Lauren Levrant, April 22, 2005
As translated by Everett Fox, this chapter begins with God instructing Moshe to tell the Children of Israel, What is done in the land of Egypt, wherein you were settled, you are not to do; what is done in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you are not to do; by their laws you are not to walk. My regulations you are to do, my laws you are to keep, walking by them. Of course this is followed by a laundry list of sexual encounters that must be avoided, but to me, the very first lines speak more broadly. The Children of Israel, they are not really Jews yet, have been living as slaves in Egypt for 400 or so years, and were then moving into the land of the Canaanites. They were always a people apart, and that is the way it was supposed to be. By following their own set if laws and not the ways of those around them, this small group was able to survive. They survived the destruction of their kingdom, twice. And by transforming into Rabbinical Jews, and staying a people apart, have been able to survive for close to 2000 years. We were instructed not to assimilate, and its worked. At least for now.
Right now, anti-semitism is once again rearing its ugly head, right in our midst. Some of it is right out there in the open, as when eggs were thrown at a memorial service in London, commemorating a World War II bombing that killed 134 people, mostly Jews. And some of it is cloaked in Anti-Zionism, as it is on many college campuses. When we try to hide who we are, and forget that we are a people apart as God commanded, we allow this to happen.
On Sunday, May 15, we have a chance to show our community who we are. That we stand with Israel. Regardless of whether we agree with their government, we need to show our support of the Israeli people. Our people. Please join us, right here in Oak Park, for our Solidarity with Israel Walk.
33: 21 Vayomer Adonay hineh makom iti venitsavta al-hatsur. God then said, "I have a special place where you can stand on the rocky mountain.
33: 22 Vehayah ba'avor kvodi vesamticha benikrat hatsur vesakoti chapi aleycha ad-ovri.
When My glory passes by, I will place you in a crevice in the mountain, protecting you with My power until I pass by.
33: 23 Vahasiroti et-kapi vera'ita et-achoray ufanay lo yera'u.
I will then remove My protective power, and you will have a vision of what follows from My existence. My essence itself, however, will not be seen.
To be given a special place on a rocky mountain
To live under the protection of Gods hand
To have a revelation of Gods existence
From my earliest days I have longed
I have longed for the vision of understanding and love
Implicit in Gods gift to Moshe
It is here, it is here, chavarim
Among our loved ones at our Seder tables
In our congregation in prayer and song
In our study groups as we deepen our commitment to Torah
It is said
It is not for us to finish the task
Neither are we free to desist from the task
We need only say as did our ancestors
Here I am.
Shabbat Chol Hamoed 17 Nisan 5759 2 April 1999
Mark Burger (Shmot Exodus 34:1-9 Chant)
Pesach is about liberation and freedom, the first known rebellion for the sake of worship; the first time a weak people was known to have triumphed over a mighty nation – not to conquer it, but to free itself of it. Pesach is also about a second chance. A second chance to overcome fear, idolatry and denial. The Jewish people will always have a second chance, as long as the Covenant with God is in effect, perhaps whether we believe in that promise or not.
Second chances, however, are not guarantees or guaranteed to individuals, communities, even tribes of Israel. And because they are not like a 401k in a bull market, we get angry, and, if the anger is not addressed, doubts about who we are and our relationships with God begin to sprout.
Second chances came to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, even Pharaoh. Second chances did not come to the golden calf worshippers. Or to the first born of Egypt, or most of an earlier first born of Israel. This seems cruel, even though God warned earlier in Exodus that His miracles to free Israel were to affect Egypt down to the slave girl grinding her millstone.
Many of us get second chances in our daily lives. Many of us take advantage of them in a meaningful way. Going for a new job or career when the present one is comfortable; recovering from a serious illness or injury to undertake a great project or cause; or carrying on someone else’s work when that person is no longer able. Many of us fail to take a second chance because it’s risky, inconvenient or possibly unpopular. When a person or people fail to take advantage of second chances, they begin to die before their time.
We see Israel imperiled by disaster, whether by Pharaoh or the Amalekites in the Bible, or Rome, Spain or Germany in more modern times. I will not say these represent second chances in themselves, but what second chances come from them? What might be the second chance for Israel through the fear, the pain, the witness to evil? Is God stepping back for us? Is God stepping back in order for us to exercise our free will, which is the only way to love God according to the Covenant? Is God’s stepping back a second chance? After all, how well did we work when God hovered over us?
This stepping back is evident in this portion. Moses, taking the second chance to receive the Covenant for Israel, writes it himself. The first time, before the golden calf, it’s written by God. Did Pharaoh have a second chance? It appears he did not because God stiffened his heart. But the Hebrew word is "cha-zayk", which could also mean strengthen, as in "Be strong and of good courage". Maybe Pharaoh had a second chance, but was predisposed to fulfill God’s role.
Second chances are opportunities to grow. Noah did not plead for a world about to be destroyed, although he had the chance. When he had a second chance, he got drunk, possibly to erase the agony of the lost second chance out of his mind. Abraham pleaded with God for Sodom and Gomorrah, unsuccessfully, but he took the opportunity with the second chance.
Moses was the greatest second chance taker of all, successfully arguing for Israel, in spite of their sins, and even when God offered the ultimate second chance, to start Israel over by his seed. May we take advantage of second chances if and when they come with the same fortitude of Moses, if not with the same spectacular results. Amen.
D'Var Torah Milton Ehre April 25, 1997
The God of Exodus is a jealous god, awesome and terrifying. He bathes the Egyptian children in blood, drowns their men in the sea, descends to the earth in fire, and threatens, once again, to blot out Israel for its stiff-necked rebellion. Yet when Moses asks that he may behold God's presence, He answers.
"I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name LORD and the grace that I grant and the compassion I show." (Exodus 33: 19)
And when God does list his attributes, all except one refer to compassion and forgiveness.
"The Lord! The Lord: a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin: yet He does not remit all punishment but visits the iniquity of the fathers upon children, and children's children, upon the third and fourth generation." (Exodus 34: 6-7)
Ours is a God of justice and compassion. Even at this moment of the most grievous sin imaginable, the worship of the Golden Calf, his compassion outweighs his demand for punishment. He visits iniquity to the third and fourth generation, kindness to the thousandth. Perhaps people need compassion, forgiveness and love even more than they require justice. The need for justice is apparent. Our daily newspapers bombard us with stories of oppression, brutality and corruption-from Rwanda and Bosnia to the streets of Chicago and the hallways of Washington. We know that the world is at heart unjust, that the powerful get away with murder and the weak and poor suffer without redress. It is natural to hope that someone is keeping score, that someday, somewhere the balance will finally be made right, equity restored, and
"Every valley shall be lifted up
and every mountain and hill be made low" (Isaiah 40:4)
But suffering may be even more intransigent. No matter how just the world, we would still suffer from disappointed desires, hopes and ambitions, sickness, the loss of those we love, our own deaths.
Suffering isolates. We get together with our friends to laugh, we go off to our room to cry alone. Note people in conversation-on the street, in a restaurant, or when services are finally over and we can go eat-we're always laughing, or at least smiling, even when there is nothing particularly humorous being said. Joy brings us together; we suffer each in our own cell. Suffering seems inexpressible. We have difficulty putting it into words, think that others could never possibly understand, are embarrassed by it, worry that we don't deserve the compassion we crave, even from ourselves. In the face of loss and misfortune we talk of picking ourselves up by our bootstraps, straightening our backs, tightening our lips and bearing stoically.
Given our fear of suffering, our shame over the weakness it suggests, it is a good thing to know that someone is out there listening, that there is a God who cares and loves us even if we are a stiff-necked people. I've always thought it blasphemy to pray for things-for success, or even for happiness. We ought to pray in gratitude for the goodness of the world or in compassion for human suffering. God, remember, is "abounding in kindness to the thousandth generation."