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Va'eira - Theory And Practice: A Healthy Tension

A source of great tension in our lives is the divide between an idealistic state of being and the real world which we inhabit. Yogi Berra put it this way, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice there is”. As Jews we experience this same struggle acutely. On the one hand we try to remain loyal to the values and traditions transmitted to us by our ancestors. At the same time, we feel it is vital to apply those ideas and laws in ways that fully appreciate the context of the times in which we live. This very dilemma is faced by Moses and Aaron as they prepare to engage the King of Egypt who has enslaved their people. The contrast couldn’t be greater. On the one hand they are empowered with a clear message from G-d, to say to Pharaoh “Let my people go”. Yet how could they possibly employ such language to this malevolent dictator. Surly this will only serve to antagonise him. The solution as directed by G-d was for both Moses and Aaron to engage Pharaoh. The Midrash, commenting on the verse “benevolence and truth meet” (Psalms 85:11) explains that “Benevolence” refers to Aaron and “truth” refers to Moses. Each of these attributes are deficient without the other. Used in tandem they are a most powerful force. Truth is an objective reality which transcends time and place. G-d is true. So is his Torah. Moses our teacher received the Torah from G-d and transmitted it to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. He was the perfect man to do so as he represents “truth”. However the purpose of the “Giving of the Torah” is the “Receiving of the Torah”. In other words, there is no point if the Torah remains abstract and theoretical. It only fulfils it’s raison d'être by finding expression within the complexities and limitations of mankind. Aaron represents the people. He loves them unconditionally and endeavours to lift them up. He both recognises their strengths and fully appreciates their weaknesses. Together these two forces strive to achieve the ideal result. The truth must be taught and conveyed in its pure form. One cannot change the words of the Torah or the message from G-d. Both the values and the laws, the ideas and traditions are timeless. Yet at the same we must fully appreciate the circumstances of the individual and the context of the times so that we can successfully apply those timeless teachings. Yes the world of “theory” and “practice” might be in a state of constant friction. However, it is only as a result of this healthy tension that mankind achieves it’s full potential. 

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