Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Parshas Bo 5775, January 2015, Rebuke

Shemot Rabbah speaks of three non-Jews who all have the temerity or audacity to rebuke Moshe Rabbeinu or his heirs relative to this weeks parsha. Yet two of them are considered completely righteous.
This little toy lamb has been named "Korban Pesach" for years by my children. Fortunately none of them has ever actually tried to eat it. (later…my teenagers read this and corrected me; the toy lamb has been nibbled on)

The first brought down in the midrash (Midrash haGadol) is an elderly Egyptian woman who accosted Moshe and Aharon as they left Pharaoh's palace when they had warned Pharaoh and his ministers about the coming plague of the death of the firstborn. She laughed at the Jewish leaders and told them their threat was nonsensical to her and those like her, who had no living relatives and cared nothing for officials.  Accused of false prophecy, Moshe warned her she would be the first to suffer from the coming plague.

The second is the princess Basya, daughter of the Pharaoh himself, and adoptive mother to Moshe. She reproached Moshe without mocking him, questioning gently how he could bring such pain on the household that had provided for his youth. Moshe calmly pointed out that she herself (who was righteous) had not been directly touched in any way by any of the plagues (a first born daughter, she herself was liable to death at that time had she not been G-d fearing). Moshe explained carefully that the punishments were coming directly from G-d himself, and that he himself was only a human messenger trying to avert the crises, not the cause of any pain Pharaoh and his household suffered.

The third person who Kehillat Rabbah discusses the third non-Jew rebuker related to this parsha: The Roman emperor Antonius, close friend and student of R' Yehuda haNassi. He is said to have asked whether in Olam Haba he would receive a share, and a portion of the levyasan. R' Yehuda assured him he would. Antonius then demanded to know why he could not in that case participate in Olam Ha-Zeh in the korban Pesach as it pained him emotionally to be separated from G-d in this way; R' Yehuda explained that this was completely out of his own hands, for only those who have accepted bris milah can possibly share in korban Pesach, as explicitly stated in this parsha.

For her mockery, the old woman did indeed suffer first among the Egyptians. Above all else she valued a ceramic statue of her oldest son reserved after his death for ceremonial use. As the deaths of the first borns approached, dogs attacked the relic and destroyed it utterly; it had been the only thing she valued at all in life.

For her kindness and attempt to understand the nature of divine judgment, Basya was accepted as a geyores, a convert, and departed Egypt with the Jews.

For his devotion and willingness to submit to R' Yehuda haNassi, Antonius was led by his heart to accept bris milah for himself, and became a true ger. We are told he will stand at the head of the table of converts, those who have voluntarily accepted all the pain, responsibility, and travail of Judaism voluntarily, in the symbolic great feasting hall of Olam Haba.

And so this is the greatness of questioning or arguing. If done properly, it confers great rewards on the questioner. Doing it properly involves showing understanding, caring, respect, and openness to new perspectives, as well as to the possibility that one's beliefs may be completely wrong. Done incorrectly, it can be a great danger and bring serious punishment on one who wishes to argue for argument's sake or to belittle others.

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