Ki Tissa (5779)

Drash Cards for Ki Tissa (5779)

by Marc Mangel

• I saw the movie The 10 Commandments when I was about 8 years old with my family and remember two things about it clearly. First, it was a matinee, but a long movie, so we went in when it was light out but left the theater when it was dark. That was cool. Second, the scene in which God passes by Moses, who is hidden in the cleft of the rock (Ch 33, v 22,23) was  also something very cool – thank you Cecille B. deMille.

• I decided that nearly 60 years later, it is time to make more sense of the verses about this and for today’s drash settled on v 22: “You will see my back, but face will not be visible”.

• Robert Alter writes “Volumes of theology have been spun out of these enigmatic words”.

• No volumes here but here’s one comment from Chatam Sofer:

            “You will see my back”: Only long after an event has taken place do we understand some of God’s hand in the evidence. Only in the end do we have a chance of understanding the purpose of any act.

            “But my face will not be visible”: At the time an event occurs, we cannot know the reason for God’s actions. 

• If for Moses, only a glimpse of the Divine is possible, what should we expect?  That we can drive ourselves crazy trying to understand why something is happening and still never figure it out.

• I think that there is a corollary here: before we try something we cannot know whether it will work or not.  Indeed, history shows that the group of people who are most consistently wrong are those who say “it cannot be done”.

• This is where I could mention the wood-cutter Israel ben Eliezer who had an idea about making Judaism accessible to everyone – not just those with great Torah and Talmud knowledge.  People said “impossible”.  We more commonly call him the Baal Shem Tov and affected every branch of Judasim

• Or I could mention a 40ish year old  Menachem Mendel Schneerson who met a young woman on the subway station and borrowed Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy from here [explain briefly about the book]. When he returned the book to her, he said something like “I am going to be that man [Hari Seldon]” by which he meant sending young rabbis and their wives throughtou the world to remote places, sometimes with few Jews, to increase Jewish knowledge, understanding and observance. One of those young rabbis will be right here at KT on March 4 (today’s commercial). We now call him the Lubavitcher Rebbe (or sometimes, just the Rebbe).

• But the Torah applies to all of us, not just rabbis, so instead, I will mention Sidney Farber.

            Born 1903 in Buffalo to a Jewish family of 14 children

            Went to SUNY Buffalo.  Could not go to med school in the US because of quotas on Jews, so spent a year at the medical schools in Heidelberg and Freiberg.

            Did so well there that he entered Harvard as a second year student graduating in 1927

            Joined Harvard med school as instructor in Pathology at Harvard Medical School. Rose through the ranks becoming Professor of Pathology and Chair of the Staff at Children’s Hospital 

            In 1947, he came up with the idea that chemicals (in this first instance folic acid) could be used to treat and possibly cure  cancers (in this case childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia).  People scoffed at him saying that there was no future in using chemicals to treat cancer. 

            Today Sidney Farber is known as the father of chemotherapy for cancer.  He is immortalized at SUNY Buffalo in Farber Hall and in the famous Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

• Did Sidney Farber know about today’s verse and its corollary? I do not know.  But we should be very thankful that he refused to believe that something could not be done just people other people said so.

• And I will end with another scientist, Richard Feynman who became a bit of a cult figure during the Challenger hearings (tell the story of the o-ring). According to his sister Joan, Feynman once said “You shouldn’t not do something just because everyone says its impossible”.