by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
Do you ever feel behind? Are you really behind or are you really at the right place at the right time? Why should you march lockstep with everyone else's notion of punctuality? In truth, you have your own unique clock and schedule. It may not mesh with everyone else's schedule, and it may cause frustration for yourself and others, but to be truly human means to be off the grid of corporate time and tuned in to real time- Divine time. Fascism kept the trains running on time, but it also murdered millions who did not "fit in" with ubermenschen societal notions of correctness.
Moses was perceived as being late in coming down from the mountain top. But in truth, he was right on time. In a twist on the Kabat-Zinn zennish "wherever you go there you are," whenever he was, it (Moses) was at the right time. Really, though, the anxiety of the people was rooted in their misgivings about Creation itself.
Creation, Revelation and Redemption being the triadic foci of Judaic consciousness, their lingering doubts vis a vis their role at the Revelation at Sinai mirrored their own apprehensions vis a vis the Start and End times of human experience. VO-SHESH- HE DELAYED- can also be read as an allusion to the sixth day of Creation, in the sense that SHESH means six.
"VAYAR HAAM KI VOSHESH MOSHE LAREDET MIN HAHAR- and the people saw that Moses was delayed in descending from the mountain (EX 32:1)."
And the first occurence in the Torah of the word VAYAR, "and He saw," also coincided with the Genesis Creation narrative. And uniquely concerning the sixth day does the text specifically say "VAYAR...veHINEH TOV MEOD, and He saw that it was very good." The letter bet in voshesh, with a numerical valence of two, alludes to a sense of increase, thus paralleling the word Meod, meaning"very."
And why was the sixth day blessed with a "very good" as opposed to a mere"good"? Because that is the time of humanity's creation. And it only happened late in the day, after all else was already in place. Was humanity's creation late? Emphatically no! It was precisely on time!Creation was made for man's benefit, with the caveat that man must act as steward of all that came before, partnering with the Divine. Those who reject this thesis necessarily presage the epicurian belief in caprice and coincidence as ruling creation narratives which buttress their embrace of an amoral whimsy. Moses was "late" in coming down from the mountain in the same sense that mankind's arrival on earth was "late" in the scope of all creation.
In contrast to pagan creation mythologies, the Torah's outlook on man's unique role in the universe is seen as blessed by G*d and specifically charged with a mission to promote goodness and blessing. Man is not incompetition with G*d, provoking Divine jealousies when mankind imitates the Divine capacity for goodness. Man did not steal the fire from the gods, ala Greek mythology. Rather, G*d freely gave man fire with which to perfect the world and bring it closer to a restored Edenic state of perfection. This is the meaning of the havdalah flame- that we reenter the work week with the capacity and blessing to create a better world.
So those who had misgivings about Moses' late (yet timely) descent from the mountain similarly hold misgivings about man's unique role and challenge in the universe. They were not up to the task. And thus they had doubts about the role of Israel in the Revelation to embrace a unique ethical monotheism, as well as doubts about the Eschaton, the purported End Time of the final redemption when G*d's Kingdom will be embraced by a unified humanity. Likewise, Israel today has doubts about Zionism and its raison d'etre; its mission and dream.
So by the use of the word VOSHESH Moses was actually echoing in the Revelation and descent from the mountain the same challenge which was nuanced in the Creation. Moreover, the luchot ha-edut,the tablets of testimony which he held in his hands reflect Israel's mission as one of edut, or testimony, her eternality bearing witness to her mission as reflected in the words of the Sabbath Kiddush.
But all this was only to be appreciated at a later time and place. Those below who could appreciate neither Moses nor his mission could only judge him by superficial externals and conclude the worst in viewing his actions. So blinded were they for an unsullied purity that they lost sight of the real difference between good and evil. Perfect becomes the enemy of the good when the human mind paints an all or nothing picture of reality. If the good is not seen as pure, then the whole message seems worthless, worthy of disullusion and abandonment.
But no leaders are perfect, just as no humans can ever be perfect. Even if the people we love let us down sometimes, we should not be so quick to abandon them. When G*d's wrath waxed hot in His anger at the people for their sin in worshipping the Golden Calf, it was Moses who pleaded with G*d to spare them. "Blot ME out if you will (m'cheini na m'sifrecha), but spare the people," Moses pleads with G*d. They would just as soon abandon him in a flash, but he would never abandon them.
Such is the stuff of true leaders.They weren't willing to give HIM a second chance, but it was Moses' greatness that he rose to his higher self and begged G*d to give THEM a second chance! It was as if Moses was on such a high spiritual plane, such a high madrega, that he had completely anulled his sense of self. Hasidic thought refers to this as bitul hayesh, or the achievement of the state of complete annihilation of the ego (hasagat ha'ayin). He did everything for the sake of his people; nothing for himself. Yet he was always challenged, doubted and second-guessed. He was soon to be accused by Korach and his followers of an opposite reigning egomania, and yet it was really their own egomania that they projected onto him.
The message of our parsha is really the message of second chances and the deep yearning we all have for forgiveness and the desire to make a fresh start, to begin anew and repair all our damaged relationships. Between parents and children. Between spouses. Between friends. Between ourselves and G*d. Should we delay forgiveness? Should we hold back on our love for our children no matter how much we despair? Absolutely not. Just the opposite! Love them and love them more. Forgive them and so be forgiven in return.
© 2000 - 2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l
Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
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