Friday, December 31, 2004

Moshe and the Characteristics of a Navi

Since this shabbos is the Rambam's yeirtzheit, I wanted to write a dvar Torah with something from the Rambam. After doing a search to find something, I came across this dvar Torah and thought it was so well done and the message so perfect for the day that I had to just copy and share it with all of you!
Moshe and the Characteristics of a Navi
by Rabbanit Chana Henkin
from Nishmat--The Jerusalem Center for Advanced Jewish Study for Women (I was actually going to study there this summer)
In the second chapter of the book of Shemot, Moshe is involved in three incidents, all cases of protecting a victim from a victimizer. After having spent his childhood in Pharaoh's palace, when he matured he went out to see his brothers, the Hebrews. The first day, he killed the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. The following day, he intervened to prevent one Hebrew from assaulting another. In the course of the intervention he discovered that the word was out regarding his having protected a Hebrew and slain an Egyptian, and he was forced to flee Egypt. Immediately upon arrival in Midian, in the words of Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim II:45 "a fearful, fleeing stranger," he intervened yet a third time, this time to rescue the daughters of Yitro from the Midianite shepherds.
The number three in Jewish law represents a "hazaka". An action repeated three times is considered not a random occurrence but an established behavior pattern, a manifestation of the very essence of the personality. In all three cases, Moshe did not know the victims. Nechama Leibovitz makes the point that without the repetition of incidents, we might be tempted to attribute Moshe's intervention either to a naive assumption that he would be appreciated for his assistance or to partisan concern for his own people. By the third incident, we realize that it was a love of mankind and an abhorrence of exploitation which motivated Moshe.
Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim, counts eleven levels of prophecy. The highest level, eventually attained only by Moshe, consists of a face-to-face address of the prophet by G-d. The middle levels all involve a Divine message to a prophet in a prophetic dream or vision-for instance the prophet hearing a voice in a dream, or seeing an angel in a dream, or even seeing G-d in a dream. But it is the first level of prophecy which he calls "ruach haShem, the spirit of G-d" which is, in many ways, the most remarkable.
Rambam's first level of prophecy is based on Moshe's three rescues in our parsha. It does not consist of receiving a message from G-d; rather, it consists of a person's experiencing an "inner awakening and compulsion" to save others -- either to save a single very righteous person or a large number of ordinary people -- from oppression, or alternately, an awakening to do a great good for the public. Rambam maintains that the prophet's sense of social justice is so finely honed that cannot resist the compulsion to help the persecuted. That is why Moshe had first jepoardized his position in the palace to help the assaulted Hebrew. And that is why, even as a fearful stranger who has lost his home, family and property as the result of having helped the persecuted, he again intervened in Midian the moment he witnessed oppression. Simply stated, Moshe was unable to stand by and witness one person making others suffer.
It seems to me that Rambam's levels of prophecy are concentric circles. At the core of prophecy and the readiness to fight for G-d's word is the readiness to fight for justice among human beings. Unless the prophet is so impelled to act on behalf of others that no pragmatic or personal considerations cloud his sense of justice, the higher, more "godly" levels of prophesy cannot follow.
Note: In his commentary "Chibah Yeteirah," my husband, Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, points out that Moshe saved a Jew from a non-Jew, a Jew from a Jew, and non-Jews (the daughters of Yitro) from non-Jews. What about the fourth possibility in this typology, that of saving a non-Jew from a Jew? Probably, under the conditions of Egyptian bondage, the eventuality did not arise.

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