3 April 2010/19 Nisan 5770 — Shabbat Hol haMoed Pesach — “Bling”

03/04/2010 at 22:23 Leave a comment


Neil F. Blumofe

Here in our Torah, on this day of Shabbat amid the Festival of Pesach, we find Moses, a reluctant leader who wants to have God in front of him – who wants to be reminded of why he is leading the people – and so soon after the incident of the Golden Calf asks God, hodiaini na et d’rachecha, v’eida’a’cha – make Your ways known to me, so that I may comprehend You. Rashi maintains the meaning of this verse to be that Moses is asking God why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper in this world.  This would serve a valuable lesson in leadership – Moses is asking God what the stakes are so that he may adjust his leadership accordingly.  Moses wants to align his work with the people so that there are no theological surprises.  To extend this thought a bit, it would seem that Moses is alarmed by God’s harsh reaction to the Golden Calf – after Moses returns to God to demand an accounting, the people are struck with a plague and too, God withdraws a bit. calling the people an Am K’she Oref – a stiffnecked people and demanding that the people remove their jewelry from their bodies (Ex. 32.5) when in the verse before (Ex 32.4), it states that in dread, the people had already decided not to put on their jewelry.  Why would God demand that the jewelry be removed after the people had decided not to wear it?

Moses’ fear then was not the sickness and trouble visited upon the because of the plague – remember in a reflex reaction, after Moses had discovered what transpired while he was receiving the Torah – he smashed the tablets and assembled the Levites and in recrimination, wantonly killed up to 3000 men.  Also, once he had the assurances of God, that God would “erase from the Book all who have sinned against God,” he is commanded to resume leading the people.  It is at this time when Moses pleads with God for purpose.

Reading closely, I contend that more than the loss of life, Moses was afflicted that the people were called by God to remove their jewelry, even after the people had already done so.  What does this jewelry represent?  Where did it come from?  It follows that this is the jewelry that came into the hands of the Israelites as they were leaving Egypt.  According to our tradition, this is both physical and spiritual jewelry, which represents not simply adornments – rather a physical sense of Egypt – manners, hair and dress and too, a spiritual sense of living in Egypt – worship spaces, priestly classes, theological systems and ways to relate to God — the challenges and the hazards of living in a larger culture.

Extending this idea, after the disaster at Sinai, the people had decided on their own to shed the trappings of their identification with the Egyptians, however, inside they were still gripped by a spirit gained from Egypt, an acculturated spirit.  Now, God was demanding of them to constrict and strip their spirit and to start anew.  The miracles from the splitting of the sea to the revelation at Sinai did not take in forming a new character for the people – more than being doomed to die, Moses is most concerned about not recognizing a spirit of the people.  He was afraid that not only the people, but he too were aimless — the people were vacant vessels, without purpose — just taking up space wandering around in the desert.

As we review our lives, we ask what did we live for?  What did we contribute to?  We want so badly to have purpose in our lives.  To find things that matter and pursue substance.  So often we find that our dreams and ambitions that we hold out for ourselves are consumed in the daily grind of responsibilities or that we find that our time is taken on issues of the day which seem immediate and vital, only to demonstrate in their doing that they distance us from ourselves and bring estrangement.

Moses wants a specific assurance that the life that he is living is more than the actions that he is taking – we too hopefully want the same – we are not the sum of all of the meetings we go to, all of the occasions that we attend, all of the classes that we take, all of the movies that we see – if there is nothing to be gain and this work is just activity, it could quickly wear us down.  If we cannot recognize a purpose or an aim to what we do then doubt and bad faith can creep over us, immobilizing anything that we do.

Many of us prepare things that take a while – whether it’s cleaning our homes before Pesach or cooking an elaborate meal for someone else, caring for our patients, assembling a case for our client, or researching and writing a paper for our teacher or our employer.  We want to have our efforts valued – and even though we may not readily admit it, any reaction is better than no reaction – even a negative reaction to what we do gives us room to communicate and reflect and even argue.  How sad it is to put forth an effort to be met with no response.

As Moses pleads for a little daylight, his greatest fear is that we are possessors of nothing – not living in either world – either Egyptian or God-directed.  To live wholly inside the margin without jewelry is too much to bear.

So why do we study this Torah portion on Shabbat Hol haMoed Pesach?  We have taken a risk – we have left Mitzrayim physically and we recognize that to transcend our slavery we must continue to develop spiritually as well.  We are not yet concentrating on our spiritual development, which is a much harder proposition to address — that’s what these days leading to Shavuot are about — attention to our spirit and our soul.  So often, we think that our problems may be solved if we just move to a new place and get a new start, not realizing that even if we sell our possessions and get rid of our stuff the one thing that we take with us to the new place is us – and if we don’t give ourselves space to change and address who we are inside, these changes are not effective.

40 years in the desert – our ancestors weren’t lost – they were trying to find new jewelry to wear, inside and out.  Looking for a new identity both physically and spiritually — it’s something that we devote our lifetimes to, as well. Based on God’s response to Moses’ frustration and anger after the Golden Calf, Moses knew that they would all die – he lost sight of the fact that he would, as well.

It is a good thing to remove the jewelry – we should be comforted that rather than walking without embellishment and enhancement that disguises our character we discover the right pieces that enhance and complement who we are.   Our tradition is quite clear – Torah, community and God.  Everything else is Fool’s Gold.

Shabbat Shalom.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

27 March 2010/12 Nisan 5770 Shabbat Tsav — “Altered States” Shabbat Shemini — “The Soundlessness in the Middle” — 10 April 2010/26 Nisan 5770

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