Day #52: Talk Show Moses

“Today, we’ve got a very special guest!”

The host, a solidly built woman with a firm personality, is parading in front of the cameras and her audience.

“Would you please welcome, Moshe the Teacher!”

The small audience claps enthusiastically, but politely as Moses walks in and sits on a large couch next to the Host’s chair.

“Welcome,” she says, warmly, “Moses who has liberated the people from Egypt.”

“Glad to be here,” responds Moses, “But don’t call me the liberator. That’s G-d’s work, I’m just a facilitator.”

“Got it,” says the host, “Moses the Facilitator. My first question is a simple one: why have you decided to come on my show?”

“Well,” answers Moses, “We’ve just received the Ten Sayings.  That was a blow your socks off introduction to Judaism – literally talking to G-d is not something you can get often. Now that we’ve brought in the basic laws, it is time to pass on the details to the people. We’ve got to share what it means to live the commandments – and what kinds of benefits can be realized. So I consulted with the tribe of Consultites and the one good idea they had was coming on your show. You have a great audience, both here and amongst the entire nation. This just seems like a great way to pass on a bit of the stuff that isn’t written down.”

“Well,” says the Host, “We certainly look forward to being a part of that. Thank you for the complements. It is a real honor to be able to have you here and to help you pass on your message.”

“Now,” says the Host, settling into her seat, “First off, I’ve really been enjoying the installments of your new book. It is action-packed, there are layers and layers of meaning. It has really been wonderful. But I’ve gotta ask, what’s up with the most recent installment?”

“How so?” asks Moses.

“Well,” says the Host, “You had a bunch of action-packed installments: family history, slavery, plagues, Red Sea, giving of the Torah. And then you get here. A whole bunch of laws. It is a bit of a downer. What happened?”

“Well,” answers Moses, “I’m glad you asked. That’s part of why I’ve come on your show. This stuff may not be as exciting, but this is what’s going to make our society run. We’re a bunch of slaves who’ve just come out of Egypt. We don’t exactly have a functioning group of social rules outside of what we’re given.”

“Okay, I can accept that. But some of these laws seem a bit weird. I get eye-for-an-eye, but I’m a woman and I can’t say I’m happy with everything.”

“I can understand that. But you have to remember that there is just as much depth here as anyplace else. The terms are very carefully used. And the context is very carefully developed. So don’t expect that things are going to be how they look on the surface.”

“Can you give an example?”

“Sure,” replies Moses, “The rules are rules, but they have some built in flexibility. Over time, they’ll change. If you read carefully, you’ll notice that there are a whole bunch of policy prescriptions. But G-d doesn’t get personally involved in them. We should do x and y and z, but those are technical things. Over time, they can be interpreted and implemented in a variety of ways. Heck, there might not even be slavery sometime in the future. But let me ask, can you identify the first rule where G-d gets really into it?”

“Hold on, let me guess here…. The widow and orphan?”

“Exactly, the widow and the orphan and the stranger. That’s the first law with consequences from G-d. His wrath will pour out upon those who oppress the widow, orphan and stranger. And he will kill your family if you practice that sort of oppression. There’s no technical hopping around there. In that case, G-d wants the spirit as well as the letter. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much you know, you can’t mess around here.”

“I saw that,” says the Host, “But then later on it says you can’t judge in favor of the poor. What’s up with that?”

“The two rules work with each other,” replies Moses, “You have to support the poor, but you can’t pervert justice to do so. People must give charity to help those in need, but a court can’t unreasonably seize a rich man’s assets assets just because the counter party is poor. There is no justice in making the law uneven on the basis of wealth or anything else.”

“We’ll have to get back to that,” says the Host, “It isn’t so clear and I’ll bet a whole lot of people will see part I and not part II.”

“They probably will,” concedes Moses, with a dip of his head.

“So,” says the Host, “Are you basically saying the rest of it can be manipulated to our heart’s content?”

“Not at all,” says Moses, “Our civil laws are laws given to us by G-d. They allow development and movement over time. But they aren’t a free license by any means. G-d wrote the laws, not me. And he has been very very careful to delineate within those technical rules the edges of what is acceptable. There is room to interpret and change within the law, but it is far from unlimited.”

“You know,” says the Host, “That is comforting. People can go off in all sorts of directions, given a free rein. And it can tear societies and civilizations apart. They rot from within. But these rules will keep everyone on a G-d-given path. It sounds a whole lot more durable.”

“You are right,” says Moses, “People are tempted by the latest trends. But this law actually limits that. It says you can’t follow a multitude to do what is wrong. In other words, there is fundamental rules and then there are the social and political realities. And even if all the leaders seem set on one answer, you can’t just follow them blindly. You have to recognize that there are basic rights and basic justice and it doesn’t matter who disagrees.”

“So there’s a whole set of basic rules and you can play within them as a society, but you can’t do evil even if society wants to.”

“Exactly,” says Moses.

“Now,” said the Host, “I said earlier there’s no real action here. But that isn’t totally true, is it.”

“No,” says Moses, “It isn’t. People will probably tend to overlook it, but there is a major bit of action here. We, the Jewish people, actually seal a covenant with G-d. There is splitting of blood,  there is an altar, there is an actual meal with G-d. These are all elements of covenants. Yaakov did with Laban. Avraham with G-d. We, the entire people, are doing it here. Here, we are accepting the law. This is seriously important stuff.”

“How is there a covenant that can require action by G-d. I mean, this must be some sort of powerful form of agreement?”

“I can’t say I understand,” answers Moses, “Except that G-d is good and honorable. And if there is a legal procedure for sealing a covenant, if we do it with him, he will uphold it because it is the right thing to do.”

“That makes sense,” says the Host, “Now, before we turn to the audience, I just want to say that I’m eagerly looking forward to the next chapter. Any sneak peaks?”

“No sneak peaks,” says Moses, “You’ll just have to live it.”

“Wonderful,” says the Host, “I look forward. Everybody, give a hand to Moses the Facilitator!”

The studio audience claps enthusiastically.

Moses dips his head humbly and begins taking questions.