The Life Of The Oppressed

The antidote to the terror of living in a dangerous world is to participate in the liberation of others.

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Here's part of the Exodus story they didn't teach in Hebrew school:

Exodus, Chapter Four. Moses, in Midian, has encountered God at the burning bush, received his commission, and is on his way back to Egypt. Then this: 

Now it was on the journey, at the night-camp, that God encountered him and sought to make him die. Tzippora took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin, she touched it to his legs and said: Indeed, a bridegroom of blood are you to me! Thereupon he released him. Then she said, "a bridegroom of blood" because of the circumcision. (Exodus 4:24-26)

An amazing story. It reads like a passage from Genesis; it has that mythic, mysterious quality. I think of Isaac, meditating in the fields. This is the kind of story that could have happened to him.

Experiences of Moses & Isaac

In fact this kind of story did happen to him, when he was bound on the altar. How alike were their experiences, Moses and Isaac: God wanted to kill each of them and they didn't know why, and somehow a substitute suffices. Yet their subsequent lives are anything but similar. Isaac is crippled by the experience: passive and unable to understand his children, the Bible tells us that God is his Terror (Gen. 31:42, 53) and he ends his days blind and duped. Moses goes on to be the friend of God, and when he dies "his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated." (Deuteronomy 34:12)

Moses' ability to emerge whole has less to do with who he was when God came upon him, than with what he was doing. Or rather, where he was going. Moses was on his way to free a people, and it was this mission which supported him through the terror. More broadly, there is something about liberating other people that affects one's relationship with God.

Because other people are really not that Other. We are like each other, because we are in part like God: we are created in God's image, and in each of us is a part of God. God is not so much interested in the way we treat each other, but rather implicated.

Liberation & God

In his book The Prophets, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: "Justice is not...a value, but a transcendent demand, freighted with divine concern. It is not only a relationship between man and man, it is an act involving God, a divine need...Its validity is not only universal, but also eternal, independent of will and experience."

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Rabbi Joshua Gutoff

Rabbi Joshua Gutoff is a teacher and writer living in Brooklyn, NY.