AGUDAS ISRAEL CONGREGATION
Welcome to our Synagogue!
Hegyon Libi —Thoughts from the Heart by Rabbi Philip Cohen, Ph.D.
OUR PARTNERSHIP WITH THE DIVINE
Who was Moses the prophet? Who was this fellow who occupies every book of the Torah except Genesis? Like any complex character in great literature, he's a complex person. Throughout his story we see him in relation to Pharaoh, to his people, his sister Miriam, his brother Aaron, and, above all, with the most prevalent character in biblical literature--God.
When Moses first meets God, he has been taken into the family business, namely animal husbandry. One day Moses is out there in the wilderness near a mountain when he spies an unusual bush. He steps aside and observes that the thing is on fire. Not only that, but that the fire seems eternal, it does not go out.
Well, upon making that observation, God speaks to Moses from the Burning Bush. Once they've made their acquaintance, God gets around to the mission he's got all lined up for Moses. Moses is to go before Pharaoh and demand that Pharaoh release the Israelites he had enslaved some years before.
But the thing is Moses is reluctant to take on this job. Although he's been raised in Pharaoh's palace, knows the language and the mores of the Egyptian world, he feels he's not up to the task. He needs persuasion, which succeeds, and Moses moves forward to complete his assignment.
If we jump ahead to the incident of the Golden Calf, however, we see a different Moses altogether. There, God tells Moses that God would like nothing better than to destroy those rebellious hordes that have desecrated his name by producing a false god. Moses is not cowed by this situation. Rather, he negotiates with God, who needs persuasion to change the Divine Mind. Which God does, and the Children of Abraham and Sarah are spared.
So Pesach is once again upon us. Our great feast of liberation carries with it numerous profound messages. This year allow me to suggest one that perhaps might be new.
When Moses first meets God, we the reader know that Moses is eminently worthy of this encounter. We have numerous hints in the text that testify to that reality. Moses, however, does not know of his worthiness, and has to be pushed into his role as liberator. But the Moses on Mount Sinai, absorbing God's anger over the travesty taking place down below, has grown to such a dimension that he gives God advice.
In other words, his relationship with God has changed from being fearful of God and his mission, to achieving a comfort and familiarity with the Master of the Universe that he's nearly at a symmetrical level with God. He and God are nearly equals. They clearly are partners.
And that, I think, forms an interesting Pesach message. One characteristic of the Jewish notion of the divine human relationship is that we have direct and informal access to God. When we pray we often say "You are praised Adonai our God, ruler of the world..." We speak directly to God. We're on a first name basis with God. We feel God's presence. We feel entitled to speak directly to God without an intermediary, and like Moses on Mount Sinai, we expect to feel heard.
Or do we?
Well, the answer to that, it seems to be, is a question to be answered on a case by case basis. But as in ideal notion, it's clear that the Tradition teaches that God can be near to us, God can be at our side, God can be our partner in dialogue. But we need to be open to it. We need a mind that allows that kind of God into our lives. We need experience with God in order to develop our relationship with God.
The Pesach story is about a ragtag group of tired slaves, liberated from years of servitude, who are brought into the desert to be God's people. But the nature of that relationship was not an obvious or easy thing; it required experience and a dedication to a new kind of labor. The reward was closeness to the divine, which led to a richer, more spiritual life, a life previously unknown to those former slaves.
Let that be our model this Pesach. Let us commit to growing our relationship to the Divine, to become partners with God. In that partnership, let us grow ourselves spiritually, and in so doing grow the world, as well. Let us become like Moses, a partner with God, a partnership that makes our planet a better place for all.