Friday, January 8, 2016

Parashat Va'eira- There is Power in You

Vayikra gam-Par'oh lachakhamim v'lamkhashpim vaya'asu gam-cheim hartumei Mitzrayim b'lahateihem kein.
And Pharaoh called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did in a like manner with their secret arts. (Shemot 7:11)
Imagine the scene- Though raised in the palace, Moshe returns as a shepherd. He with his brother, in their simple clothing, stand before Pharaoh and his court. The room is filled with Egyptian wealth and the trappings of Egypt's religion, art, statues, even the clothes are meant to stand as reminders of Pharaoh's connection to the Egyptian gods and his status as a god himself. The Israelites, a nomadic, enslaved people, have none of this. Only following our departure from Egypt do we begin to create religious art and beautiful ritual objects and clothes. Moshe and Aaron stand before Pharaoh as themselves. They are regular people. It is true they have been chosen for their roles, but for their natural human abilities. Moshe is compassionate; Aaron a good speaker. They are not professionals. They do not come from a dynasty. They have no magic skills. The miraculous moments come from God. They are not tricks or arts that have been studied and learned. On the other hand, Pharaoh, perhaps the strongest leader of his time, and a presumed god himself, has no power to perform such acts. He must surround himself with trained individuals, learned in Egyptian religion, in magic, and secrets known only to a few.
Judaism is special in this regard. Though we rely on rabbis, they are meant to be our experts and our teachers, guiding us on our own journeys into mitzvot, into t'fillah, and into Jewish life. Judaism is based upon the equality of all Jews. Just as we look to experts in other fields, we have experts in Judaism. However, these experts are not meant to create a hierarchy. Even in Temple times, Kohanim knew the mechanics of sacrifices. It was the Levi'im who knew the details of ritual, how to set up the Mikdash, and the songs recited daily. The Sages knew the teachings. The people did the rituals. Recent archeological discoveries show active synagogue life even during the Second Temple; regular Jews observing Judaism. Every Jew is equal. The learning, the mitzvot, the t'fillot are open to all Jews equally. We do not require a priest or pope to act as a go between to reach God. We merely need to open ourselves to faith and to God, and let the divine power flow through us.