What would Moses do?

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Leap of Faith

What would Moses do?

A stimulating new series in which progressive rabbis consider how biblical figures might act when faced with 21st century issues

Sue Gray (Wikipedia/ Source	https://www.gov.uk/government/people/sue-gray
Author	GOV.UK)
Sue Gray (Wikipedia/ Source https://www.gov.uk/government/people/sue-gray Author GOV.UK)

We know what Moses did. He sang. When Moses saw plagues, death and drowning, he rallied his people,  celebrated survival and praised God for their redemption.

That moment of singing, celebrating and frivolity started to make a disparate bunch of slaves into a community.  Yet we also know he was rebuked for that singing. Singing while others are dying is simply not appropriate, whatever relief, fear or bonding it may be a response to.

As a rabbi during these pandemic years, I know what it feels like to hold a group of people together. We tried so hard to keep a sense of community, pivoting community life online and into different, often novel, formats to ensure support and connection.

But when I think back over the time when we were working a hundred times faster than normal to adapt in order to keep up with the change all around us, I have one deep regret. One set of people I was looking past.

It was my extraordinary synagogue staff team, of whom  I made so many demands – and yet who was there for them?

Who was there for them when our ad hoc cultural programming became a daily Zoom lecture at 2pm? Who was there for them when funerals suddenly needed not just clergy but a technical team to host them online? Who was there for them when experienced educators, inexperienced with new online platforms, suddenly needed to exchange classrooms for virtual breakout rooms? Who was there for them throughout all of this, when they were working around the clock and out of their comfort zones while juggling their own family upheaval and their own debilitating fear?

For them, I wasn’t able to be Moses. We didn’t let our hair down and party like there was no pandemic. No birthday cakes or meetings with cheese and wine for us. Part of me wishes I hadn’t taken their incredible goodwill, their dedication, their immense hard work for granted. I wish I’d been able to make those months feel a little more collegial and  a little less lonely for everyone working so hard from home.

As I read about the Downing Street ‘parties’, I question whether they were truly a frivolous disregard for the rules, or whether they were a desperate attempt to keep a team sane and functioning when they could see their decisions were costing thousands of lives. Would you have gone back to work day after day knowing you were being asked to balance impossible competing needs, which could only lead to economic collapse or more and more needless deaths?

What we’ve seen of civil servant Sue Gray’s report into alleged gatherings on government property so far reflects the same midrash on those parties as Talmud Megillah 10b and Sanhedrin 39b, which chastise the angels when they join in with Moses: “How dare you sing for joy when My creatures are dying.”

It may have been their only outlet for the fear and horror of all they were witnessing and yet, still, we weren’t afforded the same opportunities.

We all needed those chances and none of us – the general public – were gifted them.


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