Shemot – turn and truly see

Moses was a young prince of Egypt, having been raised in the Palace since he had been lifted out of the River Nile as a baby.  He went out one night and saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave.  He “turned this way and that”, (Ex. 2:12) and seeing that no one else was around to witness his actions, he killed the Egyptian.  He wanted to make sure no one caught him in the act, so he checked around first, and then followed through.

The next day, thinking the murder had been detected, Moses fled, and found himself in Midian.  True to the J-date of his day, he hung out by the town well, met a nice Midian girl, married her and settled down as a shepherd.  One day years later, he was out walking with the sheep, and came across a burning bush that was all aflame, but not consumed.  Impressive.  Moses said, “I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight…” (Ex. 3:3). The Torah uses a different verb here, “sur”, for “turn” instead of the one used in Chapter 2, vayifen. When the Torah uses two different words for something, it means “Pay attention!”

One commentator, Ibn Ezra (12th c Spain) said it means not merely to turn, but to “leave one’s place and go in that direction”.  In other words, Moses had to do more than just turn his head; he actually had to move from where he was, in order to see what was in front of him.  He had to change his perspective in order to be transformed, and even God knew it.  God didn’t speak until Moses had already turned aside, ready to listen.   Only when God saw that he (Moses) had turned aside, God called to him out of the bush, and the next chapter of Moses’ life began.

Moses was about to embark on a journey that established his legacy, but he couldn’t have gotten there if he had stayed in the same place, if he hadn’t changed his views. Literally.  And when he did all that, he took the first step to becoming a legendary leader.  The transformation began only when Moses repositioned himself.

The religious leaders of Bet Shemesh and other ultra-Orthodox communities in the West Bank settlements of Israel and some cities in America need to do the same thing. For too many years, the larger community has been at the beck and call of a group that claims to have the “one, true faith.”  Some brave souls from the territories have begun to speak out, (see Alex Israel’s post   and even Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, of the Ultra-right wing Shas party, finally spoke publically against the harassment, saying, “to disrespect women is to desecrate God.” But in general, the ultra-right leadership of those Jewish communities has been silent too long about the lengths to which they go to “protect” Judaism.  The only change that has been effected in the community is further divisiveness, hardening lines of views and positions; it ends up with prayer houses being torched, businesses vandalized, children being terrorized (yes, I mean that word) women being beaten, and the images ( of the Holocaust stolen and sullied. (This image is disturbing on many levels, but it shows the extremes to which this group will sink in painting itself as a victim.)  The situation is worse in Israel, since the theocracy of the nation there is in constant tension with democratic values, and people are caught in the crossfire, literally.  But even here in America, in heavily populated ultra-Orthodox areas, Jews are breaking American law and distorting Jewish life and values to attain some destructive ends (

I’m angry and heartsick and appalled at the actions of the people who are supposed to belong to the same faith I do.  We are told too many times to protect the vulnerable in our community, women and children, to speak out when the “guardians of our faith” turn and attack the very ones we’re commanded to protect.  The Israeli authorities need to see these people for what they are: law-breaking thugs who need to escorted into the legal system of the State they so blithely dismiss.  In the meantime, the community leaders, and those they lead, need to turn their heads and pay attention.  A bush is burning in front of them, and if they expect to truly lead the people that have been put in their care, they need to turn aside, reposition themselves, and then listen for the inspiration that spoke to Moses.  They’re not going to hear what they think is God’s guidance while staying where they are, desecrating the holy ground on which they stand.

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