Parshat Ki Tisa: Self Sacrifice: Moses and Noah in Contrast - The Jewish Voice
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Friday, December 1, 2023

Parshat Ki Tisa: Self Sacrifice: Moses and Noah in Contrast

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An artist’s rendition of the sin of the golden calf that took place in the Sinai desert

Some of you commented on last week’s article asking why I left out the most well-known reason given for the absence of Moses’ name in last week’s perasha. The rabbis teach us that this was in response to Moses’ plea to G-d after the sin of the golden calf as we will read about this week. Hashem stated he would annihilate the Jewish people and produce a new nation from Moses. Moshe responds to Hashem, “And now, if You will, please pardon their sin, and if not, then please erase me from the book that You have written!” Considering that the Zohar tells us that when G-d created the world, he looked into the Torah to create it, we understand that Moses demand to be erased means not just being erased from the words of the Torah.

Moshe is in essence saying that if Beney Yisrael are wiped out than he too must be wiped out and erased from human history and existence. The rabbis debate as to whether Moshe did the right thing and explain that although he revokes his own threat, given the extraordinary power of Moses’ words, Moshe’s proclamation, “erase me from the book” had to be fulfilled in some fashion. Therefore, Moses’ name does not appear in Parashat Tesaveh. We are left with a cautionary message that words are so powerful they create reality.

I think an even greater lesson is the dedication and self-sacrifice we see in Moses and ought to emulate ourselves.

A few weeks ago my aunt Evelyn Tawil passed away. Evelyn was my dad’s sister and mention was made of growing up in the Bibi household where hospitality was always paramount. Rabbi Ozeri told over how in 1927 when my grandmother was only 23 and already the mother of four, her father in law, my great grandfather Joseph A. Bibi passed away. Esther and Reuben took in Reuben’s mother and his brothers and for the most part adopted their nephew Nouri Dayan who really became a sibling of the children. The story is told of the postman delivering a letter for an Ezra Dayan and my aunts telling him that there was no Dayan in the house. They all thought that Nouri, who would become Rabbi Ozeri’s father in law, was their brother.

After returning from the Bet HaChaim, Shelly Jemal told me that she had her own similar story. When she was a young girl her parents moved to Japan with her sister where they lived for close to twenty years. Shelly remained in the States with her grandmother where there certainly was not only a generation gap, but a bit of a language gap as well. Aunt Evelyn was her neighbor and in those days of two family and attached homes, neighbors were more than neighbors. Evelyn became a second mother to Shelly. And I’m sure that Aunt Evelyn with four boys was thrilled to have such a beautiful and amazing daughter. Shelly told me how she relied on Evelyn for everything and how it was Evelyn who encouraged her to meet and was responsible for her marrying her husband, AJ.

This week we also saw the passing of Rabbi Eli Greenwald. He was a close friend of our family and Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Ohel David and Shlomo in Manhattan Beach. Rabbi Greenwald was one of those very special rabbis who are completely dedicated to their congregations to a level of self-sacrifice as taught by Moses himself, not unlike my own Rabbi Abittan who was Rabbi Greenwald’s classmate.

Rabbi Greenwald has served as a principal of Ezra Academy Junior High School Yeshiva in Brooklyn, dean of Yeshiva of Manhattan Beach, both the first vice chairman and a long term member of New York City’s Community Board 15, vice President of the Rabbinical Board of Flatbush, a member of the Sephardic Rabbinical Council as well as the Jewish chaplain at Jefferson Medical College Hospital in Philadelphia, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, and Greater New York Council Boy Scout Summer Camps. Rabbi Greenwald served the community for the past 54 years. Rabbi Yosef Bitton mentioned that some Synagogues are comprised of 60 families, some of 100 families and others of 300 or more families. Ohel David though, through the efforts of Rabbi Greenwald is comprised of one family, united in effort and purpose.

The quality of self-sacrifice and dedication of our parents and of our leaders is testament to the influence of Moses our leader and the example he set forth.

It’s interesting that in contrast to the Moshe’s behavior in the desert, we are told of Noah’s behavior at the flood. The prophet Yeshayahu refers to the flood that destroyed the world in Noah’s time as “Meh Noah” – “the waters of Noah” – as if to blame Noah for the devastating deluge. We see when Noah left the ark and saw the destruction; he prayed that G-d never destroy the world with a flood. Hashem heeded his prayer and every generation since owes their lives to Noah. Noah saved mankind going forward. But if it was possible for Noah to save the future generations, why not try to save his own?

The Zohar explains that Noah bears responsibility for the flood, because when he heard about the impending catastrophe, he did not pray to G-d for mercy. He instead simply complied with G-d’s instructions to build an ark to save himself, his family and the animals. He rescued himself without trying to rescue the people.

When the flood subsides, Noah sends out a raven. The raven returns and Noah sends a dove. Why the switch? We read every day in Psalms of G-d, who “gives food to the animals and to the young ravens who cry”. It has been suggested that the raven fails to recognize it’s young because their plumage is not as glossy and fiercely black as its own. The raven, a selfish creature, thus abandons its offspring because it does not care for what is not its own and therefore G-d must come to their rescue. Noah in sending out a raven is in some way telling G-d that G-d is like the raven abandoning his children. G-d though flings the raven right back telling Noah that it was Noah who by not praying for and encouraging his generation was the selfish one.

The students of the Arizal teach us that Moshe Rabbenu was sent back to fix the soul of Noah. The generation of the flood was reincarnated as the generation of the desert. Those same sous who were destroyed returned again. And Noah too returned. His soul was reincarnated in Moses. And where Noah failed the generation and saved himself, Moses was willing to wipe himself from human history and existence in order to save the generation. Moses is the tikun or the repair of Noah and that repair takes place when he utters the words , “Meheni Nah”, please erase me.

The Hid”a, Haham Haim Yosef David Azulai, comments that the letters of the word “Meheni” (“erase me”) also spell the words “Meh Noah,” alluding to Moshe’s role in rectifying Noah’s mistake. Furthermore, the letters Mem, Chet, Nun, Yud, Nun and Alef spell out the words Meheni Nah. Reverse those letters and we get Alef Nun Yud. Ani or I and Nun Chet, Noah followed by a Mem for Moshe. It’s as if Moses is telling us that I am Noah and through these words I will repair his mistake.

What a lesson to all of us! We must learn from the example set for us by Moses our teacher to not forget the others in our generation. We cannot feel content saving ourselves without any distress for what occurs to others. Our responsibility is to do what we can to carry them with us onto the “ark” and aid them in whatever way possible so that they can pull themselves out of the “flood.” This can’t happen by preaching nor by pandering, but by setting an example in living lives that are just and filled with kindness and in always remembering that we are connected to each other and responsible for one another. We can’t forget that we are in fact one big family.

Rabbi David Bibi

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