Newsletter                    January 8, 2015 - 17 Tevet, 5755 

A Frankenstein s Monster Lurks in the Dead of Night


 His doctor wants him to consider having a neural stimulator or a drug infusion system implanted to help him manage debilitating pain. Most doctors would simply present the two options. This doctor, having a sense of his patient's personality, decided to trigger the suffering man's interest by asking him, "Are you interested in the Frankenstein option?" The patient was hooked. The doctor explained that both implants were manufactured by Medtronic. "His fascination with transformation began when he, as a child, watched the movie, Frankenstein.  Earl Bakken took his fascination with Dr Frankenstein's monster and went from tinkering in his family's basement workshop to founding Medtronic."  

My doctor's approach was effective. It was strangely wonderful walking around with implanted devices that were somehow born in Frankenstein's laboratory. Alas! I no longer can claim to be from Frankenstein's laboratory, but the experience changed the way I read a conversation between God and Moses in this week's portion.


"Moses responded, and said, 'But they will not believe me, and they will not heed my voice, for they will say, God did not appear to you.' God said to him, 'What is that in your hand?' He said, 'A staff.' He said, 'Cast it on the ground,' and he cast it on the ground and it became a snake. Moses fled from it. God said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand and grasp its tail." He stretched out his hand and grasped it tightly, and it became a staff in his palm. 'So that they shall believe that God, the Lord of their ancestors, appeared to you, the Empowering Force of Abraham, the Empowering Force of Isaac, and the Empowering Force of Jacob' (Exodus 4:1-5)."  Staffs that turn into snakes certainly use the power of transformation, but, as we will see in next week's portion, was not an uncommon trick in the Egyptian playbook. It certainly does not seem sufficient to convince weakened, desperate slaves that God appeared to Moses. Why does God conclude His declaration with, "The Empowering Force of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?"


I was most bothered by the transformation of a staff rather than the transformation of the people. Miracles may affect personal transformation, but the change is usually temporary, not qualified to be called a transformation. I was bothered by these questions until I imagined Moses' staff having a Medtronic label, perhaps even, made in Frankenstein's laboratory, Minn. MN stamped on its ancient wood. When God asks Moses, "What is that in your hand?" we read the Hebrew text as two words, "mah zeh," or, "what is that?" The actual Hebrew text is one word, "mizeh," not a question, but a statement, "from that which you have in your hand!"


The miraculous transformation was not the staff becoming a snake, but happened inside of Moses, who, despite fleeing in fear from it, upon God's instruction, "stretched out his hand and grasped it tightly, and it became a staff in his palm." Moses overcoming his fear transformed the dangerous snake back into a staff. Moses could now understand God as The Empowering Force of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was only the Moses who appreciated that a childhood fascination with a movie could change the lives of millions and build a multi-billion dollar company, who could teach a nation of slaves that they were being offered an opportunity to master the art of self-transformation.


Moses, intimidated by people who would not believe him, could succeed in freeing them from Egypt. He would fail at teaching them Torah, the empowering force of self-transformation.


People who endlessly pray for miracles tend to ignore the message of Moses' staff. They do not realize that each time Moses uses that staff he is pointing to an opportunity of self-transformation. The one time he used his staff as just a staff, when he hit the rock, God rebukes him and says, "Because you did not believe in Me (Numbers 20:12)!" the very words Moses with which Moses accused the people in this early conversation!


I prefer Frankenstein's laboratory to miracles, for the lab, at least in Earl Bakken's mind, represents the greatest miracle; that of self-transformation. I prefer to believe in Torah as the empowering force of self-transformation, and to teach Torah as possessing all the wisdom necessary for overcoming our challenges as a community and as individuals, rather than pray and wait for a great miracle. I prefer to believe in my students' miraculous power of transformation than to pray for the other sort of miracle. I have the daily privilege of observing inspiring examples of self-transformation, students who become my heroes and role models, and hope to see Moses' staff constantly pointing the way forward.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg 

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