(And Here is a Link to my Musing for Ki Tisa 5760)
They shall keep the Shabbat, making the Shabbat, for generations, an eternal covenant. It is a sign between me and the people of Israel for eternity, because in six days Gd made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day [Gd] stopped, and was refreshed. (Shemot 31:16-17)
What beautiful and poignant words. And what were we doing while Gd was saying all this to Moshe rabbeinu? We were out carousing and partying and building an idol to worship. All because we grew impatient. As it says "when the people saw that Moses was delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered upon Aharon and they said to him 'Arise and make for us gds which shall go before us, for this man, Moshe, who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what happened to him.'" (Shemot 32:1)
It made so little sense to me. I pondered and pondered, late into the night, growing wearier with each passing moment, trying to come up with some words that would help explain it.
I was asking a class of young students if it made any sense. Gd wrought all these miracles - brought the plagues on Egypt and freed us, parted the waters so we might cross, gave us manna, and brought us to Har Sinai. And there we even heard and felt Gd give us the aseret hadibrot. And yet, even after all that, we didn't believe. So Moshe was gone a long time, and we lost what little faith we had, and sinned great sins against Gd. Of course not, they all said, in almost total unanimity. OK, I said to them. Then I abruptly changed my plans (or so the students thought) and decided, instead of the planned lesson, we would do some fun activities. I also cancelled a test I had scheduled. "Is that a miracle or what" I asked them. Then we did a whole bunch of things we don't usually do in class. Before we started however, I told them there were some rules we had to follow, and I told them what they were. One rule was that they shouldn't follow directions from anyone but me. A while later I told the class I had to step out for a moment and go to the office to get something really important from the headmaster. I said "I can trust you to follow the rules, right?" They all agreed. So I stepped out and waited outside the door. I let a few minutes go by. The class had remained relatively well-behaved. Then I began to hear some restlessness and murmurs. "What happened to Mr. D?" "Isn't he coming back? Class is almost over and we have to go." I let them stew a little while longer. The class got noisier and rowdier. A few of the students started playing with some toys and games I had strategically left out in plain sight. When it seemed the noise and furor had reached a peak, I burst into the room, drawing myself up to my full 4'-10" height, and said in my best Charlton Heston voice "you have sinned a great sin!" I threw the plaster-of-paris luchot habrit mock-up I was holding down, and it shattered. The ruckus stopped, and I quietly asked them to gather and sit. "Now," I said to them, "I was only gone for a few minutes. Moshe rabbeinu was gone for a lot longer than that. If you couldn't control yourself, even after the nice things I had just done for you, how could you expect the Israelites to control themselves? Not so easy, is it?"
Then, without giving them time to answer, I lined them up to send them off to their next class.
Later that day, when I saw this class again, we talked a little about their experience. Now they were a little more sympathetic to the Israelites. At least some of them. No one felt it was right for them to build an idol and worship it, but they could see how it might happen.
"It's hard to do the things we have to do for Gd sometimes, isn't it?" All agreed. "On the other hand, Moshe rabbeinu had spent all that time on the mountain. Gd have carved out the ten commandments on the luchot. Pretty important stuff. Was it right for Moshe to destroy them like that?," I asked.
Now, let's talk about what Gd was saying to Moshe rabbeinu while the Israelites were out building that golden calf. I started slowly and quietly singing a familiar setting of the words. "V'shamru v'nei Yisrael et haShabbat, la'asot et haShabbat l'dorotam b'rit olam. Ki sheishet yamim asa Adnai et hashamayim v'et ha'aretz, u'vayom hash'vi'i shavat vayinafash." I told them to keep singing, and while they did, I loudly whispered the English translation. We did this a few times. Then I said "imagine yourself as Moshe rabbeinu. You hear these words. Then Gd gives you the tablets with the ten commandments emblazoned through them. Then you go down the mountain and see the people partying and worship an idol. Bet you'd get pretty mad and throw down those tablets, right?"
So the people of Israel got impatient and sinned. Moshe rabbeinu got angry and destroyed something made by Gd! Who's the only one in this story that didn't mess up. "Hashem!" piped up one students, the others nodding agreement.
"Oh, really?" I said. The Torah says that Gd got really mad! Gd was ready to kill. He told Moshe rabbeinu to leave him alone so that he could get really worked up and mad and destroy the wicked people among the Israelites, so that the others might become the great nation Gd had promised to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.
"Nope," I said. "This time, it was Moshe who saved the day. He convinced Gd with a clever argument. If you destroy these people, Moshe said to Gd, then others will say you are an evil Gd, bringing the people out of slavery in Egypt just so you could torture and kill them in the wilderness. Well, it was a pretty convincing argument, and Gd decided to not destroy the people."
"But," interrupted one student, "Gd opened up the ground and swallowed up all the bad people." "Don't always believe what you see in the movies," I replied. "That happens much later, when some people, led by a man named Korach, rebel against Moshe rabbeinu. When they made the movie 'The Ten Commandments' they probably figured it looked better to have the ground open up. Probably better than what really happened." "What really happened?" asked the student. "It's not pleasant," I said. "Tell us, tell us!" "Well, if you must know, Moshe told all the Levites to go out and kill all those who helped commit this great sin. So they did, killing three thousand people!" I let them think about that for a while. Then I told them it was almost time to go, so let's go line up. As we walked, one student said to me "They didn't kill Aharon, did they?" "That," I said, "is a story for another time."
Then I woke up. "Wow, I said to myself. Have I got a lesson plan to try out. I can't wait to try it tomorrow."
Tomorrow won't come soon enough.
© 2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
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