Perfectionism is the mental ailment of overdoing it
This lecture I build the European way, not the American way. The American way is to say the most important things you want to say and then prove it. No surprises en route. The European way is to build your case, argument by argument, until you come to your conclusions, with surprises on the way.
First, I’m not someone who likes to point fingers at Moses or any other great Jewish leader of lesser stature than him (because they are all lesser).
Moses’ Great Sin
One of our stellar Commentators even declined to determine the one Sin Moses committed. ‘The Torah says clearly, he committed one sin, but if you add up all the explanations by the Commentators, you get to a dozen ones, and I don’t want to add to that.’
Importantly, Moses, different from the religious traditions about Jesus and Mohammed, did not die sinless. He was human. Yet, the Torah says of him, he was the only one G^d spoke with ‘mouth to mouth’ (Numbers 12:8). It doesn’t say mouth to ear. So, it must mean that whatever his mouth said were G^d’s Words, and all of His Words were his words.
I even think that Moses committed the greatest Sin while doing nothing wrong. Yes, there is no typo here. I will now explain. Bear with me.
In an unrelated subject, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said that being an Orthodox Jew is most dangerous. When we leave our house, and someone who sees us thinks we misbehave, we committed the worst Sin, disgracing G^d (Whose emissaries we Jews are). Even if we did nothing wrong!
Moses and Aharon produced water for the thirsty Jews after 40 years in the desert. ‘You rebels,’ Moses scolded them (Numbers 20:10).
Now, Moses cannot be suspected of repeating the Sin by Adam and Eve. Their Sin was, instead of admitting a mistake, designing blame on others. Adam blamed ‘the woman You gave me,’ and Eve the snake (Genesis 3:12-13). Rabbi Emanuel B. Quint told me: ‘We all may eat something not so proper. That was not the First Sin. The Primordial Sin was to deflect guilt.’
When Moses and Aharon stood there, the rebels must have said: Look at these two old men (almost 120 and 123 years old). They are going to lead us into battle? They can help us conquer the Promised Land? Pathetic!
‘You failed to hallow Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel,’ G^d says (Numbers 20:12), which is literally the Sin of Disgracing G^d’s Name. They did zero wrong! They just didn’t find favor in the eyes of the People. [And that way, we lost them. We only get great leaders if we deserve them.]
This is all literally written in the Torah. Our Holy Commentators must be talking about deeper things, but the plain text just says what I say here.
Moses’ Fine Mistake
Every Sin is a mistake. [Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach never talked of Sins. He’d call them mistakes.] But not every mistake is a sin. In fact, it says nowhere in the Torah or the larger Hebrew Bible that making mistakes is a sin.
First, we should ask how this makes sense. [Thank you, Rabbi Zev Leff, for most of the Q&As below.] Officer, I’m not ready to comply with the new law—can I be held culpable from tomorrow, please? Of course not!
We learn from our Primal Commentator Rashi on Genesis 1:31 that G^d said: ‘If the Jews reject the Torah on the 6th of Seewan, I’ll return the world to chaos and desolation’ (Genesis 1:2). To accept it that day is a big deal.
And we say in the Pentecost Prayers: This is the Day of the Presenting of the Torah. That seems a lie, then. That seems only correct on the Second Day of the Holiday outside of Israel. How can we pray with a lie?
The Rabbis also share that G^d went to all the Peoples in the world offering them the Torah. They all asked: What’s in it? He would quote the verse the hardest to them. And then walk away.
A People of thieves He would tell: Don’t steal. They would say: But we must. That’s our livelihood. G^d didn’t say: Don’t worry, when you follow my Torah, you will have a good livelihood. He just walked away.
A sex-craze People He would tell: Don’t commit incest. They would say: But we must. That’s how we procreate. G^d didn’t say: Don’t worry, when you follow my Torah, you will have good children. He just walked away.
A People of idol worshippers He would tell: Don’t have idols. They would say: But we must. That’s our religion. G^d didn’t say: Don’t worry, when you follow my Torah, you will have a good religion. He just walked away.
A People of murderers He would tell: Don’t murder. They would say: But we must. The Torah says our nature’s to live by the blade. (Genesis 27:40). G^d didn’t say: Don’t worry, surgeons’ or police’s blades can save lives. When you follow my Torah, you will have a good life. He just walked away.
He presented the Torah to the Jews last. He didn’t want to give it to us?
Let’s solve the puzzle. Bear with me.
When you receive a great gift, beautifully wrapped, do you first say: Thank you, or do you first find out what’s in it? First, you say: Thank you.
But when someone asks you: Please do me a favor, do you first say: Sure, or do you first ask: What is it?
When it’s an obligation, we first ask: What is it? But when it’s a present, we first say: Thank you.
The day before Pentecost, Moses asked for one more day to prepare, because he understood the Torah was a present. If it was an obligation, we had no right to ask for more time. The Day we celebrate is the Day we understood the Torah is a present. In Hebrew: The Day of the Gift [not: receiving] of the Torah. Not a word of untruth there.
The Nations of the world did not see the Torah as a present. They asked: What’s in it? For them, it could only be a liability. So, G^d shows them it’s not for them. It’s for the Jews who said: ‘[Thank you.] We will do and [then] we will understand’ (Exodus 24:7, compare Exodus 19:8, 24:3).
G^d also didn’t want to give the Torah to Nations at the time with such bad habits. It practically had our name on it already.
Yet, we learn (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:57) that the next day, we overslept. Moses had to wake us up at noon on that grand day. I have an idea why.
The Saintly Sages of the Talmud once threw the Evil Inclination into jail to make our lives easier and have less sin around. That turned out not so good when the first reports came in that chickens had stopped laying eggs.
The Evil Inclination is not just enticing us to do evil. It also enables all kinds of bodily functions and instincts. So, the Rabbis blinded the Evil Inclination and set it free. It’s now weaker than it was before but not absent.
Earlier, on our way from Egypt to Mount Sinai, we improved our moral standards to grow from slaves to independent, responsible people, for 49 days. There are 50 Gates of Purity, and we went very far to be ready.
Yet, I charge, that on the 50th day, we lost the last bit of Evil Inclination, including our ability to wake up like a rooster does, before the sun rises.
(We learn only Moses really lived on the 50th level of Purity. Remember, he had no relations with his wife anymore! That’s not for most people. After the giving of the Torah, G^d ordered Moses to send the men back to their tents, read: wives (Deuteronomy 5:27, Jewish numbering).)
So, in hindsight, it was a mistake to take another day.
So, we weren’t ready, we weren’t perfect. But that was OK.
Then, why did G^d grant Moses’ request if it was a bad idea? It even says in the Torah that we got the Torah on the 49th (Deuteronomy 16:9) and 50th (Leviticus 23:16) day. As with so many ‘contradictions’ in the Torah, there are often different Truths that each need representation.
Let me suggest you can’t give the Torah to people who don’t want it. We thought we were not ready. The Torah you don’t ram down someone’s throat. It needs to be accepted per Free Will. [Just as with sex. Forced sex is not sex but abuse.] Religious coercion is antithetical to Judaism, which is true also today. So, it was correct to give the Jews more time.
On the other hand, after the delay, the people would understand it was a mistake to ask for an extension. That’s better than G^d telling them.
It was a mistake but not a sin. We may learn from our mistakes. Especially harmless mistakes, which don’t hurt anyone or anything.
Another popular mistake of overdoing is around Faith. In my idea, we first need to do a reasonable amount of what makes sense. After that, we give it over to the One always watching. Jewish Trust includes the first part.
As with all Jewish special days, Pentecost too has two aspects, a timely and a commemorative one. Historically, on that day, we received the Basics of the Jewish Tradition and the rest also, in code. But, every day, for those who make an effort, our understanding grows of what G^d wants from us. The Torah mentions no set date for Pentecost. Jewish learning is of every day. But we specifically celebrate this Gift that keeps giving on Pentecost.
Happy Pentecost to all the Jews and all of Humanity.
Print this blog post and the one of yesterday before the great day so that you can read, learn, and teach them on the great Day.