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Adam Gross

The Torah resumes its commentary on Judicial Reform

Wooden bucket and gutter on a well, Barsana, Maramures, Romania
Wooden bucket and gutter on a well, Barsana, Maramures, Romania

In some of my blog posts last year, I observed how the weekly Torah reading seemed to be providing weekly commentary on events in Israel today.

As the ugly spectacle of the nation’s indefensible divide re-emerges with the Supreme Court ruling on the ‘reasonableness’ law last night, the Torah again seems to offer its view.

The Supreme Court ruling was issued on Monday night, which is the start of the third day of the week.

The third of the seven Torah readings for this week – today’s Torah reading – starts as follows (Shemot 2:11-15):

“Now it came to pass in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers.

And he turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

And he went out on the second day, and behold, two Hebrew men were quarreling, and he said to the wicked one, “Why are you going to strike your friend?”

And he retorted, “Who made you a man, a prince, and a judge over us? Do you plan to slay me as you have slain the Egyptian?” Moses became frightened and said, “Indeed, the matter has become known!”

And Pharaoh heard of this incident, and he sought to slay Moses, and Moses fled from before Pharaoh, and he stayed (vayeshev) in the land of Midian, and he sat down (vayeshev) at the well.”

It is not hard to see the connections and draw some apparent lessons.

Most obviously, the biblical text makes us wonder how, when the Children of Israel were being so badly oppressed in Egypt, the Israelites could waste their time and energy quarreling with each other.

So too today, with enemies surrounding Israel’s borders, Hamas so wantonly mass-murdering Jews on October 7th, with Israel currently engaged in battle against those that would pursue genocide against the Jewish people, and the whole Jewish people worldwide subject to a rising tide of antisemitism, how can Jews waste their time and energy quarreling with each other? Jewish unity must come first.

Another observation: by Moshe Rabbeinu’s comment we see that the quarrelers were about to reach the point when one was ready to strike the other but had not done so.

So too today, the Jewish people in Israel have not yet engaged but remain precariously close to physical violence against each other. Said Almog Cohen, the Otzar Yehudit MK, in comments I could scarcely believe could come from a Jewish mouth: “The ruling that was published is a call for civil war. It says, ‘Go out to the streets to fight one another.’ What do we want to see here? Blood in the streets? Bodies in the Yarkon River?”

Another observation: in the biblical text, one of the quarrelers retorts, ‘who made you a man, a prince and a judge over us?’

The use of the word ‘judge’ links the Torah text directly to the question of judicial reform. The comment as a whole could apply to what is at stake today, as if it was the coalition, in the role of the quarreler, asking this same question as concerns Israel’s judiciary.

Another observation – concerning Moshe’s fear, and his comment about the matter having become known, Rashi not once, but twice, comments that Moshe Rabbeinu is drawing a link between the Israelites’ behaviour and the oppression to which they are being subjected.

While no-one can know the mind of G-d to definitively interpret the events of October 7th as, G-d forbid, a response to Israel’s disunity, the Torah’s text – after creating the parallels identified above – seems to invite us to draw that link: the quarreling of the Jews on the one hand, and the violence to which we have been recently subjected on the other.

Furthermore, the central character in this episode is Moshe Rabbeinu. Why is it Moshe providing us these lessons? He is called ‘Rabbeinu’ because he is universally recognised as our teacher. We should draw lessons.

Another observation: the consequence of these events is that Pharoah tries to kill Moshe and Moshe has to flee.

Let us pray with all our heart this does not, G-d forbid, presage any event in our times, but we should all take the message and the lessons to heart.

Finally, when Moshe Rabbeinu flees to Midian, he ends up sitting down by ‘the well’. It is curious that there is no textual break between Moshe’s fleeing Pharoah on the one hand and him staying in Midian and sitting by the well. It is curious that the same word ‘vayeshev’ is used for both Moshe’s action in Midian and his action at the well. It is also curious that the Torah refers to ‘the well’, not simply ‘a well’.

As per Yosef HaTzaddik before Pharoah, perhaps the Torah text by this is not only providing interpretation of events, but also guiding us on what we should do: the Jewish people must immediately sit down to talk with each other and unite, and in so doing to draw on Torah, Jewish history and tradition.

How to draw this conclusion?

  1. The continuity between Moshe’s fleeing and sitting by the well in Midian suggests the latter is closely connected to the former – our response to these events.
  2. The use of the word ‘vayeshev’ emphasises sitting down, and its repetition – again as per Yosef HaTzaddik – suggests the matter is at hand, we must do it now to avert disaster.
  3. Wells have great significance in Torah. There are three levels of meaning here.
    • First, wells in biblical times served as a meeting place of people, where people gather together. This suggests we the Jewish people must gather together, to unite, not to divide.
    • Secondly, wells in biblical times were from where people drew water, which is the necessity to sustain life. This suggests that we the Jewish people must use this gathering to draw the conclusions necessary to sustain our lives.
    • Thirdly, the reference is to ‘the well’ – using the definite ‘the’ rather than indefinite ‘a’ – suggests it is a well that is well known to us. In Torah literature, water has been repeatedly identified as a signifier of Torah itself and godliness and wisdom more generally. We must look at Torah, and Jewish history and traditions, which is what we know well, to draw the necessary lessons on the centrality of Jewish unity to Jewish survival.
About the Author
Adam Gross, an Oxford-educated strategist, has over 20 years' experience solving complex problems in the international arena for United Nations agencies, international financial institutions, private sector, NGOs and social enterprises across Europe, Africa and Asia. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
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