Dear director – what’s my motivation?
Parashat Ki Tissa
“Whoever sought God would go out to the Tent of Meeting.” (Exodus 33:7)
“God would speak to Moses face to face, as one person speaks to another.” (Exodus 33:11)
At the foot of Mount Sinai, things aren’t going particularly well for Moses and the Israelites, as the incident of the golden calf clearly illustrates. Moses has convinced God to stick with the Israelites despite their grave shortcomings, but Moses could really use some additional support from his senior partner God. Time to “take a meeting,” and what better place than in the “Tent of Meeting?”
Hitherto unmentioned in the Torah, Moses would take “the Tent” outside the Israelite camp and, anyone who wanted to ask something of God, went there – Moses included.
Torah doesn’t recount how others’ visits transpired, but Moses’ visits to this Tent of Meeting were fully evident to the people: “all the community would rise and stand, at the entrance of each tent, and gaze after Moses until he had entered the Tent.” (Exodus 33:10). The pillar of cloud then descended and all became aware that Moses and God were conversing.
Let’s observe the “players” in this Torah episode to see what’s happening and who’s involved? We see that there are “parts” for God, for Moses, for Joshua and for the people.
Focusing on Exodus 33:7-15, pick a part, find some friends, and . . . discuss amongst yourselves! Read through these nine verses. Then, when you think you have a sense for how the “story flows,” pick one sphere of your life – your immediate family, your work situation, your volunteer/community situation, or a public position, and then continue with your part (God, Moses, Joshua, or the people) and let the following deepen your study.
You have the part of God. What is it like having to be “on the ready?” Remember, “everyone who sought the Lord went out to the Tent of Meeting.” People were coming to m’vakeish – to ask, to seek, to inquire. Wow!! 24/7 customer service. And, then, there’s your “main man” Moses and his demands. Whew! This is a big job!! How is this happening to you?
Or, you have the part of Moses and are “living in the breech.” You’re a junior partner to God but a senior partner to the people. Oy! This might be the toughest spot of all. Where is this happening for you? Where is everyone watching what you do, looking up to you, and where is someone “above” you asking you to take the lead while you’re uncertain that they’re going to stick around to help?
Or, you have the part of Joshua. A small part, it looks like, so far. You’re the understudy. You hang out at the Tent, apparently around the clock. People, Moses, God – they all come and go. What do you know about “waiting in the wings?”
Finally, you have the part of the people. There are lots of you. Some are ready to seek God and go out to the Tent of Meeting. All rise and stand at their own tent doors whenever Moses enters the Tent and then bow in worshipful awe as the pillar of cloud representing God’s presence descends.
What do you know about being on the outside when “big things” are going on about which you’re not privy? You know they’re important. You’re . . . well, what are you? Hopeful? Scared? Bored? Tired? Interested? Envious? Just what’s going on?
Most likely you’ve learned somewhere that “there are seventy faces to the Torah: turn it around and around, for everything is in it.” (Bemidbar Rabba 13:15). Now that you’ve explored several faces of one small set of Torah verses, what difference will it make in your life?
Sticking with the “part” you played in this Torah study for one sphere of your life and considering what you learned about yourself from your study and discussion, how might this Torah episode offer you answers to a situation that might be occurring in this sphere of your life?
Will Torah be your motivation? I hope so. Each week we bring ourselves to Torah and pray for the discernment to have our lives shaped by the truths Torah teaches. Let this week be among them. Kein yehi ratzon – thus may it be so. Shalom.
RABBI CANTOR ANNE HEATH (email@example.com), spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Achim and the Jewish Community House, a 100-year old progressive, independent congregation in Taun-ton, Mass., is a member of the Greater Rhode Island and the Massachusetts Boards of Rabbis.