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Friday, March 13, 2009

Choosing the People

Moshe was receiving the Torah on Har Sinai. Suddenly, Hashem told Moshe, “You need to leave now. Your Jewish people have taken a turn have made themselves a Golden Calf. They are dancing around it and worshipping it, saying ‘this is your god who took you out of Egypt.” Moshe could not receive the Torah.

Hashem continued with some advice, “These people are stubborn. Let me destroy the Jewish people. Keep the Luchos and start a new nation. I will make you great.”

Moshe had a choice: He could forsake the Jewish people and take the Luchos or he could stay with the Jewish people and, necessarily, break the Luchos.

The logical course of action was to forget about the Jewish people. The Jewish people had been complaining since Moshe first lobbied Paroh to let them go. The Jewish people deserved to be destroyed.

Faced with his decision, Moshe chose the Jews. He descended Har Sinai to join them and he shattered the luchos before their eyes. Over time, he helped them change their ways and finally grow to the point where they were ready to truly accept the second Luchos.

Moshe could have chosen the easy and logical way. He could have kept the Luchos and built a nation with his own family. Instead, he risked everything and stuck with the Jewish people.

What was Moshe thinking when he voluntarily left G-d’s presence and descended the Mountain? What motivated Moshe?

If we could ask Moshe this question, we would expect the answer to be profound: ‘My heart is with my people’, ‘I couldn’t see things any other way’, ‘I was blinded by my love’, ‘they needed me, how could I forsake them’.

According to the Gemara, Moshe Rabeinu’s thoughts were quite different:
Moshe’s first motivation was logical. Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov devoted their lives to G-d. G-d promised each of them that He would care for their children. If those promises were not a strong enough to keep a nation alive – there was no way that Moshe be able to successfully build a nation. 

Moshe’s second motivation was shame: “How will it look? People will say that I abandoned the nation I was leading to start a nation of my own”

It is difficult to believe that Moshe Rabeinu made such a selfless decision based on such selfish motives. Didn’t Bnei Yirsroel themselves factor in? Weren’t they part of the equation?

Perhaps we can find the answer by fast-forwarding two thousand years in Jewish history. Yeshayahu the prophet was a contemporary of Chizkiyahu the king. It was unclear who should pay a visit to whom, so they never met. One visiting the other would undermine his position as a leader of the nation. When Chizkiyahu became deathly ill, Yeshayahu understood that Hashem was giving him an opportunity to visit Chizkiyahu without making a political statement.

Yeshayahu entered the Palace and promptly told Chizkiyahu that he was going to die. Chizkiyahu was able to have children but didn’t. Since He was otherwise very righteous, he should have known better and was being punished with death. Chizkiyahu explained that he had a good reason for not having children: he knew that his children would be evil. They would do terrible things in their lives. How could Hasem want him to have children?

Yirmiyahu corrected Chizkiyahu: “that is none of you business. You should not be worried about Hashem’s plans”.

Chizkiyahu accepted the Mussar and married Yeshayahu’s daughter. They gave birth to two children. Both of the sons were evil. Ravshaka died as a child and Menashe became king and ushered the Jewish people into a period of idolatry. At the end of his life he did repent and his son Yoshiyahu was a righteous king.

Yeshayahu’s lesson to King Chizkiyahu was that the Jewish people cannot be judged on a moment to moment basis. As a navi, Yeshayahu’s job was to worry about Jewish existence. Yeshaya knew that ultimately The Jews would survive and that the family of Dovid Hamelech would lead them. The destiny of the Jewish people cannot be abandoned and cut short because of the wickedness of one person or one generation.

Moshe Rabeinu realized that it was not important to judge the Jewish people who stood at the bottom of the mountain. He needed to think about the descendents of their forefathers. They had strong roots and they would grow into a strong nation. At the moment it might be logical to abandon them, salvage the Luchos and start his own nation, but as a leader he knew that their past and their future were too powerful to be abandoned based on a momentary lapse.

Moshe did more than just ‘stick with his people’, he recognized them for who they were and acknowledged that no momentary situation could justify abandoning them forever.

Hashem offered Moshe the logical choice, but Moshe read between the lines. He recognized our past and helped us realize our future.

Posted on 03/13 at 05:27 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at