18 October 2015

"Is Hashem Among Us Or Not?"

6 Marcheshvan 5776

There is no denying that when we stood on the shore of Yam Suf, we were utterly and absolutely dependent on Hashem alone and there was nothing realistically that we could do to help ourselves. We were completely at Hashem's mercy and seemingly that of our worst enemies as well. But, Hashem came through for us. He split the waters of the sea and we walked across on dry land. Then, when our enemies pursued us even into the sea bed, the waters rushed back and covered them until they drowned.

We rejoiced at our miraculous salvation and praised Hashem for His goodness and mercy and for our deliverance, but it didn't take long before the internal enemies pounced - doubt, fear and lack of faith.

1) Doubt

"He called the place Massah U'Meribah, because of the contention of the Children of Israel and because of their test of Hashem, saying, 'Is Hashem among us or not?' Amalek came...." (Shemot 17.7-8)

Commentary: "Massah U'Meribah, literally Test and Contention. The people tested God, as the verse goes on to say, to see if He was truly among them. They contended with Him by putting their complaint in the form of a challenge.... By naming the place for their behavior, Moses reminded the people for all time that God was indeed among them and that the way to express their needs is through prayer, not insolent challenges."

Amalek is the same gematria is safek, doubt. The people doubted whether God was among them. That doubt opened the door to Amalek's attack.

2) Fear

Then, from the depths of human degradation and slavery, we reached the summit of human existence when at Mount Sinai, the Creator and Master of the Universe came down to us to draw us as close to Himself as a human being can get in this world.

"They said to Moses, 'You speak to us and we shall hear; let God not speak to us lest we die.' Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear, for in order to elevate you has God come; so that awe of Him shall be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin. The people stood from afar and Moses approached the thick cloud where God was." (Shemot 20.16-18)

Commentary: The nation's fear and Moses' reassurance. After the people achieved the level of prophecy and heard the awesome voice of God, they recoiled in fear, lest they die because they were unworthy of such an experience. Moses reassured them and told them that the experience had elevated them and would cause them no ill effects. 

Lest we die. Just as human eyes are blinded when they stare at the sun, the people felt themselves incapable of remaining alive if they were to hear the voice of God. The people's fear was quite rational, for prophecy is not the natural human condition. With the exception of Moses, all prophets had severe limitations on their ability to function in a normal manner while they were experiencing their prophecies. Some fell into a trance at the time of their visions and others could see prophecy only in the form of dreams.

Do not fear. Moses reassured them, saying that God did not wish to take their lives. Rather, He had made them participants in these monumental miracles in order to elevate them...and to show them first hand His awesomeness.

3) Lack of Faith

What shame! Our fear held us back from the very pinnacle of spiritual accomplishment. And it cost us. It cost us dearly. We did not quite reach the level that would have enabled us to pass the test of the Golden Calf. First, the doubt and then the fear. Together they brought us to a lack of faith - in Hashem and in Moshe. We stopped believing that Moshe would return as promised and imagined ourselves to have been abandoned and hence vulnerable. We suddenly believed we had to save ourselves and we made a Golden Calf to lead us back to the 'safety' of Egypt - the known versus the unknown.

Hashem would not let us off so easily. Am Yisrael cannot escape her mission or her destiny. But, what could have been and should have been a fairly easy, quick and straightforward transition to Eretz Yisrael became instead a much longer and much harder and much less rewarding prospect than it could have been and should have been.

Behold! I send an angel before you to protect you on the way, and to bring you to the place that I have made ready." (Shemot 23.20)

Commentary: The promise of swift passage to, and conquer of, the Land. God promises Moses that the Jews will be led into Eretz Yisrael, and that He would assist them in their conquest of the Canaanite nations....

I send an angel. God alluded to the future sin of Israel in building the Golden Calf, as a result of which the people forfeited God's personal providential care. Even after they repented, God told Moses that he would withdraw His Presence from them and send an angel to lead them to the Land. There Moses protested the decree and begged that God Himself accompany the people and God relented. ...After Moses death, however, an angel appeared to Yehoshua and idenitfied himself as the head of Hashem's legion. That was the angel announced in this verse, who had been kept in abeyance during Moses' lifetime, but was dispatched to lead Israel after his death.

"Hashem spoke to Moses, '.... I shall send an angel ahead of you, and I shall drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perezzite, the Hivvite, and the Jebusite - to a land that flows with milk and honey, because I shall not ascend among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, lest I annihilate you on the way.'" (Shemot 33.1-3)

Commentary: Because I shall not ascend among you. Because you are a stiff-necked people and are therefore always in danger of sinning and incurring my wrath, I cannot remain in your midst. Therefore, I must send My angel with you. This declaration included two aspects of Divine displeasure: that God would not accompany them, and that aeven the angel would be with them only until they occupied the land; then he would leave them.

"Moses would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, far from the camp, and call it Tent of Meeting. So it was that whoever sought Hashem would go out to the Tent of Meeting, which was outside the camp." (Shemot 33.7)

Commentary: Moses' tent. Since the people had fallen from their lofty spiritual perch and God had announced that His Presence would not reside among them, Moses left the camp and set up his tent in isolation from the sinners.

"Hashem said to Moses, 'Carve for youself two stone Tablets like the first ones, and I shall inscribe on the Tablets the words that were on the first Tablets, which you shattered.'" (Shemot 34.1)

Commentary: The Second Tablets. On 29 Av, at the end of Moses' second forty-day period on Mount Sinai, God agreed to give a second set of Tablets to Israel. This time, however, the stone tablets themselves would not be the handiwork of God; instead, Moses was commanded to carve out the stone cubes and bring them to the mountain, whereupon God would inscirbe the commandments on them. This change was a reflection of the lowered status of the nation. The first time, they were completely amenable to God's will. They had said, "na'aseh v'nishmah, we will do and we will hear", meaning that they had transformed themselves into instruments of God's will. Because they had reached an exalted spiritual state in which their bodies, not only their souls, were suffused with Godliness, this was reflected in the physical Tablets, which were fashioned by the hand of God. Now, however, despite their repentance and Moses' successful prayers, they were no longer on that level. It would be for them to perfect themselves with constant effort to lift themselves back to where they had been - a task that will be completed when we merit the coming of Mashiach.

Through doubt, fear, and lack of faith the long downward slide began and continued, ending in exile and holocausts, God forbid! We, and the world with us are terribly distant from Hashem and His Holy Shechinah, but we are currrently engaged in a process of elevation and revelation which will eventually culminate in our ascent, once again, to the lofty state that we were destined for at Mount Sinai. 

I believe it is critical that we repair these three sins especially in preparation for this time period - doubt, fear, and lack of faith. Let's work very hard to strengthen ourselves and each other in these areas. Chazak v'amatz!