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Iyar

The Rabbi Speaks

Who Is Moses? January 21, 2017

This parashah is the transition from the patriachal/familial narrative of the Torah to the national narrative. The Israelites have increased exponentially and circumstances have changed. We are informed that the Egyptians have enslaved our ancestors and they are suffering greatly. God decides to intervene. And, then, along comes Moses, Moshe.
We are told that he is a Levite, the son of Amram and Yocheved, both of the tribe of Levi. The Levites already have some leadership role among the Israelites as is evidenced later by Aaron and the elders joining with Moses. But, Yocheved cannot raise Moses as her own, the law has been promulgated concerning drowning male babies. So his older sister, Miriam, places him in the Nile preciously when Pharoah’s daughter is bathing, perhaps hoping that Moses will be saved. Pharoah’s realizes that Moses is a Hebrew/Israelite child and decides to raise him as her own. Miriam intercedes and offers to obtain a Hebrew wet nurse for the child, to which Pharoah’s daughter agrees, and Yocheved is selected. So for the first 3-5 years of his life, Moses is raised in a Hebrew/Israelite home and knows his parents and his siblings! And then, when he is fully weaned, he enters the Palace and begins his life as an Egytian prince. 
We next encounter Moses as a young man, some commentaries suggest he was 12, the text seems to indicate he was a bit older, perhaps in his late teens or early 20’s, out and about at a work site observing the interaction between the Hebrew/Israelite slaves and their Egyptian taskmasters. He reacts almost viscerally but with caution upon seeing a taskmaster beating an Israelite. From Moses’ reaction, he must have decided that the punishment was in excess of the infraction. Looking about and thinking they were alone, he kills the taskmaster and buries the body. Sometime later, perhaps only a day or two, he goes out again and attempts to intervene with two Hebrews who are fighting. Rejecting his interview, one taunts Moses as to whether he plans to kill him like he did the Egyptian taskmaster. Moses realizes that if the Hebrews know of his actions, it is only a matter of time before Pharoah and the Court find out and he flees Egypt.
So, we must ask ourselves – How does Moses identify himself? Does he see himself as a Hebrew or as an Egyptian? Does he see himself as a powerless person or as a powerful person? Although he can claim important lineage as a Levite, he appears to be Egyptian. 
As I was reading these chapters, I thought of our new President, Donald Trump. As a businessman, Trump was a member of the ruling elite. He presided over a large international firm and developed many connections and relationships with both elected and non-elected powerful people. Yet his campaign was an appeal to the Forgotten Man, as some have characterized his inaugural address. Similarly to Moses, he identifies with those who are not as fortunate. Trump’s ascendancy to the Presidency is going to be studied for decades by political scientists and others. He broke almost every rule of conventional politics, and got elected anyway. Either he is one of the most clever user’s of power in history, or one of the luckiest people on earth! 
Both Moses and Trump understood that power is both personal and positional, that is, one personality, attributes and skills can result in personal power. But, power is part of every single position in any organization, structure or social group. Position is conferred when one obtains the position, personal can either enhance or diminish the exercise of one’s position power.
Moses fled because his exercise of personal power in killing the Egyptian exceeded the power of his position as a prince in Egypt. His position power was not sufficient to protect him. At the burning bush, his status changes. God confers upon position power far greater than what he had and challenges Moses to use his personal power to fill his new position – Liberator. 
Donald Trump has been elected to the Presidency of the United States, arguably the most powerful elected position in the world. It remains to be seen whether he will use his immense personal power to enhance of diminish his power as President.
Just as the Hebrew/Israelites must have prayed for the success of Moses’ mission, albeit perhaps with some misgivings, we too, as good Americans, should pray for the success of Donald Trump’s Presidency.
Our country depends on it and the world depends on it.  Amen.

Rabbi Art Vernon