THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
In this week's Parsha, Parshas Va-Eyrah, the Aimishteh commands Moishe Rabbeinu to declare independence from the Egyptians and go to Eretz Yisroel, first and foremost so Am Yisroel can stop paying rent and begin to build up equity in their own homes. Moishe at first refuses, responding that he is an "Arel Sefasayim," someone with "uncircumcised lips."
Chazzal pondered at the meaning of this phrase. Pashut Pshat (the simple explanation) is that Moishe was using a metaphor for being shy and uncomfortable when speaking publicly, and was therefore not the best choice to serve as representative of Klal Yisroel.
On the other hand, a famous Medrish tells us that as a young boy, Moisheh was tested by the Egyptians regarding his greed. To prevent Moishe from being discovered as the future prophet of the global diamond industry, an angel pushed Moishe's hand onto a pile of burning coals. Moishe immediately drew his burnt hand into his mouth, scarring his tongue and leaving him with a speech impediment. (I must tell you -- I spent 6 years of my life trying to figure out this medrish. I imagine that someone must have fallen off an elevated chair dancing at a Chassanah and banged his head on the floor in order to come up with this one.)
According to a Gemarrah in Avoidah Zorah, Rava holds that Moishe is actually referring to the fact that he had a cleft palate. Indeed, Rav Ashi goes even further, suggesting that Moishe was also a hunchback. As proof, Rav Ashi cites a Braisah that says that though formally named "Moishe," his nickname was actually "Quasimodo."
Finally, Reb Hai Goyn suggests that Moishe, using the words "uncircumcised lips," was perhaps referring to certain "experimentation" in college with one of his gentile roommates, if you know what I mean, making him unfit to lead Klal Yisroel. But in the following Possuk (verse), the Reboinoisheloilum immediately made clear his "don't ask don't tell" policy, rendering the whole issue moot.
Beyond this dispute over semantics, there is a fundamental question which arises in this Parsha: If the Aimishteh loved the Jews so much, why didn't He just give us Egypt? We were running the place anyway. The Egyptians could have gone; there were twenty-one other Arab countries waiting to welcome them. And the Jews could have done really well with tour packages to the pyramids.
But instead, it was the Jews who were compelled to leave. Which leads to another, no-less-important, question. Moshe, instead of taking the Jews north, should have gone south. Was Moishe's compass broken, or was he simply suffering from heat stroke? Or did he drink too much at the Kiddush Club that week?
Klal Yisroel could have had the whole continent of Africa. Beautiful beaches, diamond mines, glatt kosher safari tours, giraffe meat in our cholent. But no. Moshe went north, to a desert wasteland. (I swear, sometimes I think that Moishe Rabbeinu's Tfillin were on a little too tight.) So we are now left with this tiny country with little more to offer than ceaseless geopolitical conflict, rampant corruption, and really rude hotel staff. (Thank the Aimishteh for the topless beaches in Eilat or I would never visit.)
And we are trapped in our current dilemma.
But rest assured, we are not the only ones to struggle with these thorny issues. The status of Eretz Yisroel is of course one of the key areas of disagreement between the RAMBAN and the RAMBAM.
According to the RAMBAN: Whoever is the most extreme, right wing, fundamentalist, xenophobic political figure in the country, he's our man. The government -- Labor, Likud, whoever -- they don't know what they're doing. Only by sheer force can we expel all the Arabs, as well as all the leftists and non-religious and anyone else we don't like, in order to build the society Hakkadoshboruchhu always intended. (That would leave about 200,000 people in the country -- which is about all He needs, apparently.)
RAMBAM on the other hand holds farkhert: We should give the Palestinians as much land as viably possible. All our Arab cousins want is a little bit of dignity and a little bit of land, so they can live their lives as we live ours, in harmony, side by side. Then we can develop a common economic zone, open our borders, and hold Israeli-Palestinian dance mixers every Saturday night. (I bid twenty dollars for a slow dance with Fatima, by the way.)
However, thankfully, the RAMBAN and RAMBAM do agree on one critical point. They both hold that in the event that a treaty is signed with an Arab country, a true Ben-Toirah is the first on line to get a visa in order to bring back souvenirs from the Shuk and show pictures to everyone in shul of himself sitting on a camel, visiting a local archaeological dig, and spending time with his new best friend, Fatima. And if he's lucky, she'll have "circumcised lips."
Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess