Friday, January 11, 2013

Change Agent

Shortly after my Grandfathers passing away I hastily organised my flight back from Sydney Australia, via Hawaii, San Francisco, Denver and Newark to Brooklyn New York. A black limousine driver managed to convince me, exhausted as I was that he could drive me home for the same price as a taxi.

The driver asked me what are I was going to do. I said that I would become a Rabbi. Why? He asked. I was twenty years old, and the response that came to was; “well my father is a Rabbi, my grandfather were both Rabbis…The driver told me that was wrong, he said to me “you gotta have a calling! God has to call you to ministry”. Hmm I thought. Since then, I have felt a strong calling to be a change agent in the way people relate to the “other”, with a particular focus on the Muslim-Jewish and Muslim-non Muslim divide, and the relationship between Christians, Muslims and Jews.

This post is a reflection on the process of taking a leadership role in an endeavour that although I have been incredibly blessed with the support of sincere, inspiring and passionate people, it has sometimes felt like shouting against thunder.

Not solely responsible for ultimate result.
Anyone acting as a change agent needs to combine recognition of the power of ones’ The cause to eventually triumph on merit with recognition of the smallness of any one person. I am not going to change the world, I will with the help of God and many people play a small role in facilitating change.

Moses, raised in the house of the Pharaoh, understood political power and the limitations of anyone around the absolute monarch to influence policy. He is confronted with a call from God. “And now go and I will send you to Pharaoh, and take my nation, the Children of Israel, out of Egypt[i]”. According to traditional commentary there is an implied parenthetical question in this sentence that would make it read as follows: And now go and I will send you to Pharaoh, (if you will say what will my talking to Pharaoh help? I tell you[ii]and take my nation, the Children of Israel, out of Egypt”.
God is not commanding Moses to take them out of Egypt. He is offering reassurance that the words spoken to Pharaoh will help and will result in the Israelites being freed[iii].

Taking the people with you.
Prospective supporters of this work want to know to what extent are the communities involved, particularly the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities and the education sector supporting what we do? It’s a fair question. The answer is that while we have received significant support, the level of support is not yet sufficient to tackle our goals. We need to both continue to work energetically on this because it is vital to the success of this work while also being realistic about the nature of change and the time it takes.

Moses was not exactly mobbed with support either, and this worried him as well. He tells God, “The Israelites did not listen to me, how (can I expect that) Pharaoh to listen to me…[iv]?! Good argument but God does not tell him ‘ok Moses you win, give up now’. Instead God speaks to Moses but also includes his brother Aaron and commands them to or about the Israelites and Pharaoh to take the Israelites out of Egypt[v]. The content of this command is not clear, who was commanded to do what? Surely Moses was not commanded to take the Jews out of Egypt, we have already established that is God’s job.

One interpretation is that Moses was commanded to lead gently, patiently and to tolerate the Israelites[vi]. Even to put up with curses and people throwing rocks at them[vii]. Another meaning of the command is that Moses must not call the Israelites rebels or recalcitrant[viii]. Moses was feeling angry that the Israelites would not listen to him[ix]. Like Elijah who proclaimed his zealous anger and was shown a vision of great natural violence in which God was not[x], leaders who are out of step with the people are guided to show patience.

Patience is not the same as complacency. Another commentary sees the command to the Israelites as being about “partnering with their leaders of the families or clans[xi]”. Another sees the command about the people embracing the principle of freedom by living it. In this interpretation the command is about Jews freeing their slaves[xii], this is echoed in the verse in Jeremiah ‘I cut a covenant with your fathers on the day I took them out of Egypt, the house of slaves (that at the) end of seven years each man should send away his brother (slaves)[xiii]. It was important that the people understand the value of freedom, only then would be they deserve to be freed themselves[xiv].

So for those of us who are called, let us be patient and persistent. Show respect to leaders great and small. For me this means visiting my third Mosque this Friday and continuing to reach out to anyone who will listen or talk in all the communities and sectors we seek to engage.  So I wrap up now to go to the Geography teachers lawn bowls game in Perth tonight. Better to throw the ball then have things thrown at me, but need to be prepared for both. I got a calling!

[i] Exodus 3:10
[ii] Rashi
[iii] Mizrachi explains:  it should say I will send you to Pharaoh TO take my nation out of Egypt, why does it say and because this is not God commanding Moses to take them out of Egypt. It is reassurance.
[iv] Exodus 6:12
[v] Exodus 6:13
[vi] Rashi, Moses is also commanded to show respect for the institution of the monarchy this is the meaning of the command as it relates to Pharaoh (Mechilta Bo, Masechta Dpischa 13).
[vii] Sifri Bahalotecha Psikta 91
[viii] Pesikta Drav Kahana end of chapter 14, cited in Torah Shlaima, Vaera, p.17
[ix] Midrash Hagadol
[x] I Kings - Chapter 19 Elijah arrives in the very cave and asks him “"What are you doing here, Elijah?". Elijah replies that he had “been zealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant... they have killed Your prophets by the sword..” Again the theme of passing plays out. God tells Elijah, “"Go out and stand in the mountain before the Lord, Behold! the Lord passes”. Then there is a great and strong wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake-not in the earthquake was the Lord. After the earthquake fire, not in the fire was the Lord, and after the fire a sound of silence. Whatever God’s message was to Elijah with all of this, curiously God repeats his original question. "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Elijah’s response is identical with the one he offered before this dramatic display.
[xi] Shemot Rabba 7:3
[xii] Jerusalem Talmud Rosh Hashana 3:5
[xiii] Jeremia 34:13
[xiv] Kasher, Rabbi M, in Torah Shlaima, Miluim, p117, based on a manuscript of Yalkut Ohr Haafela

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