Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat - Va'era 5761

Just Not Getting It

Sometimes, there are things that are beyond a persons comprehension. Sometimes, we humans can't see outside our paradigms. Therefore, interacting with people often requires us to work within a framework that others can understand. If this is true for one human to another, how much more so it must be true for an incomprehensible deity.

Sometimes, the deity needs to maintain the mystery. "Eh'yeh asher eh'yeh," the deity answers to Moshe's question "who shall I tell them has sent me?" At others times, it's in the best interests of the deity to be more direct. "I am the Lrd. I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as Kel Shaddai, but I did not make myself known to them by my name, [the tetragrammaton]." But for you, dear Moshe, I have revealed my true name (at least as much as I wanted you to know.) At this time, it was important for Moshe to comprehend the deity, at least as much as was humanly possible. So Gd personalized things a bit.

The question is always asked-why did Gd put the Egyptians and the Israelites through this whole plague thing when, as an all-powerful deity, Gd could have just freed the Israelite people without a hitch or hassle. We all know some of the well-worn answers to this-some attested to in the Torah itself-that Gd wanted to demonstrate absolute sovereignty over all, and so needed some effective demonstrations. Or that nothing worth having should be easy to get. Or that Gd really needed to hear the Israelites cry out in their despair-a despair so deep they could not hold back any longer, could not be complacent or silent.

Whichever of these reasons you choose, the simple fact is that Gd was choosing to operate in a manner which could be understood by all the parties involved. Oh, the truly wise might have seen how great Gd was from a simple one-step act of freeing the Israelites from slavery, but the average Israelite & Egyptian needed something less abstract.

So Gd gives us Moshe, a human being, to carry out Gd's plans-putting a human face on it all. No big mysterious deity, but a real flesh and blood person through who Gd could demonstrate power.

Gd also understood something about Pharaoh. Pharaoh thought he himself was a deity. And to Pharaoh, his courtiers and the Egyptians, the idea of some unseen, non-physical deity was simply too bizarre. So Gd appointed Moshe to the role of "gd to Pharaoh." Moshe (and Aharon) put a face, something tangible, to represent Gd so that Pharaoh could interact and play out Gd's little charade.

This helps me understand something that has always puzzled me. Why was it necessary for Moshe to plead with Gd to stop several of the plagues once Pharaoh appeared to have agreed to let the Israelites go worship their Gd?

Pharaoh was, as they say, just not getting it. Pharaoh continued to see Gd as just another rival, a potentially more powerful deity than he was. But this Pharaoh did not have the foresight or open-mindedness of an Amenhotep IV or an Avraham, and comprehend the idea that there was only one all powerful deity. To compensate for this, Gd even went so far to accommodate the Egyptian ( and to some extent Israelite) world views, that, even though Gd was perfectly well aware of when Pharaoh had acceded to Moshe's demands after several of the plagues, Moshe had to go plead with Hashem to stop them. Pharaoh could not comprehend otherwise. And I'm not sure that Pharaoh ever really "got it." I'm not even sure we Jews have ever completely "gotten it." But we try.

Gd is exceedingly wise. Gd's understanding that sometimes we humans "just aren't getting it" has enabled Gd to do some things necessary for us to be able to comprehend, in some form, Gd. It's why we are not just a people with a covenant in thought and memory. We have a document-a physical something which Gd gave us so that we could have a form in which to understand and appreciate Gd, in the limited ways possible to us.

And we have Shabbat. A reminder, once every seven days, of the Gd who created us, who commands us, and watches over us. Shabbat is the perfect time for us when we are "just not getting it." The workaday world, with all its trials, tribulations, disappointments, problems, bad things happening to good people, etc. With all that going on, it's no wonder we sometimes can't comprehend or understand Gd, the One who set it all into motion and keeps it going. No wonder we are "just not getting it."

Using this gift of playing to the paradigm enabled Moshe to be Gd's agent in freeing the Israelites from Egypt. We, too, can benefit from these gifts from Gd in forms we can comprehend. Torah. Mitzvot. Shabbat. Paths to "getting it." Use them wisely, use them often, use them lovingly. And remember to offer thanks to the One wise enough to male them available to us.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester

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