Rabbi Dr. Raymond AppleRabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective.
The Israelites leaving Egypt, from the Catalonia Haggadah, c. 1300
By the time of this week’s reading the B’nei Yisra’el have well and truly left Egypt and are at Mount Sinai, en route for the Promised Land.
The Midrash relates an aspect of the story about which most people are unaware. It says that 30 years earlier the tribe of Ephraim “forced the hour” and started out before the appointed time, and when the rest of the people finally left, they found the bones of the Ephraimites in heaps along the way (Sh’mot Rabba chapter 20).
In Jewish history there were countless occasions when Jews wanted to take the law into their own hands and get away from a nightmare before the destined time of dawn. This certainly applies to the coming of Messiah, which never seemed to arrive even though we could hardly bear the waiting.
The Meshech Chochmah, commenting on a statement by Rashi, actually speaks about an early coming of Mashi'ach. Parashat Shof’tim (Deut. 19:9) has a verse about three extra “cities of refuge” for those who commit homicide without intent; Rashi says this applies to the days of Mashi’ach. The Meshech Chochmah says Rashi denotes the Mashi’ach coming before the set time.
If Israel lead such committed lives that God sends the Mashi’ach early, it will take time to finish eradicating sin, crime and murder. The Mashi’ach will lend his weight to the effort, and once it is complete the days of perfection predicted by the prophets will finally arrive.
The popular view is that the 8th Commandment, Lo Tignov (Ex. 20:15), refers to stealing property. The sages point out, however, that there are other sources about stealing things, and this verse means stealing a person.
Obviously all forms of stealing are prohibited. Whoever steals a thing or person regards him- or herself as higher than God. God ordains who is the owner; the thief says, “I know better”. It’s an example of the Tower of Babel syndrome. The builders of Babel thought they should be running the universe, not God.
These days the people who don’t want to believe in God or accept His rule think they can make the decisions and re-allocate rights at will. Whether they act individually or as a group, they cause anarchy and make social life impossible.
What is meant by stealing a person? Not only kidnapping, though that is bad enough. It also denotes robbing a person of their heritage; the victims include the Jewish children who were placed with gentiles during the Holocaust and never given back to Judaism. In Australia the Aboriginal children who were forced into the white community are known as The Stolen Generation.
Ramban says that the 8th Commandment is linked with the 7th (the ban on adultery) in that adultery denies a child the knowledge of its real father. Rav Soloveitchik includes in the 8th Commandment a duty not to rob a person of their self-respect.