Steve Rodan

The Great Debate

When we last left Moses, he was engaged in a bitter exchange with G-d. The former shepherd had followed G-d’s commandment to the letter and did not deviate from the divine script in his meeting with Pharaoh. But instead of succumbing, the emperor intensified his oppression of the Children of Israel. Moses was kicked out of Egypt as a troublemaker and now asked G-d a simple question: Why did you choose me to fail my people? Then G-d replied:

G-d spoke to Moses, and He said to him, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob with [the name] Almighty God, but [with] My name YHWH, I did not become known to them. [Exodus 6:2-3]

The exchange between Moses and G-d comprises the essence of belief. Moses thought no differently from most men. He saw the flaws of the Jewish people — particularly their penchant to run to the gentile authorities — and determined that they were not worthy of redemption. Moses, himself, fled Egypt to Midian after a prominent Jew denounced him. So, when G-d came to him 60 years later and told him he would liberate Israel he was skeptical. Is such a lowly people capable of being a divine nation?

Now, Moses, after being rejected by Pharaoh, was again in exile and asked G-d why was he sent to liberate Israel when they clearly were not ready. He argued that Israel has become more demoralized than ever amid the latest wave of Egyptian oppression.

Then, G-d responded with the most basic truth: Moses, I will redeem Israel not because they are worthy, rather because this is My plan. Unlike the patriarchs, you will understand My plan because My children can no longer remain slaves.

Juda Loew Ben Bezalel, known as the Maharal of Prague, explains G-d’s plan: Israel will be brought out of Egypt and given the Torah. Why? Because the Torah is the raison d’etre of the world. If nobody is willing to accept and obey the Torah, there is no reason for life as we know it.

“The entire act of creation was dependent on Israel accepting the Torah,” the Maharal says.

The state of the Jewish people plays virtually no role in G-d’s plan. Indeed, His promise of redemption was to the patriarchs. They deserved it rather than their children.

And also, I established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings in which they sojourned. And also, I heard the moans of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians are holding in bondage, and I remembered My covenant. [Exodus 6: 5]

The Midrash says there are two paths to redemption. The easy way is to earn it through devotion to G-d and the Torah. That path is quick and painless. That clearly was not the situation of the Children of Israel in Egypt.

Then, there is another path. Here, the Jews do not follow G-d, rather the nations. They are consumed with pleasure and wealth and see life as a popularity contest. This road to redemption is painful as Israel sinks to the ground, covered in dust. They become the target of attack and ridicule throughout the world. They are enslaved, frightened and under the threat of genocide.

G-d tells Israel, ‘Don’t wait until your lives fall to the dust, rather moisten your deeds like a rose — and I will redeem you. [Midrash Psalms 44]

Moses understood. He was chosen by G-d for his humility, the ability to listen, follow and act without his ego getting in the way.  This was more important than being an orator, warrior, statesman or tycoon.

Very few possess the ability to listen and follow. Moshe Sherer was one of them. In 1938, he was a rabbinical student in Brooklyn when a telegram came from Lithuania. The world renown Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman was arriving in America and needed somebody to accompany him. There were numerous students who were more qualified and experienced. But the two principals of Yeshiva Torah Vadaas chose the 17-year-old Sherer. The experience changed the teenager.

Within three years, Sherer, now an ordained rabbi, became executive vice president of Agudath Israel, a tiny organization that sought to represent the hundreds of thousands of observant Jews in America, long dismissed by the secular lay leadership. Rabbi Wasserman was killed in 1941 but another great rabbi became Sherer’s mentor — Rabbi Aharon Kotler. For more than 13 years, Sherer spoke to the rabbi on a nearly daily basis. The Aguda executive absorbed the wisdom and faith of the sage.

In 1961, President John Kennedy invited 12 people to discuss whether to provide federal aid to private schools. Sherer was selected as the last speaker. To prepare, he went to Rabbi Kotler’s house and spent hours taking notes on subjects that ranged from constitutional law to ethnic pride.

Kennedy gave the speakers a time limit and said he would not hold discussions. Sherer was preceded by Leo Pfeiffer, a constitutional lawyer who worked for the powerful American Jewish Committee and argued against aid to parochial schools. An extremely nervous Sherer went to the podium and essentially read Rabbi Kotler’s speech, which asserted that funding non-public schools was not unconstitutional and would help America.

When he concluded, Kennedy was impressed, “Although I said that we will not dwell on any one particular speech,” the president said, “after hearing the rabbi, I have changed my mind.” [1]

Sherer went on to testify in front of Congress on the need to support Torah institutions, even if limited to non-religious activities and studies. He was following the credo of his mentors that Torah was the oxygen of a Jew regardless of where he lived.

Moses also understood another lesson: A real leader always defends his people. Even during the greatest of crises, Moses would never justify divine punishment, rather beg G-d for mercy. He would not excuse the wicked, but always sought repentance for the masses who had been swayed from their mission. He would never relent.

And neither would G-d.


1. Builders. Hanoch Teller. Pages 163-164. New York City Publishing Co. 2000

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.