The Shabbat for Sukkot presents us with an interesting challenge. The assigned Torah comes from Exodus 33: 12ff (Ki Tissah) and it is a section of the portion that follows the Golden Calf. Moses is frustrated with this “stiff necked people”. Even his brother, for many reasons, allowed for the building of the idol. Now Moses confronts God and asks for God’s support” “Now if I have truly gained Your favor, let me know Your ways, that I may know you and continue in Your favor”. (33:13) Moses then reminds God that these Israelites are Your people! God then instructs Moses to go a place, the rock (again that symbol for God as in last week’s Torah) where God passes before Moses but only allowing him to see what was (His back). (33:17-23) As a result, Moses is instructed to create the two new set of tablets.
Now, this portion comes on the Shabbat of Sukkot. We dwell in these fragile entities, symbolic of life’s fragility. Confronted by the realities of life, we all too often ask, as did Moses, where is God? Again, like the Prophet’s “still small voice”, we are shown that the sacred is often found in the quiet moments of life. And, as Moses in this portion, we can deduce meaning by see from where we have come. This is especially relevant for us as we age. As the Holiday liturgy reminded us, we cannot see what is ahead nor can we control it. We can see what was and learn from it. We can “see” God’s back in the sense that we can “see” what we have lived and create meaning and understanding from that.
Note that Moses, once he grasps this, writes a new set of laws. So too with us. How many of our generation, at this stage of life, seek a new sense of meaning considering the realities of time. We can remain as we are or choose to create a new focus of life. What this passage can teach us is that we are captives of our own life experience and that at every moment, we can re-create ourselves…if we so choose. This, I suggest, reinforces the belief that Judaism presents each of us with an eternal invitation to grow and create. Each new year, each new month (Rosh Chodesh), each new week and each new day can be seen as a symbolic invitation to celebrate life.
Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.