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Friday, April 2, 2010

Commentary for the Shabbat of Passover


Shabbat Hol Ha'moed Pesakh (Intermediate Sabbath of Passover)
 
In the Torah reading for the Shabbat of Pesakh/Passover (Shemot/Exodus 33:12-34:26), we find Moses climbing Mt. Sinai for the second time after smashing the tablets of the Ten Commandments at the foot of the Golden Calf.  He is preparing to spend another 40 days on the mountain in order to receive the 2nd set of tablets.  While there, one might say that Moses has a crisis of faith. He needs to know that God will be there with him and in front of him before he is prepared to return to leading the people on their journey.  Furthermore, he implores God to show him the Divine face so he can see God face to face.  In other words, Moses wants to see and to know God in an absolutely certain way.  After all that has happened, he not only needs reassurance that God is there and that God is going to be with him as he leads the people.  He needs to know God.  Just as the tablets are broken following the incident of the Golden Calf, so too Moses climbs the mountain a broken man leading a fractured people.  He is not sure how to continue.  He needs certainty.   So he thinks.
God responds that no one can see God’s face and live.  Instead, the Torah states that God places Moses in the cleft of a rock, covers Moses’s eyes and allows the Divine Glory to pass by.  Moses is only allowed to see God’s “back,” meaning that he can only see the result of God’s actions after God has “passed.”  He cannot truly know God “face to face.”  While passing by Moses, God proclaims what has come to be known as the 13 attributes of God, “Adonai, Adonai – God Who loves compassionately and cherishes, who is patient and overflows with grace and truth.  God stores up grace for thousands of generations.  God forgives rebellious sin, purposeful sin, and inadvertent sin.  God cleanses.”  (Exodus 34:5-7).  This text, which becomes an essential prayer during the High Holidays, emphasizes God’s compassion, even though the following verses also tell us that God visits the sins of the parents on the children and the children’s children up to the third generation.  But, compared to storing up grace for thousands of generations, that doesn’t seem so bad.
As Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, the 18th century Hassidic rabbi, points out, God introduces this “prayer of compassion” following one of the most devastating moments in Israel’s young history – the incident of the Golden Calf.  Fear and uncertainty propelled the people to build an idol.  Then the habitual response of anger and frustration caused Moses to smash the tablets. Now Moses is afraid and uncertain and pleading with God.  However, rather than providing him with certainty, which is what Moses seeks, God reveals Moses Divine compassion, which is what he needs, plus the reminder that it isn’t all just about compassion and mercy.  There are still consequences for wrongful action.
The people had been seeking certainty when they built an idol of gold after Moses’s lengthy absence.  Now it Moses who seeks the certainty and both Moses and the people who need compassion from God and for each other.  Only then, as I read the text, can they continue on their journey.
It is this realization that I believe enables Moses to wait another 40 days for second set of tablets.  For when he receives them, he knows that was broken is whole once again.  Yet, the broken tablets were kept in the ark along with the whole tablets that replaced them.  And so we are reminded that feelings of brokenness and wholeness are both present and potential in every moment.  Moreover, the key to the journey from brokenness to wholeness is compassion, which is the essence of the divine image that is within each of us.
The following poem is a midrash/commentary on this section of the Torah reading from Moses's point of view.  
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameakh(happy Passover),

Steven


Brokenness/Wholeness

I need
certainty
I need
you
with
me
each moment
I need
to know
now

I cannot
we cannot
go on
without
knowing
you
are with us
leading

I stop
listen
hear
your reply
yes
I
am
here
you
my people
are special
go
on your journey
I will
be
with
you

I hear
I believe

I don’t

II.

yes
you know
me
us
by name
but
I
we
know
nothing
of you

show me
you
let me
experience
all
of
you

I cannot
see
your face
only
your back

no
this
is not
enough

I
want
need
certainty
I insist

to travel
into
the unknown
to heal
the wounds
make whole
the broken
I
we
must
know
beyond seeing
you
knowing
not just
name
but essence
being

you say
I will die
if I
see you

why

I
want
I
need
more

don’t
you

I hear
God’s reply

silence

III.

I carve the tablets
again
waiting for you

I climb the mountain
still
wanting
waiting
needing
more
than
I know
you
will ever
give

then
sudden
darkness
I hear your voice
I feel
love
compassion
anger
essence
in that moment
knowing
deep within
you shall forgive
punish
blame
absolve
all

eyes
seeing nothing
soul
seeing everything
knowing
I am
we shall all be
healed

compassion
justice
mercy
shall bring
the people
together
bring me
closer
to you
always there
within

then
eyes open
I see
the tablets
carved by my hands
awaiting your words
whole
unbroken
shining
remembrance
of your
compassion

the other tablets
shattered remembrance
of what occurred
placed beside them
inextricable
link
lifechain
brokenness
to
wholeness
and back
neverending
cycle
returning us
to you
always
with us
within us
leading
each of us
each moment

stop
look within
I know
this is
the truth

no longer needing
to see your face
to find certainty
I am content
I am whole
I am ready
to move on

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