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What do Dolly Parton and Moses have in Common? (Ki Tisa – 03/06/21)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

What do Dolly Parton and Moses have in Common?
In January, Tennessee Representative, John Mark Windle, introduced a bill making a case for a statue recognizing Dolly Parton “for all that she has contributed to this state.”
Parton is well-deserving, for she has a long history of philanthropy, with initiatives for increasing child literacy and helping people who lost their homes in the Gatlinburg wildfires in 2016. Last year, Parton made a million-dollar donation that was crucial in developing the Moderna coronavirus vaccine.
Furthermore, during the George Floyd riots, Parton took a bold stand for racial equality, saying: “Of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white a**es are the only ones that matter?”
So Parton is certainly worthy of a statue in Tennessee, but she refused the accolade. “I am honored and humbled by their intention, but I have asked the leaders of the state legislature to remove the bill from any and all consideration. Given all that is going on in the world, I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time.”
Not only does she exhibit sympathy and philanthropy, but humility and sensitivity.
These are qualities we have seen in Moses numerous times.
In our Parsha, Ki Tisa, Moses is about to descend Mt. Sinai with the Two Tablets of Stone when God informs him of bedlam ensuing in the Israelite camp down below: they have forged a Golden Calf and reverted to pagan ways.
God is infuriated (Exodus Chapter 32):
9 And the Lord said to Moses: “I have seen these people and behold, they are a stiff-necked people!
10 Now leave Me alone, and My anger will be kindled against them so that I will annihilate them, and I will make you into a great nation.”
Moses is offered much more than a statue, the honor of being the sole patriarch and founder of the future Jewish people. Yet, not only does he refuse this offer, but after pleading with God to turn aside from anger, Moses dares to demand forgiveness as well:
31 And Moses returned to the Lord and said: “Please! These people have committed a grave sin. They have made themselves a god of gold.
32 And now, if You forgive their sin (fine), but if not, erase me now from Your book, which You have written.”
Moses stands to go down in history as the greatest prophet of all time, but he gives God an ultimatum: unless the Children of Israel are forgiven, his name should be erased from the Torah; he can live without the fame. God concedes to Moses’ demands.
Great leaders have sympathy, they take action, and they show humility.
They also focus on the needs of their community before the needs of their legacy. In this way, Parton has indeed shown that she shares certain qualities with Moses.
Atop that mountain, Moses could have just given up, “It was easier for me in Midian; I don’t need this headache.” But he didn’t, for he felt a responsibility to our people and our future. During his forty days of lessons with God he learned the maxim, כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה, every Jew is responsible for each other.
During the past five months of merger talks, feelings have been hurt, and I recognize that some people want to abandon ship. But being a part of a congregation is not just about what’s best for oneself; it’s about our small community and the future of Judaism as well. When children graduate from our Hebrew School, they’ve enjoyed their learning and feel good about Judaism. This bodes well for our future. I believe (and hope!) our adult services and programs create a similar effect as well.
True leaders think beyond themselves. We’re all responsible for each other. Let’s lead our synagogue and community to a greater future together.
Have a great week,
R’ Neil

Manetto Hill Jewish Center
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