Saturday, August 10, 2013

Torah Comment from Rabbi Jacobs

Shabbat Chol HaMo’ed Exodus 33:12-34:26 (Plaut p. 592; Hertz p. 362)
Haftarah Ezekiel 37:1-14 (Plaut p. 1465; Hertz p. 1051)

On this intermediate Sabbath between the holiday at the start of Pesach that marks the night of the 10th plague and expulsion from ancient Egypt and the holiday that concludes Chag hamatzot—the Feast of Unleavened Bread—the reading of Torah takes an excursion to the final ascent of Moses on Mount Sinai. Torah seems to offer us the chance here to eavesdrop (as it were) on Moses conversation with God about the ground-rules for the people, calling upon God to be present for the people and to accompany them upon the journey.

God’s response for Moses’ demand that he “see God” cannot quite be met. Locating a nearby cleft in the rock, Moses is hidden there, and in a remarkable piece of anthropomorphism—attribution to God of human characteristics (uncharacteristic of Jewish theology)—Moses is shielded by the divine “hand” and sees only “God’s back.”

With the two new tablets of the law in hand, and the divine presence close to Moses, the attributes of God are expressed in the liturgically important verses beginning with 34:6 (Adonai, Adonai, eil rachum v’chanun—O God, O God, merciful and gracious) that total 13 qualities that affirm God is both attentive to human action and prepared to mete out divine justice.

A calendar beginning with the Passover, marking Shavuoth and the harvest festival (called at this point Chag hakatzir) anticipates a later time of harvest and distance from the Sacred Place, to which all are commanded to travel three times a year. Shabbat is mentioned, but none of the other current holy days. The origin and use of the rudimentary calendar is not clear.

Appended to the calendar is the commandment not to seethe a kid in its mother’s milk, the single verse in Torah that became the later Rabbinic source for the prohibition of all food mixtures of milk and meat.
—Rabbi Robert Jacobs