Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Thursday, 4 March 2010

Our Responsibility

"And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments. For the LORD had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee. And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb"(Shmos 33:4-6)
There are two obvious problems with these three verses:
a) Right after the text tells us the people took off their ornaments, God then commands them to do so.
b) So they do it again?
The Malbim, with his usual incisive analysis of the fine points of the text, notes something most people miss: "the people" and "the Children of Israel" are not the same thing.  If they were, why would the Torah use two different terms, especially in consecutive verses?  He notes from his experience that the term "the people" usually refers to the hamon am, the great masses while the term "the Children of Israel" refers to the leading portions of the nation.
In this case he differentiates based on the recent debacle of the golden calf.  The Malbim notes that the majority of our ancestors did not worship the calf, but they also didn't protest against it and stop its worshippers from carrying out their foul actions.  As a result, God withdrew his decision to allow His presence to rest amongst the people.  Instead of building a Mishkan, the Bnei Yisrael would travel from Sinai directly to Israel, guided by an angel, not the presence of God.
The masses who had been eagerly expected the arrival of the Shechinah evinced their disappointment and regret over events by removing their "ornaments", the crowns that the malachei hashares had given them when they said na'aseh v'nishma not so long ago.  But the Children of Israel, the leading elements of the people, didn't. Why not?
The Malbim brings an astounding answer - they didn't feel the right amount of regret over the golden calf!  Yes they recognized that it had been a bad affair all around but since they had never given up hope in Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, coming back with the Aseres HaDibros and therefore had not participated at all in what had happened, they felt that the God's angery and the subsequent punishment had nothing to do with them.  Thus while the average people knew what to do in order to begin the process of teshuvah they sat back figuring that nothing had changed for them.
But it had because when part of our people stumble, the damage affects us all.  As Chazal note, all Jews are responsible for one another.  The parable is told of the people in the boat where one of them starts drilling a hole under his seat.  When teh others try to stop him, he tells them to mind his own business because he can do what he wants under his private seat.  The others call him a fool because his private hole will flood the entire boat.
Here the situation was the opposite.  It was as if some of the passengers had begun drilling holes while others said "What do I care, it's nowhere near me", oblivious to the obvious, that they would be drowned along with the others.
For me, the lesson can be grimly applied to the frumi community today.  We are a minority amongst our people.  The majority of our brethren do not observe the laws of the Torah either out of ignorance or an arrogance born of fundemental misunderstandings of how God works in this world.  They are the great masses, we are the Children of Israel.
As such, it is our responsibility to reach out to them through personal example.  Sitting back, criticizing those who know not better and saying to ourselves "If bad things happen it won't affect us because we're shomrei mitzvos" is not what God would seem to want of us.  We must reach out to our brethren through positive expression of the Torah's moral valuese and show them what they are missing.  Otherwise, we are just flooding the boat through our inaction and will be drowned with the rest.

11 comments:

SJ said...

>> The majority of our brethren do not observe the laws of the Torah either out of ignorance or an arrogance born of fundemental misunderstandings of how God works in this world. They are the great masses, we are the Children of Israel.

This sounds like something Neturei Karta would say. NK goes around saying that the chelonim have hijacked the name Israel.

david a. said...

The Malbim, with his usual incisive analysis of the fine points of the text, notes something most people miss: "the people" and "the Children of Israel" are not the same thing.

david a. said...

>>>> The Malbim, with his usual incisive analysis of the fine points of the text, notes something most people miss: "the people" and "the Children of Israel" are not the same thing.

With all due respect to the Malbim, this is patent nonsense.

Does that mean that the dozens of times in Khumash when the text says that Hashem directs Moishe to “tell the children of Israel” and then the text continues with the instruction of some new mitzvah, the mitzvah is for the elite of Israel only?

Garnel Ironheart said...

Actually if you read Rashi, yes that's what it means. Do you think that every time God gave a new mitzvah that Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, gathered the entire nation together so they could hear it? He instructed Aharon HaKohen, Aharon's sons and the leadership and they in turn spread the instruction through to the people. That's a far more efficient way to do it, wouldn't you say?

david a. said...

Granted that the lines of communications from Hashem to the people may have been elaborate but saying that the expression “Children of Israel” doesn’t refer to the nation as a whole just doesn’t work.

For example, the parsha of tzitzit reads.

Hashem said to Moses saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make for themselves tzitzit …”.etc.

According to you this would mean that only the elite are obligated for tzitzit.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

No, you're assuming the "Children of Israel" and "they" are the same entity. I could just as easily understand the verse as "Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them (the Children of Israel) that they (the entire people) shall make...."

We see this with other terms. Eidah, for example, refers to the Sanhedrin or other small defined groups. The Hebrew has a specificity that the English translation often misses.

david a. said...

>>> No, you're assuming the "Children of Israel" and "they" are the same entity. I could just as easily understand the verse as "Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them (the Children of Israel) that they (the entire people) shall make...."

Weell, the way I understand language is that a pronoun is meant to references a noun in a contextual fashion. The way you are interpreting this simply undermines the usefulness of the text. in which case "they" could refer to anyone.

It kinda’ reminds me of the time in my yeshiva days when I was having a conversation with a professor of Judaic history. I started to say something about Torah sh’baal peh and Torah sh’beksav and he interrupted me with a hearty laugh and informed me that practically speaking in rabbinical Judaism there is no such thing as Torah she’beksav.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Your professor is very wrong. The Oral Law relies on the Written Law as its very foundation. You're right, the way you understand language is generally correct in modern society. The Torah has, at several points, vague statements where you're not sure who is referring to what and only through the Oral Law can we fill in those gaps. Both sides need each other to form the indivisible whole.

david a. said...

>>> through the Oral Law can we fill in those gaps.

ah ...this is the nub of it.

I think you fail to understand his point. It is simply that any document that needs massive interpretation to understand and that the interpretation is often arbitrary and/or contradictory to the literal meaning of the text has for all practical purpose transferred authority of the text itself to the interpreters.

That’s what he meant when he said that according to traditional Judaism, there is NO written (Torah) law, since every law is subject to Rabbinic interpretation.

Shalmo said...

Scholarship has noted that the reason the Tanakh is so condemning of Israel is because it was written by mostly the priestly class, condeming the people for not listening to their whims

Its normal in primitive religions for priests to make us mythology of a rebellious nation when the masses do not listen to them

Shalmo said...

Jason Long has noted a problematic polemic with the Aaron passage

How can a prophet be the one who biulds the golden calf? This is the guy who lead these people out of slavery.

So how can someone whom the people have been led to trust to provide God's will be the one whom betrays that God by biulding a golden calf

And how can the people be blamed for it when the person they had come to trust to be given God's will be the one who engages in the crime?