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    Moses the outsider

    The Sulzbach Haggadah, 1755

    Sigmund Freud, in his famous and provocative “Moses and Monotheism”, alleged that the Israelites were so ungrateful to Moses that they mutinied against him in the wilderness and murdered him.

    Had Freud looked at the Haggadah he would have found another and possibly better reason to accuse the Jewish people of ingratitude, for the whole book tells its story without mentioning the great leader, apart from one incidental Scriptural quotation.

    The omission is so apparently bizarre that it cannot be an accident.

    Presumably the editors of the Haggadah were worried that people might make a demigod out of Moses and let him become an object of worship. Hence a major passage emphasises over and over again that the redemption was the work of God -­ “I and not an angel, I and not a seraph, I and not a messenger, I alone”.

    Andre Neher, in his “Moses and the Vocation of the Jewish People”, stresses that Moses was human with no Divine pretensions, and that his achievement was on earth and during his lifetime: there is no real theological message in his death or what happened after he died.

    His achievement, says Neher, was three great ideas, “neighbourness” (Egypt degraded its victims: Moses restored their humanity and neighbourness); law (human dignity must be protected by means of justice, charity and the sanctification of time); and covenant (God deals with a historic people with all their faults, and enables them to have an “extraordinary mystical experience”).

    Jewish history has got over its fear that Moses might be worshipped, by insisting that he should be heeded and learned from. This is sometimes more difficult than at other times.

    A rabbinic preacher once said, “I know better than the Torah! Writing about the death of Moses the Torah said, ‘No one knows his burial place unto this day’. But I know his burial place. Moses is buried here in this town ­- because here nobody takes any notice of him and it is as if he wasn’t there”.

    In this sense, tragically, many places compete with each other as Moses’ burial place.

    The Haggadah can manage without Moshe Rabbenu, but we can’t. If we give him new life we gain new life for ourselves and our heritage, and indeed for our civilisation.

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