One of the colorful figures in in the Talmud is a certain Rabbi Yirmyiah,
famous for his incessant, unrelenting questioning. No sooner is a law cited,
than Rabbi Yirmiyah has a half-dozen scenarios with which to test it: what if the
situation were reversed? what if it were bigger, smaller, darker, lighter,
At one point, the patience of his colleagues reached its limits. They were
discussing a certain law regarding food preparation on the festivals which
differentiates between a pigeon found within 50 cubits (approximately 75 feet)
of the pigeon house, or more than 50 cubits from the nest. "What would be
the law," asked Rabbi Yirmiyah, "if the pigeon is standing so that one
of its legs is within the 50 cubit limit, and the other leg outside?" Rabbi
Yirmiyah was ejected from the study hall.
But Rabbi Yirmiyah has a point. Conventional wisdom would argue that a thing
is either near or far -- it can't be both. But somewhere there is a boundary, a
line that separates the near from the far, the within from the without. If you
can straddle that line, if you can stand with one foot inside and the other foot
outside, you can be both.
And often, in the trajectory of our lives, we must be both. And in the
history of a people, there must be leaders and visionaries who are both.
The Torah tells us that when Jacob and his family came to Egypt, they
numbered "seventy souls". But the detailed list given by the Torah (in
Genesis 46:8-27), includes only 69 names. Our sages explain that when Jacob's family
departed the Holy Land, there were only 69 Jews; but upon their arrival in
Egypt, they numbered 70. Who is the mysterious 70th soul? It is Jocheved, the
mother of Moses, born "between the boundary walls" as the first
Jewish family entered our first galut (exile).
If you are outside of a problem, you can't solve it. If you are part of the
problem, you can't solve it either. You need to be both.
The woman who gave birth to and raised Moses could not have been of the
generation that was born in Egypt, the generation for whom galut was the
reality. She could not have been of the generation born in the Holy Land, for
whom galut was never real. She had to be both.