Can you keep a secret?
I think that secrets play a dynamic and critical role in the Bible, Jewish memory, Jewish life, human psychology, contemporary life, and of course most family issues. OK that is not the best secret. If only the Elders of Zion really existed I would have some better secrets to share with you. But how might I argue my claim of the importance of secrets? For now I am going to focus on last week’s Torah portion.
In the beginning of the book of Sh’mot we see that a couple from the tribe of Levi clandestinely have a male child. They, Amram and Yocheved, need to keep this a secret out of fear that this male child will be killed under the new government rule. How long will they be able to keep this secret? They put the child in a basket and put him in the river. None other then Pharaoh’s daughter and her maidservants discover the baby in the bulrushes. Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, names him Moses and brings Miriam and Yocheved into the plot to raise Moses as a closeted Israelite in the house of Pharaoh.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead. “ How did so many people conspire to keep this secret? It seems somehow that these people are able to keep a secret; Moses grows up with his secret secure.
His identity seems safely hidden until one day when Moses sees an Egyptian slave master beating an Israelite. Moses is inspired to action, but he does not want to betray his secret. We read, “And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.” (Exodus 2:12) It seems like the perfect act of vigilante justice. He saves his fellow Israelite, there are no witnesses and he is able to maintain his old secret of being an Israelite and his new secret of killing the Egyptian. The very next day Moses intervenes as one Israelite is beating another. The Israelite responds, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you plan to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14) Moses leaves town out of fear that his secrets are known by all. The juxtaposition of these two secrets, one kept and one not, frame the importance of secrets in Moses’s life.
In many ways a secret is like being naked. If shared with the right person it is high level of intimacy. If your secret is revealed to the wrong person you feel exposed, embarrassed, and even in real danger. But, if you had a secret that you could never share, it could be a very large burden to carry having to keep this part of yourself in the closet. In the words of Sigmund Freud, “He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.” Moses had to leave Egypt because everyone knew his secrets. He also had to leave to evade the deafening sound of the Tell-Tale Heart. While he might have been killed if he stayed, keeping his secrets bottled up would have also killed him.
Moses was born and raised in a secret. He leaves his birth place for fear of his secrets being revealed. Soon after God reveals God’s self to Moses God charges Moses to get the people out of slavery, bring them to receive the Torah, and bring them into the land of Israel. Moses responds, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) While on the simple level he wants to know on what authority he will get Pharaoh to release the slaves, on another level Moses really just wants to know who he is. Moses’s whole life is a secret. And how will Moses share the secret to the people? God responds, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14) As if God is Russian behavior as described by Winston Churchill, ” a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. Moses is similarly a Matrushka doll of secrets. He has lived with secrets and really needs to share. It is appropriate that this man of mystery is the one who is uniquely equipped to reveal the secret of the Torah with the Israelite people.
- I hope to develop this theme in the next few weeks. I would love your ideas on the topic. Please do share them.