Shalom Orzach

Out of Time

We have been marking time for some time now. Our “sefira,” our counting, tragically did not begin with the Omer, rather 203 days ago. Our celebration of freedom also appears awkwardly timed. This feeling of not quite knowing where we are is staggeringly portrayed in the reading for Shabbat Chol Hamoed, and  for this bewildering moment in time, the timing seems flawless! We read what must be among the most esoteric passages in the Torah. Following the sin of the golden calf, Moses appears to reinitiate the negotiations around his contract, reminiscent of those held at the Burning Bush. We open with Shemot 33: 13;

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶל־יְהֹוָ֗ה רְ֠אֵ֠ה אַתָּ֞ה אֹמֵ֤ר אֵלַי֙ הַ֚עַל אֶת־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה וְאַתָּה֙ לֹ֣א הֽוֹדַעְתַּ֔נִי אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־תִּשְׁלַ֖ח עִמִּ֑י וְאַתָּ֤ה אָמַ֙רְתָּ֙ יְדַעְתִּ֣יךָֽ בְשֵׁ֔ם וְגַם־מָצָ֥אתָ חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינָֽי׃

Moses said to God, “See, You say to me, ‘Lead this people forward,’ but You have not made known to me whom You will send with me. Further, You have said, ‘I have singled you out by name, and you have, indeed, gained My favor.’ 

Moshe is in a quandary, the people have sinned on his watch, perhaps he wants to take responsibility, he questions his ability and prerogative to lead, and in a sense begs to reconsider the terms if not his role. Note this exemplar, its lessons and timing are resounding. He beseeches God to make known the plan and God’s as opposed to Moses’s role in it. He seeks to understand God’s very essence through the iconic and profound  request, 33:18  

וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַרְאֵ֥נִי נָ֖א אֶת־כְּבֹדֶֽךָ׃

He said, “Oh, let me behold Your Presence!”

What is the purpose of this journey, and more importantly what will be the nature of Your relationship with us, and ours with You? This theme is romantically and captivatingly played out in the additional reading we have for Shabbat Chol Hamoed, Shir Hashirim, a timeless allegory of the relationship between God and the People of Israel. You will excuse the analogy, but in the ensuing verses, God plays hard to get. God does not consent, and ultimately almost teasingly concurs to ‘reveal’ in an astonishing manner, 33:23:

וַהֲסִרֹתִי֙ אֶת־כַּפִּ֔י וְרָאִ֖יתָ אֶת־אֲחֹרָ֑י וּפָנַ֖י לֹ֥א יֵרָאֽוּ׃ {פ}

Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”

You may with time see Achora, back, what has occurred, with hindsight gain insight, but, the face of the future, the ability to see (Lefanot- to turn) and understand  what will be, will not be within reach.

These profound questions are appropriate for Moshe and for us too as poised on the cusp of freedom, we  wish to review the terms and conditions, the very nature of our purpose and service. Yet we are out of time, that is to say, the events of the golden calf occurred only after we dramatically crossed the Red Sea. We are not there yet! We will “return” to the sequence of events on the seventh day of Pesach where we will mark and sing the illustrious ‘Az Yashir’.

Time is not linear, and ironically we are getting a glimpse of the future, where God is facing. Perhaps in choosing this perplexing reading we are marking the “in between,” — Chol Hamoed – the mundane, intermediate days of the Festival, the days that are neither regular days, nor festival. It captures where we are now, an agonizingly protracted period of in effect, not knowing where we are. We are out of time in oh so many ways.

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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