>A couple of weeks ago I was at the cinema watching the Oscar nominated, BAFTA award winning film, The King’s Speech. It was a truly wonderful cinematic experience, and I really recommend that everyone takes an opportunity to go and see it. I just want to focus on one element of the film, which struck me. Now it will come as no surprise to anyone that the film includes the story of the abdication of King Edward VIII and the accession to the throne of King George VI. Through this part of the story it was striking to see the reluctance of George to become the King; he wanted to help his brother to remain King.
I am sure that many of us have wondered what it might be like to be the Monarch, in our fantasies I am sure that it involves living in the lap of luxury and being waited on hand and foot by an impressive staff. The idea of being the Monarch, or maybe at least a minor Royal, sounds exciting, but in the film we see that King George VI was happy to remain a Prince, and avoid ascending to the top job.
This week in our Torah portion Moses has the opportunity to become the undisputed main man of the Israelites. As he sat atop Mount Sinai with God; the Israelites down below had constructed a golden calf, which they had proceeded to worship in place of Adonai. It is unsurprising that this excited the wrath of God, who had recently redeemed the people from Egypt and given them the Ten Commandments, which explicitly stated: ‘You shall not make for you any engraved image … you shall not bow down yourself to them’ (Exodus 20:4-5).
On Mount Sinai God said to Moses: ‘now therefore let me alone, that my anger may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation’ (Exodus 32:10). Moses stood on the brink of receiving the patriarchal promise, to become a great nation, and as such to establish his own people as the chosen people. It would have meant the end of the Children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the beginning of the Children of Moses.
However, Moses refused to accept God’s offer, and instead countered by asking how this action would be viewed by the Egyptians, who had witnessed God’s power. And then asking God to ‘remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever’ (Exodus 32:13).
At this moment we see in Moses’ reluctance to supplant the Patriarchs, a part of the reason why he was so well suited to be the leader of the Israelites. He did not for a moment consider the opportunity to become the outright leader of his own people, his own great nation. Instead he immediately sought to protect the people he was leading and to remind God of the promises which had been made with the Patriarchs.
Moses had assumed the position of Israelite leader reluctantly, and here, despite the opportunity of receiving one of God’s ultimate promises, to become a great nation, Moses declines, putting the interests of the people above his own. King George VI was reluctant to become the Monarch, preferring to serve his country from the King’s side, but he was ultimately forced to succeed his brother. Moses has been forced to become the Israelite leader, but here he stood firm and ensured that ‘Adonai repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people’ (Exodus 32:14).
At this point Moses once again demonstrated why he was the perfect choice to lead the Israelites and stand alongside Avraham Avinu (Abraham our father) as Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher).