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Waiting Jews


Rabbi Denise L. Eger

This week we celebrate the amazing festival of Passover!  The special Torah reading for this week’s Shabbat is Ex 33:12-34:26.   Each day of the festival there are special readings from Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers that focus on Passover, the paschal offering and the observance of Passover in the Bible and the journey of the children ofIsrael.

So often throughout history the Children of Israel’s journey to freedom has been called “wandering in the desert”.  This however doesn’t really describe at all what happened.  When I hear that phrase I imagine that the Israelites didn’t really know where they were going. I imagine moving aimlessly from place to place without purpose. But nothing could be farther from the truth of our sojourn in the desert.  We were headed to the Promised Land, the land God gave to our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. On the journey we did lose our way.  But that was not a geographical phenomenon.  It was a spiritual crisis.  After receiving the Ten Commandments directly from God atMt.Sinai, the Israelites built the Golden Calf and let their fears rather than their faith guide them.  This was their crisis.  This was the moment of their wandering: wandering away from the covenant they had made with God.

The journey to the Promised Land took a long time -40 years not because the Israelites were wandering aimlessly but because God made us wait. The generation that lost its faith so easily had to pass and a new generation that didn’t know the slavery of Egypt had to be born and come into its own in order to cross into the Promised Land.  Thus we are not the wandering Jews-but the waiting Jews!

And yes we are still waiting in many ways.  We are waiting for the Messianic time. We are waiting for peace forIsrael and her neighbors. But that doesn’t mean we ought to simply wait twiddling our thumbs. Our covenant empowers us to action.  Our covenant with God, our partnership in perfecting the world is achieved through the ethical precepts of our tradition that God.    The reading for Shabbat of Passover is the reminder of God’s great compassion and capacity to forgive and the renewing of that covenant!

Moses is atopMt.Sinaiagain after the people worshipped at the Golden Calf and Moses smashed the first set of tablets.  On the Shabbat of Passover we read that God tells Moses to carve a second set of tablets that he will bring into the midst of the people ofIsraelagain.  And Moses is given an amazing privilege-God passes before him as Moses’ hides in the cleft of a rock.  God’s compassionate, glory and powerful radiance passes by Moses enveloping him. Moses asks forgiveness on behalf of the people and God grants it and make the covenant anew through Moses to the People!

These words of compassion and forgiveness are part of the Yom Kippur liturgy. So like the renewal and atonement and forgiveness we find on Yom Kippur, six months later on Passover we read the same passages in our Torah reading reminding us that this gift of forgiveness and renewal is still ours.

Pesach is a season of liberation and renewal and the Shabbat Torah reading for Passover echoes that idea because we read about the covenant being renewed even though we wandered away for a moment. But Passover also helps us keep our eyes on the prize-that we can journey from the narrowness of slavery to a broad plain of freedom and there find the Promised Land.  Patience matters.  Faith matters.  Covenant matters. These are the gifts of Passover.  Chag Sameach.