2020 “Speaking Words of Wisdom”
When I was writing this, I kept having visions of Father Mackenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one would hear.
So, thank you for lending me your years, letting me sing you a song, and not standing up and walking out on me when I sang out of tune.
I get by with a little help from my chaverim.
When I find myself in times of trouble, words of Torah speak to me. Speaking words of wisdom, “Set them free.”
I read the news today.
A tyrant is in charge of the highest office in the land. Repeated calls from the people to do the right thing have been ignored. Day after day alone on the hill,
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still,
Nobody seems to like him
They can tell what he wants to do.
His courtiers, with one or two exceptions, are standing fast in their support. His heart is hardened and, despite repeated pleas, warnings of impending disaster, and the destruction of his nation, he refuses to yield. An enslaved nation waits.
The tyrant? Pharaoh.
The people? Israel, the God wrestlers.
One has a hardened, stubborn heart. The other just wants to go live in the desert and worship their God and live in peace. The back and forth has been going on for 7 plagues now.
You say yes.
I say no.
You say stop
I say go
I say high
You say low
You say Why, and I say “I don’t know!”
7 plagues upon the Egyptians, and still Pharaoh will not yield.
Go again, God tells Moses.
I’ve made his heart hard and stubborn and heavy and strong, but go.
Moses is tired. It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog. It’s been a hard days’ night. God. I should be sleeping like a log.
Weren’t you the one calling out into the night, God reminds him. I heard you: Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody. And here I am. Not just here, actually. Here, there and everywhere!
Yes, My sweet Lord
I really want to see you
Really want to be with you
Really want to see you Lord
But it takes so long, my Lord
Go, God tells him again.
Moses, the prince raised in the palace, the recently-appointed spokesperson for the people, goes up to give his once-upon-a-time brother one more chance:
For though we may be parted there is
Still a chance that he will see
There will be an answer
The Beatles were all about love. In fact, they used the word “love” 613 times in their lyrics. It’s no magical mystery -- 613 repetitions of love. 613 mitzvot in the Torah. A gift from God with a note attached saying, “with love from me to you”. Mitzvot which we do -- freely -- with love in our hearts.
God may as well have said: Love me? Do.
You know I love you. I’ll always be true.
So if you love me. Do.
In this story, no one is free -- not the people, not Moses, not Pharaoh.
But Moses knows the value of freedom, the innate desire for freedom, and so he goes to the Pharaoh.
He say, "I know you, you know me"
You say you want a revolution? Pharaoh scoffs.
Well, you know. We all want to change the world
Don't you know that you can count me out
Two of Pharaoh's own advisers plead with him. Egypt is already destroyed! We’ve suffered 7 plagues. How long will you let this go on? There’s gonna be more! Locusts! That’s what the man said. But will he listen to what the man said?
Pharaoh seems to waver. He tells Moses to go! Picture yourself on a boat on a the Nile, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
Moses says, Thanks Pharaoh, but before I punch my ticket to ride, just so you know, we’re taking our young. And the old. And the cows, the goats, the lambs. The Walrus. The octopus and his garden.
Oh, Pharaoh says. I’ve got to admit, It’s getting better. It’s getting better all the time! You know what? You can only take the young. Everything else stays.
You’re a mean Mr Mustard, says Moses!
Pharaoh tosses them out. Get back! Get back! Get back to where you once belonged.
Bring on the locusts. They covered the face of the whole earth and there remained not any green thing, either tree or herb of the strawberry fields, forever.
Pharaoh is shook. He summons Aaron and Moses to him once more.
Can we Come Together on this?
Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend.
I get it, Moses says. I used to be an angry young man. Hiding my head in the sand. God gave me the word, I finally heard. I'm doing the best that I can.
But then God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Or did he? Whether or not he had a little push from God, Pharaoh was well down the long and winding road to a stubborn, heavy heart on his own. I won’t back down. I will stand my ground. You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down.
The Thirst for power.
You let too much of that into your heart and it will harden and calcify beyond repair.
Our rabbis taught mitzvah goreret mitzvah. Good leads to good. Love leads to love. Love is all and love is everyone. It is knowing, it is knowing...
But they also taught, averah goreret averah. Evil leads to evil. At what point could Pharaoh have gone back? After the first cruelty? The seventh? The thousandth? That boy won't be happy Till he's seen you cry
And it really doesn’t matter to Pharaoh.
If I’m wrong, I’m right…
Where I belong, I’m right!
Nothing’s gonna change my world!
But the heart of love, Moses’s heart, keeps trying:
Think of what you're saying
You can get it wrong and still you think that it's alright
Think of what I'm saying
We can work it out and get it straight, or say goodnight
And Pharaoh says, Goodnight.
His hardened heart secures the 9th plague. Number 9. Number 9. Number 9: Three days and nights of Darkness so thick you could feel it. Here, there, and everywhere.
Except in the Jewish neighborhood, where they sang: And though the night is fraught with darkness, there is still a light that shines on me.
Shine until tomorrow.
Let it be!
On the fourth day, in the light, Moses tries one last time.
When you were young and your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live
(you know you did, you know you did you know you did)
But I guess Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
The rabbis talk about how God writes the words of Torah on our hearts. Why on and not in? Because we’re collecting those words, like love notes from our sweethearts, for when our heart breaks open, all the words of love fall into the empty space and heal us.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.
But hardened heart can’t break, and a hardened heart can’t be healed.
The people of Egypt paid the price for their leader’s inability to try to see it my way. Love’s way. With the final plague, An entire nation lost its first born. They're going to carry that weight -- the weight of a hardened heart -- for a long time.
And Pharaoh? Did he look back? Wishing for yesterday, when all his troubles seemed so far away?
Or did his heart harden even more, his only pity reserved for himself? The world is treating me bad... Misery! Leave me here in misery.
In the end, it’s not the job of the downtrodden to soothe the bruised ego of the tyrant. Moses and Aaron had better things to do and went to deliver the message to the people:
Yisrael, singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise