Tonight, on Chol HaMoed Pesach*, we read a special Torah portion, a re-read of Exodus 33-34 that recounts Moses’ debate with God in the aftermath of the Golden Calf.
Moses wants to truly know his leader, guide, and mentor whom he has followed through many trials, and God complies…partially. God says: “I shall have all my good pass in front of you, and I shall invoke the name YHWH** in front of you, but I will hold my hand over you as I pass by and all that you see will be my back.” (Exodus 33:19 & 33:23 – trans. R.E. Friedman)
While the text goes on to recount the commandment to observe Passover, it is worth exploring this sensitive encounter between God and Moses. Their dialogue models for us a relationship based on mutual trust, protection, and the promise of freedom.
Safety, freedom, and mutual responsibility ring out in our Passover story. We recall the exodus while taking on the tasks of feeding the hungry and welcoming guests.
Safety, freedom and mutual responsibility are themes that Israel too has lived by and struggled with throughout its history. Our modern state of Israel has placed the safety and freedom of Jews as a top priority since its inception.
In the summer of 1974, 100 Israeli soldiers led by the late Yoni Netanyahu raided a hijacked plane in Entebbe, Uganda that was carrying 248 passengers from France – 100 of them Jewish. In the 1980s and 1990s Israel led Operations Moses and Solomon where thousands of Ethopian Jews plagued by famine and later by persecution were transported to Israel by the Israeli government. There are many other stories as well involving Jews from Soviet Russia and Middle Eastern Countries.
Safety, freedom, and mutual responsibility – in the Talmud we read “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh.” (Shevuot 39a) all Israel is responsible for one another. Israel has lived these words. In small ways I believe this philosophy lies in the consciousness of all of us as members of am yisrael.
At the end of the seder we read “l’shana haba’ah bi’rushalim,” next year in Jerusalem. While we will not all be in the physical city of Jerusalem next year, we can read this phrase as a call for us to rebuild our relationships with Jews in our own community and worldwide, in safety and in freedom.
Dan Utley is a 4th year rabbinic and education student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, CA. Serving as an iCenter fellow, Dan enjoys studying about and engaging in Israel and experiential education. Currently Dan is a family educator at Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine, CA and summer assistant director at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA.
This post was taken from a longer d’var torah written and delivered by Dan on 4/18/2014 in Banning, California
*Chol HaMoed Pesach: literally meaning, “the secular part of the occasion.”
**YHWH: The English representation of the Hebrew letters yud-hey-vav-hey that come together to pronounce God’s unpronounceable name.