Kahane on the Parsha
Rabbi Meir Kahane – Parsha Bo
Moses: Fanatic and Extremist
Nine plagues have descended upon Egypt. Pharaoh, reeling under the pressure from his noblemen and servants, capitulates. He tells Moses: “Go, worship the L-rd; only let your flocks and your herds stay behind” (Exodus 10:24)
Consider, dear Jew. After 201 years of slavery, the Hebrews have been told that they can leave! Freedom, at last! Pharaoh has capitulated! All he gives is one small condition, so unimportant in view of the fact that he has agreed to Jewish freedom. Go, he has told the Hebrews, all I ask is that you leave your flocks and your herds.
The Hebrews, bursting with joy and anticipation, wait for the “official” acceptance by Moses, the sage and stable leader, his agreement that will open the door to freedom. And Moses? He replies: “You must also give into our hands sacrifices and burnt offerings that we may offer them to the L-rd, our G-d. And our livestock, as well, will go with us; there shall not be a hoof left behind” (Exodus 10:25-26.
Picture the Hebrews! Picture the Jewish leaders of today, had they been there! Moses! Have you lost your mind? We have been slaves for 210 years and now we can go free! Give him the animals! Agree to his unimportant condition. Make the insignificant compromise so that we can enjoy freedom and peace. Moses, what is this extremism and fanaticism? Freedom now, peace now! Give him the flocks!”
But, no. Moses, the greatest of Jewish leaders, refuses. There will be no compromise. There cannot be a compromise, for we are not speaking here about mere “freedom.” The Jewish people is not a nation like all others with nationalistic strivings for independence and freedom. The liberation of the Jew was not a nationalist struggle for secular freedom. The entire breaking of the Egyptian yoke of bondage was a religious struggle, the war of the L-rd, G-d of Israel, against Pharaoh who mocked Him and refused to recognize Him as the one and only G-d.
From the first moment that Moses came into the palace and told the Egyptian emperor, ruler over the mightiest of all the empires of his time, “Thus says the L-rd, G-d of Israel: Let My people go. . .” and Pharaoh replied, “Who is the L-rd, G-d of Israel: Let My people go…” and Pharaoh replied, “Who is the L-rd that I should obey His voice . . . ? I know not the L-rd, and I will not let Israel go!” (Exodus 5:2), the battle was joined. The battle against Chillul Hashem; the battle against the arrogance of the nations who dare to proclaim, “ I know not the L-rd”; the battle for Kiddush Hashem, the recognition and acceptance of the L-rd, G-d of Israel, as the one G-d, as the G-d of the universe.
Kiddush Hashem! That is what the story of the Exodus is about! And Kiddush Hashem brooks no compromise, not the slightest. There must be total surrender, total acceptance of the L-rd and His people’s sovereignty and power.
There is more.
The tenth and final plague now strikes Egypt. In every home, the firstborn dies; there is not a house in which there is no dead. It is midnight but Pharaoh rushes through the streets and cries out to Moses: “Rise up and leave from the midst of my people, both you and the children of Israel, and go serve the L-rd as you have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said and be gone!” (Exodus 12:31-32). At last, total capitulation! Unconditional surrender! But leave now immediately, in the middle of the night!
Dear Jew, surely the moment has come. What could even the worst fanatic and extremist want after this surrender?
Moses says to Pharaoh: “Are we then thieves that we should leave in the night? We will not leave except with a mighty arm before the eyes of all of Egypt!” (Tanchuma, Bo 7)
Ah, the fanatic and extremist. . . He lays down yet another rule of Kiddush Hashem. Sanctification and the proclamation of G-d’s omnipotence and sovereignty cannot be hidden, silent, discreet thing. It must be done openly, with a proclamation before the nations, with trumpets and drums. No fear, no attempt to keep a low profile, no effort to “avoid antagonizing the nations.” Openly, loudly, with a public majesty that proclaims the majesty and kingship of the L-rd, G-d of Israel, who is one!
If Moses were alive today and were he to lay down these iron rules of Kiddush Hashem, what would the gentilized Hebrews of Israel and the Hellenists of the Establishment in the Exile say?
The lesson is clear: Their gentilized thoughts are not those of the G-d of Israel. What to them is a “fanatic” and “extremist,” in Torah eyes and to authentic Judaism is principle and the iron rule of Judaism. Those who believe in nothing but themselves will always be “flexible” – except when their own interests are threatened. Those who believe in nothing will always be ready to “compromise,” since they stand on no principle that is stable and untouchable. Parash Bo teaches us about the greatest of all Jewish concepts, Kiddush Hashem, and the greatest of Jewish leaders, Moses – the fanatic and extremist.
Written in The Jewish Press, 1988
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