July 13, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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“And the people saw that Moshe tarried in coming down from the mountain. And they gathered around Aaron and said to him: ‘Arise, and make for us a god, which will go before us, for this man Moshe who took us up from the land of Egypt, we know not what has become of him.” (Shemot 32:1)

The entire debacle of the golden calf happened because Moshe was … late?!

Why did God allow, arrange, or call for Moshe to be…absent?

This paradigm is one that we have encountered before, starting with Adam and Eve’s mistake in eating from the tree of knowledge (Bereishit 3:1-11). The snake seems determined to persuade Eve to make the greatest human mistake ever made. The real question, however, is not why the snake is there, but why God isn’t?

Throughout the Torah, God is “there,” and then He is “not there.” Where was God when Noah was all alone in a new world, planting vineyards amidst the terrible aftermath of total destruction? Where was God when Avraham, having just arrived in the Land of Israel at God’s command, was confronted with the terrible famine that forced him down to Egypt? Where was God when Yosef finds himself all alone in the pit of despair?

And who better to ask this question than our generation? For 12 horrible years God was “not there,” and we were all alone in Nazi-occupied Europe amidst a world gone mad.

And then, in the blink of an eye, once again, God was “there,” as, against all the odds, a ragtag band of refugees built a state that was a Garden of Eden from the sands and barren rocks of the wilderness. So what is going on?

The Talmud (Baba Batra 75a) tells us that Moshe was like the sun, and Joshua was like the moon.

Moshe had such direct contact and relationship with God that looking at him was as close to seeing God as a human being ever achieved. Joshua, on the other hand, is one step removed from God. His relationship begins essentially through his relationship with Moshe.

Moshe’s tenure as leader of the Jewish people is a recreation of the Garden of Eden when God was everywhere you looked. Joshua, on the other hand, was like the moon, where the light is only reflected from the sun that you cannot see.

The problem with the desert experience was that when God is everywhere, then where am I?

This is a challenge we often experience in life and in our relationships; sometimes someone is so “everywhere,” there is no room for anyone else. This is why, very often, children of extremely successful parents are so challenged, because if parents give their children everything, all the time, then the parents are really there, but the kids really aren’t, often leading the children to rebel, almost as though they are shouting out: “Here I am! I’m here!”

This is why the Jewish people rebel so much in the desert: Because God is everywhere, I am left wondering: where, or for what purpose, am I? So God steps back, and Moshe does not bring the Jewish people into the Land of Israel, because once God has shown us the world the way it is meant to be, it only becomes a world for us when we then make it so.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children, and indeed to all of our relationships, is to know when to take a step back, to let someone else begin to shine. In a healthy relationship you have to know when to be the sun and when to let yourself become the moon.

Perhaps this is what is really going on at the foot of Sinai. Moshe is so “there,” he has become their direct relationship with God.

But that is not what Judaism is meant to be; we were never meant to stay in the Garden of Eden, we were simply meant to experience it, as a gift, so that we could journey through the wilderness in search of what we had once tasted, this time earning it on our own.

Precisely when God seems so…absent, we have the opportunity to step up and make the world better with our own hands.

Rabbi Binny Freedman is rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Orayta. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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