12/13 January 2024, 3 Sh’vat 5784

When I was at Leo Baeck College training to be a rabbi, my chevruta (study) partner was James, now Rabbi James Baaden. He and I had a particular interest in difficult verses of Torah that both repelled and shocked. The first and tamest we discovered was here in this portion of Va’era, describing Moses’s ancestry: he was born to Amram who married his aunt Yocheved.(6:20). Marriage with an aunt is prohibited in Leviticus as a form of incest. But the rules can’t have been known then.  Rabbi Joseph Hertz went further in his commentary, explaining proudly that the fact Torah did not attempt to hide this embarrassing  fact, about Moses of all people, is ‘eloquent testimony to the unsparing veracity of Scripture.’  Torah does not need to protect the reader from difficult verses. Moses’s family history does nothing to detract from or add to the man who is described at the end of the Torah:

And there has not risen a prophet since in Israel like Moses who God knew face to face… .

I have always found that the commentary and commentators of Torah are just as interesting and revealing of their eras as the words of Torah. Rabbi Joseph Hertz was late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire from 1913 to 1946, which encompassed both wars and the Holocaust. His commentary to the Torah is used in most Orthodox synagogues still and in many Progressive ones; we have several at FPS. He was revered for his scholarship and conservatism (although respectful to Progressive Judaism) and controversial in his opposition to the saving of Jewish children through kinder transport if it meant they would be raised in non Jewish homes.

People are rarely straight forward, whether in Biblical text or since and we can cope with the unsparing veracity of it all. I like being reminded of it.

Shabbat Shalom,