These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] Ascent After Exodus

Posted on April 23, 2011 by Tamara Frankel

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Dear Friends,

Moadim l’simcha! (This is a special greeting for the interim days-chol hamoed-between the Yom Tov at the beginning and end of Pesach, or Sukkot.) I hope you are all doing well and enjoying the crunchy taste of matzah this Passover. I was fortunate to spend the Seder with my friends and my sister in Jerusalem this year, which was truly an amazing experience. I’ve never spent Seder with guests who weren’t my relatives, let alone who came with diverse exposure to and experiences of the Seder night. I learned a tremendous amount not only from those around the table, but became increasingly aware and grateful of the Jewish education and love of my parents, and my extended family as well. They have truly enabled and empowered me to be literate and engaged in Jewish learning, especially at the Seder table!

Reading through the Torah reading for this Shabbat, I am puzzled. This Shabbat we read from Exodus 33:12-34:26 and Numbers 28:19-25. The first section from Exodus makes indirect reference to the sin of the Golden Calf. The second section refers to the seasonal offerings which were once brought to the Temple.

It seems reasonable to read about the seasonal offerings this Shabbat. But, why do we disrupt the regular weekly Torah portions and read a section about the aftermath of the sin of the Golden Calf?

On the outset, it seems like the Torah starts to read with an indirect reference to sin of Golden Calf, so as not to be “Debbie Downer” after the miraculous Exodus from event and formation of Jewish People as a nation with common purpose. Nevertheless, the Torah does describe Moses’ plea to spare the nation and maintain the covenant between God and the People.

But more than that, I think that we read this section after the beginning of Pesach because the Torah wants us to remember that there is certainly a good chance, maybe even a likelihood, that we will slip and fall on our journey as a nation. We will stray from divine command and act immorally despite our revelatory experiences of liberation from the largest superpower in the world or the supernatural splitting of the Sea of Reeds. And yet, somehow, while knowing that the Jewish People will err, this week’s Torah reading gives us hope.

It reminds us that even after one, if not the, most catastrophic blunder of the Jewish People, (the sin of the Golden Calf), God and Moses were able to negotiate a manageable ‘rules of engagement’ (known as the 13 Attributes of Mercy, see Exodus 34:4-7) to maintain and strengthen the covenantal relationship between God and the nation. I think this is very reminiscent of the Counting of the Omer which begins on the second night of Passover.

There are many reasons to explain the significance of the Counting of the Omer, but one of them describes this enumeration of days between Pesach and Shavuot as a spiritual “count up”. Right away, we are challenged to take on a new seasonal commandment to count 50 days until the anniversary of receiving the Torah at Sinai. In this process, we are asked to evaluate our spiritual wellness and ensure that we are prepared to actualize and embody the ethical charges to be given at Mount Sinai.

An analogy (which I can relate to after my recent travels around the globe!): in order for a plane to travel from one destination to another, two things must happen. The plane must leave the gate of departure and secure a significant runway to rev up its engines and take off. If the runway is not long enough, the plane will never gain enough momentum to take flight. This is what is referred to as “thrust” in aerodynamics. But an extensive runway alone is not sufficient for the plane to become airborne. Once the plane reaches the end of the runway, it must combine the appropriate “thrust” with the weight of the aircraft in order to ascend above ground. This is called “lift”.


So too, during this interim time between the pivotal events of the Exodus on Pesach and the commemoration of Revelation at Sinai on Shavuot, we must emphasize the power of the “thrust” of the Exodus and combine it with the “lift” of the Counting of the Omer in order to attain spiritual heights.

As such, I encourage all of us to use the Counting of the Omer has an incredible opportunity to reflect and refurbish our spiritual (and physical) health.

Shabbat Shalom,