Moses declared (Exod. iv.) that he was not a man of words, but observe his eloquence in the book of Deuteronomy; an eloquence acquired since he gained possession of the Torah.
The rebukes which the Israelites received from Moses would seem to have been more appropriately given by Balaam, and Balaam's blessings would, it seems, have been more fittingly uttered by Moses. But the admonition, if it had come from Balaam, would have had no effect upon the Israelites, who would naturally have concluded that they were the result of his animosity. If, again, Moses had spoken those blessings and words of praise, others would have belittled them as emanating from the warm friendship of the warm-hearted Moses. But Moses's rebukes could not have failed to be laid to heart by the Israelites, coming from such a tried friend; and Balaam's blessings could by no means be construed by others as arising from partiality to the chosen people.
The proper qualification of a judge is the possession of the following virtues: he must be an able man, God-fearing, a man of truth, free from covetousness, a wise man, a man of understanding, and known amongst his people. If no such man can be found for the position, then one not the happy possessor of all the qualities enumerated may be chosen.
God has a seal, and his seal is truth.
A community rejecting the leadership of the great and selecting as its leaders insignificant individuals can only be compared to the serpent which decided to creep along tail foremost, in consequence of which it was hurt by thorns, burned by fire, and injured by water; a community should not be led by one man only. Moses himself confessed his inability to lead single-handed.
In futurity the righteous will stand on a higher level than angels.
If sorrows overtake you, receive them with fortitude and resignation.
In reply to his disciples who asked how far honoring of parents should go, Rabbi Eliezer the Great related to them that a man named Douma, whose mother's mind was demented, so that she took a delight in grossly insulting him in public, had invariably only these words to answer her: "Enough, mother." This same man was the possessor of some valuable precious stones, some of which men from Ashkelon came to purchase of him, to replace some which had fallen out and been lost from the priest's breast-plate.
When he looked for the box containing the precious stones, he found that his father lying down in sleep had his feet on the little box. He declined to disturb his father's sleep, and would not bring out the jewels to show to the would-be purchasers. They, thinking that a big price would induce him to part with the stones, and knowing them to suit the purpose for which they wanted them, offered him a much larger price than was their value. Whilst they were arguing the father woke up; and when the men wanted to pay the son the increased price spontaneously offered, he refused to accept more than the original price, on the ground that the increase of the money offered was due to their belief that he would not part with the jewels for the figure they first named, whereas in reality he would not show them the stones because by so doing he would have had to disturb his father, and he wanted no payment for filial duty.
There were several incidents which brought about the redemption from Egypt. (1) There was the Israelites' distress (Exod. ii. 23). (2) They supplicated God, which means repentance on their part. (3) There was the covenant with their fathers, which God remembered. (4) There was God's compassion. (5) The end of their captivity had arrived.
And the same will be the reasons of the last redemption. (1) Because of the sorrow Israel will find himself in; (2)
because of repentance; (3) God's mercy; (4) he will remember the covenant of the Patriarchs, etc.
The word "prayer" is a very, wide term, and may mean prayer properly so called, or beseeching, crying, sighing, pleading, supplication, or petition. It can also be applied to adoration, praise, and exaltation. It requires discrimination in its use. Thus we find that Job, the most righteous amongst non-Jewish prophets, had not employed the best phrases in its exercise. The words he used are: "I would order my cause before him and fill my mouth with argument" (Job xxiii. 4).
Contrast this with the manner of prayer adopted by Moses and Isaiah. The former tells his people, "I besought the Lord" (Deut. iii. 23). Isaiah commenced his prayer with the words, "O Lord, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee" (Isa. xxxiii. 2).
There is no time fixed when one can say he expects his prayer to be answered; we have indeed no claim on God's mercy, and must leave the answering of our prayers to God's own good time. Moses, for instance, was answered after praying for forty days (Deut. ix. 25). Daniel's prayer was heard after twenty days (Dan. x. 3). Jonah was answered after the lapse of three days (Jon. ii.), Elijah in one day (1 Kings xviii. 37). David, on occasions, received answers to his prayers as soon as he prayed (Ps. lxix. 14); and there is an answering to prayer even before the petition is sent up heavenward (Isa. lxv. 24).
Moses could not understand why his craving to enter the land of promise, to lay his bones there, should not be satisfied, since Joseph had his wish granted and had his bones taken up and buried in Palestine. He was supplied with a tangible reason. Joseph, he was told, in all his vicissitudes never denied his race or his country, but, on the contrary, seems to have felt a pride in calling himself a Hebrew; so that it was but fitting that he should have his sepulcher in the land of which he was so proud. With Moses it was different. He posed as an Egyptian--Jethro's daughters mentioned him as an "Egyptian man," and thereby he forfeited his right to
have his resting-place in a country which he did not acknowledge.
Consider the immeasurable distance from us of what we know as God's dwelling-place, the heavens; yet how near he is to us when we call upon him.
"What is the meaning," R. Samuel, son of Nachman, was asked, "of David praying to God to hear him in an acceptable time?" "The gates of prayer," replied the Rabbi, "may sometimes be closed, in contradistinction of the gates of repentance, which are never closed."
"There seems to be more than one Creator," said a skeptic to Rabbi Samuel. "Is it not written 'in the beginning Elohim (the plural) created heaven and earth'? Further, 'Let us make man in our likeness.'" "Do you find it said," returned the sage, "they created, or are we told they saw or they said, or that man was formed in their image? In each instance you find the singular, and the 'Elohim' is applied to him in whom is combined all power and all might."
People are prone to imitate their superiors and their teachers, hence the great and serious responsibility of religious teachers as to their conduct. There can be no greater injury to religion than that its teachers should disregard its teachings.
"I have created some things in pairs," says God, "such as heaven and earth, the sun and the moon, Adam and Eve, male and female in all animals, this life and the future life; but I am One." He that proclaims the absolute unity of God proclaims the kingdom of heaven.
In vain have you acquired knowledge if you do not impart knowledge to others.
God filleth the world, and the human soul filleth the human body. God supports the world, and the soul supports the body. God is unique in the world, the soul is unique in the body. God neither sleepeth nor slumbereth; the soul neither sleepeth nor slumbereth. God is pure, the soul is pure. God seeth and can not be seen; the soul seeth and can not be seen. Let the soul, which so far possesses the attributes of the Lord, praise and worship the Lord.
Let no man be deterred from repenting by knowing the great depth of his sin. Let him bear in mind that he does not come to a stranger but to his heavenly Father.
When the Rabbis Eliazar, Joshua, and Gamaliel lived in Rome, a mandate went forth that no Jew should be suffered to live after the lapse of thirty days after the decree. Amongst the ministers of State was one devotedly attached to the Jews and Judaism (in secret). He informed Rabbi Gamaliel of the decision before it was made public, at the same time telling the Rabbi of his confidence that the great God of Israel would frustrate this evil decree. Returning home from his private interview with Rabbi Gamaliel, he informed his wife (who also was devoted to Jews and Judaism) of the decision arrived at concerning the destruction of the Jews, which was to be carried out in a few days. As there was no other way out of the difficulty she advised her husband to commit suicide by means of poison, which, at that time, it was the practise of the Romans to carry in the hollow of their signet-rings for use in case of emergency. This advice was based on the fact that among the Romans, when the fixed time for the carrying out of a decree had elapsed, the decree was no longer in force; and as it was also customary to observe thirty days of mourning for the death of any statesman, during which time no steps could be taken for the carrying out of a newly enacted law, the law would, through the death of the statesman and the subsequent mourning, become, at all events for a time, inoperative, if not entirely obsolete. This advice the statesman followed: he sucked out the poison concealed in the hollow of his ring, thirty days of mourning were proclaimed and observed, the decree lapsed and was not enacted. On further inquiry by the Rabbis it was found that the late statesman had secretly undergone circumcision and had been (in secret) a devout convert to Judaism.
The phrase which we have in our ritual, "Blessed be his name, whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever," Moses brought down from heaven, where he heard these words from the angels when worshiping the Lord. We therefore utter this praise silently, being unworthy to use the praise which
angels employ in their worship of God. On the Day of Atonement, however, when we shut the door to the outer world, when we strive after holiness, when indeed it is with us a day on which we are meant to be one with God, then we are like angels, and we are permitted to proclaim these words aloud.
Marriage conventions and agreements are not to be arranged without the consent of both parties to the contract, and the man is to pay the costs.
Sabbath observance outweighs all other commandments.
As patterns of honesty we have Rabbi Pinchas ben Joeer and Rabbi Simeon ben Shotoch. With the former, when he lived in a certain town in the north, two men deposited two bushels of barley and left the place. As they did not return for some time, and he feared that the barley would spoil, he used it for sowing, sold all the crops that grew from it, and put away the proceeds of the sale. When the men returned, after a considerable time, he handed them quite a little fortune, the proceeds of the grain they had left with him. R. Simeon ben Shotoch bought a camel of an Ishmaelite. It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to hang a strap studded with precious stones round the necks of their camels, and in this instance the Ishmaelite forgot to remove the strap before handing over the camel to the purchaser.
When his pupils saw the trinkets on the camel's neck, they greatly rejoiced at their master's good fortune, of which he did not seem to be aware. They received a deserved rebuke from the good man, who said, "I bought the camel and not the jewels; they belong to the Ishmaelite, and to him they shall be restored."
The Torah and righteousness are held in the right hand of the Lord. "From his right hand went a fiery law for them" (Deut. xxxiii. 2). "Thy right hand is full of righteousness" (Ps. xlviii. 11).
Having clamored for a king, the Jews learned to their cost the great advantage of theocracy. Saul caused many of
them to fall by the sword of the Philistines (1 Sam. iv.). Through David's act many of them perished by the plague (2 Sam. xxiv). Ahab caused drought to visit them (1 Kings xvii.). Zedekiah brought about the destruction of the temple. When they saw the baneful effects of human administration, they supplicated for God's reign as before (Isa. xxxiii.), and the Lord promised to be again their king (Zech. xiv.).
Justice is one of the supports of God's throne.
When no justice is done here below, it will be executed from above.
To do justice and righteousness is more acceptable to God than sacrifices (Prov. xxi. 3). Sacrifices were in vogue only while the temple was in existence, but justice and righteousness must exist with and without the temple. Sacrifices atoned only for sins committed in error, not for presumptuous sin: justice and righteousness atone for all sins.
All men alike, both those who know the living God and those who know him not, lose their lives, one may say, when they sleep; but God in his goodness restores their lives to all alike.
When Nathan the prophet brought to David the message that he was not to build God's house, he prayed for his own speedy death, so that the building of God's house might be expedited, but God said that he should live out his allotted time (2 Sam. vii.), because righteousness and justice, which David practised, were more acceptable to God than the building of the temple and the offering of sacrifices.
The great Rabbi Meier, renowned for his learning and eloquence, was in the habit of holding discourses on Friday evenings previous to divine service. These discourses commanded very large audiences, containing as they did a word in season for all classes of the community. The rich were exhorted to charity and compassion, the poor to hope and courage, employers to mildness and forbearance, and employees to fidelity and obedience. Parents carried away advice as to the training of their children. Teachers were
impressed with the necessity of patience and endurance; and pupils were exhorted to obedience and diligence. Wives--for whose benefit especially the discourses were held--were taught the duties which are essential to make husbands and homes happy.
Amongst the women in the audience was one who had the misfortune to have a jealous husband. As soon as the sermon was over she hastened home, only to find the house in darkness and her husband ablaze with wrath, demanding to know where she had been. "As you are aware, my dear husband," the wife replied, "I, like others, appreciate so much the sermons and advice of the good and wise Rabbi, that, when able to do so, I like to hear him, and always feel that I carry away some useful lesson." This little speech only intensified the foolish man's anger. "You shall not step over the threshold of my house," he cried, "without going to your beloved Rabbi and passing your hand over his face, or performing some other foolish act." The poor woman at first looked upon this ridiculous order as a foolish whim which would soon pass. Unfortunately the fool persisted in his folly, and the affair became known in the town, and could hardly have escaped the ears of Rabbi Meier himself. The neighbors prevailed upon the poor woman to comply with her husband's wish. When, however, she appeared with her neighbor before the Rabbi, her courage failed her, but the sage, pleading weak eyesight, a remedy for which it was alleged would be the passing of a hand over the eyes, induced the woman to do this, and then told her to go home and tell her husband of her compliance with his wish. To his pupils, to whom the Rabbi's conduct seemed strange, he explained that the good end of making peace between man and wife had justified this harmless subterfuge, since otherwise there would have been no peace for the poor woman.
Be not spiteful or revengeful, and do not harbor any wrong which you may have suffered at any one's hands. In spite of all the wrongs and sorrows the Egyptians have inflicted on Israel, God does not allow us to abhor an Egyptian.
Slander no one, whether brother or not your brother, a Jew or non-Jew.
The greater your talent the greater your responsibility.
"You are my sons," says God, "when you accept my behests."
Do not pray in the porch of the synagogue, but in the synagogue itself.
Although the study of the Torah is so earnestly demanded, yet it would seem preferable for one to remain in ignorance of it than to acquire knowledge thereof and set its teachings at naught. If a king had two gardeners, one an expert in his craft who raised beautiful trees only to hew them down, and the other less skilled but also less destructive, he would surely punish the former rather than the latter.
God says to Israel, "You are called my children, but you must take my law as your guide of life." It is as though a prince should ask his father to make it known throughout his kingdom that he is the king's son. The father tells him: "Clothe yourself in purple and put on your coronet; then all will know that you are my son."
Joseph's bones, which were brought up from Egypt, were buried by the children of Israel in Shechem (Jos. xxiv. 32) because they sold him in Shechem. (Gen. xxvii.). When, thieves have stolen a cask of wine, the owner might well say to them: You have stolen the wine, the least you can do is to take back the empty cask to the place whence you took it.
The Torah is not in heaven, nor with those who occupy their time in studying the heavenly bodies.
Rabbi Samuel was a great astronomer, but devoted only his spare moments to the study of astronomy.
By saying that the Torah is not in heaven, Moses meant to convey that there is no other Torah to come thence to supersede this Torah, and there is no other man to come and bring another Torah from heaven.
If you are anxious not to forget the subject you study, then it is necessary to pass what you read through your lips, not merely to read the subject up. If you do not utter the words you read you will forget them.
Remember that whatever evil it may be possible to avert or delay, there is no such possibility with death. Death is no respecter of persons; against it there is no appeal, and after it there is no remedy, nor can you suggest a substitute such as your slave, nor can you plead for delay, saying that you are not quite ready to meet it, nor can you create anything to protect you from it.
One of the reasons why Moses called upon heaven and earth as witnesses (Deut. xxxiii.) is that by them the Torah was given (Deut. iv.).
Moses had more than one reason for addressing the heavens and the earth and calling them as witnesses. In the first place it should not be forgotten that Moses, whilst only a man, was a heavenly as well as an earthly man. He was no stranger to heaven, and if he had addressed himself to the earth only he would have been like one who, being made governor of a dominion, should address one part of the country under his charge and ignore the other. But there is a weightier reason, inasmuch as the heavens and the earth will not be indifferent spectators at Israel's redemption, but will sing and shout and break forth in singing (Isa. xliv. 33). Another important point: they were adjuncts at the giving of the Decalogue. Moreover, Israel had been compared to the stars of heaven and to the dust of the earth.
Moses, probably on account of his anxiety lest after his death the Israelites should go astray (Deut. xxxi. 29), prayed for everlasting life on earth. God said he could not gratify his wish, since in order to inherit the bliss of the future life he must give up earthly life.
The name of the angel who exercises in heaven the function of the usher of the court is Achazriel, the one who holds the position of secretary is Zagzuel, the chief of the Satanic ones is Smoel, and those fallen ones who became corrupted on seeing the beautiful daughters of man (Gen. vi. 2) are Uzoh and Azael.
Moses was greater than every one. Adam, the first man
created in the image of God, one might be inclined to consider above Moses; but one has to remember how he used his dignified position: one could almost apply to him the words of the Psalmist, "Man that is in honor and understandeth not is like the beasts that perish" (Ps. xlix. 20). Then Noah might perhaps put in a claim, for he was saved by the Lord from the destructive flood. But remember that, though righteous enough to save himself, he could not save his generation of evil-doers; whereas Moses was able by his prayer to save hundreds of thousands of workers of iniquity from destruction. They might be compared to the captains of two sinking ships, one of whom manages to save himself, while the ship and all on it go to the bottom of the sea; whereas the other saves his ship and all on it. Abraham has at first sight, a good claim to tower above Moses, at all events in regard to hospitable disposition; but such is not the case in reality: for what Abraham was able to obtain and bestow in a settled place Moses obtained and supplied to the great multitude in the wilderness. Isaac, on account of his submission to be sacrificed, might perhaps be thought greater than Moses, but not if we bear in mind how willingly Moses offered to be annihilated himself rather than the flock he loved. Even physically Moses was superior, for whilst Isaac became blind in his old age, of Moses, at one hundred and twenty years of age, we are told that his eye was not dim nor his natural forces abated.
But then there is Jacob, who wrestled with an angel and prevailed over him; surely he is greater than Moses. But do not overlook the fact that Jacob contended with the angel where he was a stranger and Jacob was at home, whereas Moses went into the very home of the angels. There was never a man who possessed, like Moses, at one and the same time, such great and good qualities. He was a wise legislator, a great statesman, a skilful leader, a devout patriot, a tender friend, a pious priest, a most brilliant, and at the same time, a very meek, man.
Whether we consider his great meekness, his wisdom, his prudence, his chivalry, his forgiving spirit, his unselfishness,
his freedom from envy, his gentleness of disposition, or the sweetness of his nature, he was above every one, and the one man qualified to bless Israel.
Heaven and earth wept at the death of Moses.