This week's parsha
Standing at the burning bush, Moses balked. He had every right to.
His life had finally taken on some semblance of normalcy. He was no longer an Egyptian prince or a fugitive on the run. He was now the son-in-law of a respected theologian, having recently married the priest of Median's daughter, and he had a stable job.
Taking on this new mission would mean shaking up, if not endangering, his life. Why should he go to Egypt to rescue the Hebrews?
What got Moses on board were G‑d's words: "When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship G‑d on this mountain." On the very mountain where he first encountered G‑d, the Hebrews were destined to receive the Torah.
The Torah! G‑d's Wisdom! Finally, a thorough divine moral code!
Fed up with the corruption and immorality he had seen at Pharaoh's palace, even jeopardizing his life to protest those iniquities, Moses had all but given up on bettering the world.
After having been chased from Egypt, he had come to terms with living the life of a private citizen, and began to focus on making local, instead of global, differences.
But that was about to change.
G‑d was now offering Moses the chance to get involved again. He was being given the opportunity to lead and mold a people who would serve G‑d and the world. They would become responsible for providing moral light to the nations of the world. This mission wasn't just about rescuing a people from bondage; it was about redeeming the world.
It was an offer he couldn't resist. He capitulated.
As the biblical narrative recounts, it wasn't smooth sailing.
The Hebrews had become steeped in paganism and were far from being, or becoming, moralists.
Regarding character, discipline, and acceptance of authority, they were a real rebellious lot, and fought Moses each step of the way.
But that didn't stop Moses from nursing his dream of a historic divine revelation on a desert mountaintop, where his band of sinners would be transformed into saints. It was this dream that carried him through those difficult days.
A Shattered Dream
The day arrived. They arrived at the mountain.
"And G‑d called to him from the mountain saying: So shall you say to the sons of Israel, '… If you will hearken well to Me and you will keep My covenant, you will be a treasure to Me from among all the peoples. You will be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation.'"
Everything was falling into place.
And then, finally: "G‑d spoke all these words, to say: "I am G‑d your G‑d…You shall not make a graven image…Do not prostrate to them or worship them…Don't say G‑d name in vain…Remember the Sabbath…Honor your father and mother…Don't kill…or commit adultery…or steal…or bear false witness…or covet…"
Moses was on a high. And that high intensified through the following forty days and nights that Moses spent atop Mount Sinai, as G‑d filled him in on the details of His divine code. Everything was going according to plan.
Everything, that is, except the sinner-to-saint thing. For while Moses was busy exploring the heights of divinity, his people were busy descending to the depths of idol worship.
"Moses turned and descended from the mountain with the two Tablets of Testimony in his hands. It happened as he drew near the camp and he saw the calf and the dances that Moses' anger burned, he threw down the Tablets from his hands and shattered them…"
Alas, along with the Tablets, all of Moses' dreams were shattered.
What was Moses' response to the destruction of his life's aspirations? How did he react to his people's failure to live up to their potential?
Anyone else in his place would have become disillusioned and disheartened with the people entrusted to his care. Anyone else would have jumped at G‑d's offer: "Let my anger burn against them and I shall annihilate them, and I will make you into a great nation!"
What could be wrong with walking away from the people who walked away from you?
But not Moses.
Instead, he implored G‑d: "These people have sinned a great sin by making for themselves a god of gold. And now, if You would bear their sin. But if not -- erase me now from your book that You have written!"
The profundity of Moses' reaction lies in the fact that he didn't somehow find a redeeming factor in irredeemable sinners, but rather, it is that he did not look for one in the first place.
He clearly acknowledged their "great sin" -- and went no further. There is no "but" in his words, only an "and."
He offered no excuse for their wretched past, and no promise for a better future. Who these people came from, who they might become, and why they sinned was entirely irrelevant to the discussion.
"My attachment to this lot," Moses was essentially saying, "stems no longer, if ever it did, from the role they play in my dreams. I have come to love them unconditionally. Therefore, if You erase them, You erase me. We are undividable, interlocked forever."
And at that moment, Moses did indeed create a global change.
He taught that a person's value cannot be measured by his capabilities, achievements, contributions, or even personality and character.
A person's value cannot be measured at all.
What's in It for Me?
Two women who haven't seen each other in years run into each other on the street.
"How's your daughter," the first woman asks, "the one who married that surgeon?"
"They were divorced," the second woman answers.
"Oh, I'm so sorry."
"But she then got married to a lawyer."
"Mazal tov!" the friend exclaimed.
"They were also divorced... But now everything is alright, she's married to a very successful CPA."
The first woman shakes her head from side to side.
"Mmmm, so much nachas from one daughter..."
I have come to believe that one of the biggest crimes a parent can commit against their children is to give them the impression that their value is quantifiable or qualifiable. And that their love for their children is dependent on something other than their children's just being.
Doing so robs them of the most beautiful gift -- the ability to love others unconditionally. It also strips them of a most basic tool in life: the ability to love themselves unconditionally.
(A wise rabbi who had relocated to America from the shtetl took great issue with the American expression "How much is he worth?" In frustration, he would ask, "Is that how a person's worth is measured?")
Just after I got married, my wife shared one of her most cherished memories with me. Before putting her kids to sleep at night, my mother-in-law would tell each of her children, "I love you so much." After which they would ask, "How much?" Her response: "So much that you'd better believe it!"