Sunday, March 26, 2017

Redemption Prayer And Talmud Torah - Part 2

Rav Soloveitchik

The Zohar Hakadosh says:

And Moses spoke before the Lord, saying: "Behold, the children of Israel have not harkened unto me, how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?" How did Moses dare say this? Had not the Holy One already promised him, when he said that he was not eloquent, that He "will be with his mouth" (Exodus 4, 10-12)? Or did the Holy One not keep His promise? However, there is here an inner meaning. Moses was then in the grade of "Voice," and the grade of "Utterance" was then in exile. Hence he said, "How shall Pharaoh hear me, seeing that my 'utterance' is in bondage to him, I being only 'voice,' and lacking 'utterance.'" Therefore God joined with him Aaron, who was "utterance" without "voice." When Moses came, the Voice appeared, but it was "a voice without speech." This lasted until Israel approached Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Then the Voice was united with the Utterance, and the word was spoken, as it says, "and the Lord spake all these words" (Exodus 20, 1). Then Moses was in full possession. of the Word, Voice and Word being united. That was the cause of Moses' complaint (v. 23), that he lacked the word save at the time when it broke forth in complaint and "God spoke to Moses."

The text divides the process of redemption in three stages. First it identifies bondage with the absence of both word and meaningful sound, with total silence. Then redemption begins with finding sound while the word is still absent. Finally, with the finding of both sound and word, redemption attains it full realization. Before Moses came there was not even a single sound. No complaint was lodged, no sigh, no cry uttered. Only an agonizing un-human shriek would penetrate the weird silence of the night. The slaves were gloomy, voiceless and mute. The women did not cry when their infants were snatched from their arms; the men kept quiet when they were mercilessly tortured by the slave drivers. Torture was taken for granted. They thought this was the way it had to be. The pain did not precipitate suffering. They were unaware of any need. When Moses came, the sound, or the voice, came into being כי אתא משה אתא קול. Moses, by defending the helpless Jew, restored sensitivity to the dull slaves. Suddenly they realized that all that pain, anguish, humilation and cruelty, all the greed and intolerance of man vis-à-vis his feIlow man is evil. This realization brought in its wake not only sharp pain but a sense of suffering as well. With suffering came loud protest, the cry, the unuttered question, the wordless demand for justice and retribution. In short, the dead silence of non-existence was gone; the voice of human existence was now heard.

"And it came to pass in the course of the many days that the king of Egypt died and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage and they cried and their cry came up unto God".

Why hadn't they cried before Moses acted? Why were they silent during the many years of slavery that preceded Moses' appearance? They had lacked the need-awareness, and experienced no need, whether for freedom, for dignity, or for painless existence. They did not rebel against reality; they lacked the tension that engenders suffering and distress. The voice was restored to them at the very instant they discovered, emotionally, their need awareness and became sensitive to pain in a human fashion. Moses' protest precipitated this change.

Even Moses, the Zohar emphasizes, who helped the people move from the silent periphery to the great center, did not acquire the word until he and the people reached Mount Sinai. Although Moses had the existential awareness of need, he had not as yet discovered the logos of need [Logos, ( Greek: “word,” “reason,” or “plan”) plural logoi, in Greek philosophy and theology, the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning] which would, in turn, have endowed him with the charisma of speech. When the Almighty advised him that he had been chosen to be the redeemer of the people, Moses argued and was reluctant to accept the mission because the word was not, as yet, given to him; therefore, he was ערל שפתיים (slow of speech). Surely Moses had protested; he had killed the tyrant, rebuked the wicked Jew, etc. What he lacked was the logical understanding of the teleology [A philosophy of teleology sees purpose in ends rather than stated causes, making the outcome the actual, or "final" cause. When you see things in terms of teleology, you explain actions by their results] of the גלות experience, as well as the firm faith in the destiny of the slave-community. He did not believe that those slaves would ever be liberated. Hence, while Moses, and with him the whole community, had already broken out of their silence, they had yet to find the word. Only at Sinai was the logos, both as word and as knowledge, revealed to him. He .finally understood the covenantal past, beheld the vision of a great future whose realization was dependent upon him. 

This story is indicative, not only of the political slave of antiquity, but of slavery today, as well. Slavery is not only a juridic-economic institution of the past; it is also a way of life which is still a reality. The' unfree man differs, existentially, from the free man: one may, existentially, be a slave in the midst of political and economic freedoms. To use Biblical term terminology, slavery constitutes a תהו ובהו existence. What does the existential slave look like? How does existential tohu va-vohu express itself in daily life? 

There are two basic characteristics of which we may avail ourselves in identifying the slavish תהו ובהו existence in every era: 1) Anonymity; 2) Ignorance. How does the anonymity of man express itself? In the tragic reality of being forgotten. The history of mankind is the history of countless millons of forgotten, nameless people, who have vanished into nothingness, along with their gravemarks (if any). Men come and go, like Peretz's Bontsche Schweig, without leaving a trace or making a mark. ["Bontche Schweig's death made no impression whatsoever. No one knew who Bontche was. Bontche lived mutely and died quietly. Like a silent shadow did he pass through our world. At Bontche's circumcision no toasts were raised, no glasses were clinked. At his Bar Mitzvah no rousing speech was delivered. He lived in anonymity like a grey minute grain of sand on the beach of a stormy sea, among milions of identical sand particles . . . no one noticed that one of the particles was picked up by the storm and carried across the sea."]   The anonymity which envelops man is part of the curse God imposed upon Adam. Man experiences his anonymity as a great loneliness. If this is true of man in the past, it is certainly true of modern man. Urban life has contributed greatly to the anonymity and loneliness-experience of the individual. When Kohelet said: "For he comes in darkness and departs in darkness and his name is covered in darkness." - he referred not only to the unknown timid soul, to the poor and meek, but to everybody: the great ruler, the daring warrior, the captain of industry and the famous orator. All of these people live in anonymity and darkness and are existentially peripheral, mute beings. All of us, no matter how popular, are people whose destiny consists in being forgotten.