William Hamilton

Being for a cause, or being in a cause

The Golden Calf had been made and worshiped at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  Yet by the end of its drama captured in this week’s portion of Torah we surprisingly draw nearer to God’s essence.  True, intense experiences can lead to deeper intimacy.   But it was hardly inevitable that such a second Sinai revelation of God’s essential attributes would be forthcoming.  How did Moses help to evoke it? 

The same way most deeply personal revelations come about – through deep dives into who we are at our core.  Moses’ confessional moment invites God’s.   Atop Sinai in the wake of grave idolatry, Moses makes two profound points to an enraged God who is ready to destroy the People.  First he implores God, “Remember your project.  Your plan was to become known, renowned through the Exodus for identifying with the powerless and inspiring hope.  What will be conveyed if you now destroy your covenanted People?”  Second, Moses reveals that this has become very personal for him.  “God, it will be good if you pardon their sin, but if not then erase me from Your written record” (Ex. 32:32).  Moses is all in.  One rabbinic source actually claims that he is superior to Abraham who stoped short at ten when he was arguing with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah.  Moses was putting his own life on the line.  In so doing, God responded in kind, revealing God’s essential attributes of forgiveness and kindly compassion (Ex. 34:6-7). 

Who are we at our core?  Today’s frenzy of debates over policies and priorities bring us to many different positions.  Superficial posturing and persuasion seem almost as common as are reading and resting.  But Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us “It is one thing to be for a cause and another thing to be in a cause.”  Beyond simply helping your neighbor, for example, God’s Torah instructs, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).

Which causes could we claim to truly be in?  Love and loyalty for Israel, our People’s nation-state on our ancestral homeland, feels worthy of such commitment.  It is more than a cause to be for.  It is a cause to be in wherever we may dwell. 

The bonds we feel for the causes we are in come with occasions for pride and occasions for pain.  We celebrate and appreciate whenever we can.  And we lovingly labor to repair and repent when required to do so. 

May Moses’ devotion to our People along along with God’s compassionate forgiveness help to warm the commitments we choose to embrace with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our beings.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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