Vaetchanan: God and Moses

Scene: a windswept mountaintop, named Pisgah. Tumbleweeds fly about in the strong wind; autumn is coming. A thin, tired-looking man with a long grey-white beard, our Moses, is struggling to attain the heights. He finally succeeds, panting; he takes a deep breath, sips from his leathern water-flask, and stands, waiting. And waiting.

Moses: Lord God? It is I, your humblest servant, Moses. Will it please You to speak to me.

The lightning cracks and the thunder rolls, but there is no answer.

Moses (sighs): Lord God, it is not like I don’t have things to do. I am the only one commanded to ascend and speak with You. I have no time; I must go down to judge the people’s litigations. They are stubborn and stiff-necked; I had thought that this Generation of the Wilderness would be more—pliable, but I was wrong. They are as sinful and full of pride as their departed ancestors, who perished at—at Baal Peor, or the Golden Calf, or Korach’s Rebellion—I would rather speak to you of their successes, but cannot recall any.

The Voice of God: I am here, Moses. Where are your judges of tens, judges of twenties, and so on? Did you not remind the Israelites of your appointing them, just a short time ago?

Moses: My judges—pah! A bunch of self-centered good-for-nothings—You killed them (as they rightly deserved) for taking part in the People’s various orgies. And only am I escaped to tell You, and afterwards judge the saving remnant of my people.

God: Shall I send lightning-bolts to fry these rebels, Moses? Let me prepare them—

Moses: No, Lord God, no. I can handle them, and Joshua, my successor, will be able to deal with them, too. I only beg You to deal with them in compassion. Yes, they have faults enough, but who else will be Your treasured nation, and the apple of Your eye, if not them? You chose them long ago; yes, when you ordered Abram and Sarai, “Get thee out of Haran, you and your household, and go to a land of which I will tell you.” That covenant must stand.

God: Thank you for reminding Me. I had not forgotten, but I have a great deal to remember, what with plagues in Egypt, volcanic eruptions in Santorini, and answering the prayers of the natives in North America….

Moses: Where is that?

God (hastily): Never mind. There. So. What is your next step?

Moses: I know, Dear Lord, that You have ordered me not to enter the Land; I will die on this side Jordan. I am reconciled, but it is hard, so hard, Lord….

God: Take heart, My Servant. I will let you down easy. Your passing will be like a hair removed from a cup of milk. But you have a great deal more to do, before you go to be with Me, forever.

Moses: And what is that?

God: Tell My people that the penalty for backsliding and idolatry will be exile. If they sin, I will scatter them among the nations. Tell them that, when they look into their hearts and examine their souls, they will know that I will not abandon them forever. It may be hard for mortals to comprehend, but I am compassionate at the core: I will not forsake them, but will be with them in the countries where they come. Tell them that, Rabbi Moses. Teach them…. Clouds settle over the mountaintop, obscuring Moses from view.

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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