up his hands, which were heavier than usual, that day. How we hacked and cut at the treacherous hands of Amalek, that fearsome battle! It was just like those Amalekite dogs, to attack us so cowardly-like, in the rear, when we were weary and weak, struggling along in the wilderness, after the Reed Sea’s Splitting, and having aroused the women and babes at Midnight, shocked and scared, for the Exodus from our Egyptian Captivity….

But it surprised me no end, when the Battle was over, and I and my friends, all bloody and battered, were struggling back to Camp, to report to Rabbi Moshe. And there, before I could open my mouth to report on the dead, the wounded, and the booty, he gave me one of his famous looks—the kind that stares down deep into a man’s soul and freezes the blood—and said, softly but clearly, “Amalek is not those people you have killed this day, Joshua Boy: Amalek is the Evil within yourselves; have you cut that evil out of your heart? Well, have you?” And he spun around on his heel, and walked off.

My comrades were upset, but I caught his meaning… and never forgot.

Datan & Aviram, the Rebels: Do not expect us to say anything good about Moshe; we will never honor him with the title, “Rabbi.” He is no rabbi of ours: he’s a Levite; we are from the proud and ancient Tribe of Reuben, which ought to lead this People. Our grandfather was the Eldest Son of Jacob, known as Israel. Why did he, or this Mysterious God who both kills and preserves, not slay us in Egypt? Because we are rebels, and disagree with nearly all that Moses says! And we, too, are necessary to this People. This New Nation, conceived out of slavery, called Israel, will never be restful or complacent. They, we, must always question, and argue, and wrangle, with one another. It is our doom, our fate, but our salvation, as well. Only by questioning shall we discover the Truth; only by arguing will we settle Matters of Torah. Woe unto you, O Moses, when all shall agree with you! Neither for you nor for any rabbi, judge, prophet, or king to follow you will there ever be peace. How can there ever be peace for such a troublous people? For truly, the future belongs to such as us: we will sow the seeds of doubt before Moses’s leadership, forever….

About the Author
David was born and raised on NYC's Lower East Side, and attended Hebrew Day School, Yeshiva Univ. HS, and Yeshiva Univ., where he learned English, Bible, and Jewish Education degrees. He attended the CUNY Graduate Center, and received both an MA and M.Phil. in English Literature, with a concentration in 17th Century, John Milton, and the Romantic Poets. David also received semicha/rabbinical ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion, Yonkers, NY. He has also attended the Hebrew College in Brookline, MA, where he received a Certificate in Advanced Hebrew School Administration. David serves Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach, FL; prior, he served pulpits in Warren, NJ, Fayetteville, NC, and Portsmouth, NH. He is married, with two grown children and a Shih Tzu.
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