Shared with the Holy Blossom Temple Board of Directors meeting Jan 29, 2015.
By Mike Morgulis, President Holy Blossom Temple Brotherhood
Humans are, by nature, incredibly selfish and survivalist. Most of us look at the immediate moment, and focus upon our dire hour of need. One extreme is those who are on the shore of the Red Sea, with the whole of Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit, and to a lesser but more tangible extent, like those of us who are hungry. There is an expression that when artillery shells are falling all around, that there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole. At times of need, in survival situations, we turn to God for help. Continuing with the example of hunger, when we are famished – we ask for God’s help, and we allow ourselves a very short bracha, the motzi, before we start to eat. It is symbolic at best, but at least it exists.
Then, once sated, like the Israelites on the shore after their redemption, we break out into a lengthy and detailed chorus of the Birkat Hamazon. While we don’t quite reach the heights of the more descriptive verses in the Songs of Songs like Exodus 15 verse 8 “And with the blast of Your nostrils the waters were piled up–the floods stood upright as a heap; the deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea.”, while we don’t say that per se, we do thank God with a full stomach. And then, true to form, we continue to ask for things, we add petitionary prayers, using the Ha’Rachaman reference, appealing to God’s protective and nurturing side. Read the full translation of the Song of Songs… how much is thanking for the present and how much for the future? It’s as if we said “Oh, you saved us? Please keep doing it!”
What is more symbolic of everyday life, however, occurs 3 days after the crossing of the sea, after finding no water, we complain. And then, another miracle, water purification, and again we are satisfied… momentarily, until the “where’s the beef?” moment, after which we receive both manna and the reminder of the mitzvah of not gathering on Shabbat (we ignore it and are admonished).
What I think is most significant for us; however, is the moment before we leave Egypt. Our leader, Moses, had just returned from Pharaoh’s office with his brother, Aaron, memo in hand – Beshalach – Pharaoh has sent them out.
The Israelites are making matzah, plundering the Egyptians by removing their gold and silver from them, and packing up their belongings.
As Rabbi Larry Kushner describes in his book, Honey From the Rock, the scene is chaotic, the Israelites are packing up their station wagons in a frantic fashion, did we pack the gold and silver? where’s Suzie? Where’s little Nathan? Have you got the matzah?!
And while all of this is going on, there is our great leader, Moses. Just before he sits down behind the wheel of the lead car, he snaps his fingers and darts off. His immediate followers are yelling at him to get the safari started, time is of the essence, and yet off he rushes over the dunes in search of Joseph’s bones. Joseph, long dead and buried, had made a plea on his death bed to have his bones brought back to Israel for burial alongside the bones of his father and mother. Tradition tells us that, although not mentioned, his brothers’ bones were also brought along.
Moses, at this point in the story, still has great things yet to do, and tasks yet unperformed. He has no knowledge that he will experience God very closely not merely once, but twice, and will receive the greatest book ever given to humankind, which, if given in its entirety atop Mount Sinai, would also tell Moses that he will not survive the entire trip. Moses knows none of this yet, but he takes up the task to bring along the bones of his ancestors. To me, this surpasses the Song of Songs or the Birkat Hamazon. His actions, to bring along Joseph’s bones, occur before the initial exodus; it occurs before we cross the sea or are given water and manna, and the action itself has no possible personal reward.
William Arthur Ward said that “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
The selfless actions of Moses should act as an inspiration to us, as we now head into a new land of renewal. We are no longer slaves to status quo of an archaic building. Already ten fortieths have passed by since renewal was started. And yet we must remember to bring forward all that is Holy Blossom, and not get lost in the minutia of the physical construction. We have a duty to keep us all together so that we can all cross our Red Sea as one body, and we must bind ourselves to the promises and vows of the past so that our rich congregational principles continue for future generations.
I would be remiss if I did not note the coincidence that this week marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the modern-day Exodus from the most horrific scene of slavery and behaviour in human history. Do we remember how lucky our ancestors were to survive when others did not? Have we all put aside our daily selfish immediate needs to search for our ancestors’ bones and bring them with us?
We must also never forget our own inspirational Moses, Rabbi Splansky, who teaches us without asking “what’s in it for me?” Our Moses has carried us through tumult, and with sheer unwavering willpower and tenacity, has helped keep us together as a congregation over the last few difficult years.
Our Moses, who too, is very human, and modest, walks the high road because that’s just the way she’s built – she inspires the best from us as people and as Jews. She, too, has proven that in her daily work, she remembers the forgotten bones of others.
So, as we sing with joy on this coming Shabbat, let us also remember that as leaders, we need to also inspire, we all need to carry the burden of the bones of our ancestors, and support our own Moses in her time of need.