Monday, July 19, 2010

Sacrifice of Moshe

Parshat Va’Etchana
13 AV 5770 / 23-24 July 2010

In this week’s parsha Moshe orates on his inability to be the leader of the people in the land of Israel. He reviews the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Moshe blames the Israelites’ actions and attitudes at the time of getting the Torah for G-d’s decision to have Moshe die before he enters the land. What actions is he speaking about? And what is truly the source of Moshe’s flawed leadership skill?
I think the answers to these questions are hinted at in the following Rashi commentary on Chapter 5, verse 24. In the verse, Moshe recounts when, at the time of hearing the Ten Commandments, the Israelites pleaded with him to be an intermediary between G-d’s voice and their ears. They feared that hearing G-d’s voice would kill them. So they said to Moshe, “You speak to us!” And the word for YOU is written in the feminine language. Rashi ponders about this, why refer to Moshe in the feminine? He answers his own question:

“And you speak to us: Heb. וְאַתּ, a feminine form]-You weakened my strength as that of a female, for I was distressed regarding you, and you weakened me, since I saw that you were not anxious to approach God out of love. Would it not have been preferable for you to learn [directly] from the mouth of the Almighty God, rather than to learn from me?”

First, let’s bypass the blatant chauvinism of Rashi’s statement – (He lived from 1040 – 1105!) It is gross, but meaning-wise – it is explaining the source of Moshe’s ineptitude as the leader for the next generation. When the people asked Moshe to be their go-between he was left, almost as a sacrifice, to come in direct contact with G-d alone. Their fear was real; the close contact with the Divine was a death sentence for Moshe. He was unable to comprehend the world from a limited perspective now that he had glimpsed reality from the perspective of Eternal Oneness. It may have been that bearing the load of an entire nation was difficult, while acting as sole channel of G-d was detrimental. The Israelites’ action of asking for an intermediary was a sign that they could not yet share the Divine connection with Moshe. Therefore, Moshe, left to the task alone, was weakened in his ability to relate and could not carry on as leader.

Where does that leave us today? I believe that Jews as a people are continuously in a process of figuring out how to connect with the great mystery that is beyond what the eyes can see. The myriad laws and commandments which come out of Torah are teaspoons of taking G-d in, in small digestible and sustainable doses. We are all called to task, in our own way, to figure out the correct prescription, from moment-to-moment, to stay attuned to the Divine in our lives. When we are not sure, we might ask a Rabbi, parent, or friend. Ultimately though, we can grow to be our own teachers and our own healers.


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