Former Shaliach in Washington
Currently Cadet at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Being Close to G-d
The Book of Shemot ends with what seems to be the epitome of closeness between G-d and mankind. Moshe descends from Mont Sinai, his face radiant and The Cloud of Glory surrounds the Tabernacle when G-d presence dwells there. It seems an ideal description of a nation who's G-d dwells among them.
But this description should not be taken for granted, nor was intended to be that way. Shortly before this picture perfect description we encountered one of our lowest points; The Sin of the Golden Calf, the shattering of the Tablets and the death of 3000 men. It would be interesting to discover what the result of that sin was. Or in other words, what were the results of the inevitable congressional inquiry? What did the critics say? How did we manage to fall from such a uniquely high level to such blatant idolatry??
Surely enough, when Moshe is discussing the issue with Hashem he is told: "Go, descend, for your people that you have brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly". They are no longer Hashem's people, but rather Moshe's. Moshe retorts back – "Why, O Lord, should Your anger be kindled against Your people whom You have brought up from the land of Egypt with great power and with a strong hand?" He returns the responsibility to Hashem, calling Am Yisrael his nation. It seems that Moshe and Hashem are 'arguing' as to who is responsible for the nation's actions.
In fact, this discussion began even earlier than that; the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat tells that when Hashem wanted to give the Torah to Am Yisrael, he first 'consulted' the angels:
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Lavi said: When Moshe rose to the heaven the angels said before HaKadosh Baruch Hu 'Lord of the earth, what is the son of a woman doing amongst us?'
He said to them: 'To receive the Torah'.
They said to Him: 'A treasure that has been kept with you for nine hundred and seventy four generations prior to the creation of the world, you would give to a man of flesh and blood?'…
HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Moshe: 'Give them an answer!'
…What does it say in the Torah? Do not kill, do not be an adulterer, do not steal. Is there jealousy between you? Do you have an evil inclination?
Immediately they agreed with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
Moshe's answer teaches us much of the complexity of being close to Hashem in our materialistic world. It seems, according to some commentaries, that Hashem expected the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai to completely alter history, be engraving the words of the Torah on the hearts of each and every Jew. But the people could not handle such a direct encounter, and begged Moshe to be an intermediary between them and Hashem. Thus a fundamental change occurred, and Am Yisrael would receive the Torah passively, through Moshe, Hashem's loyal servant.
But then another mistake was made; the nation no longer wanted to be passive. They felt the need to actively worship their G-d, a need that led to the crafting of The Golden Calf. Even after Moshe begged for and received Hashem's forgiveness, the relationship between Him and Am Yisrael was altered. The direct divine presence in the camp is simply too dangerous. From that point onward, our connection with Hashem is more distant. We no longer will feel his divine presence so strongly.
But shortly after, we are taught how we can, despite the distance, bring down the divine presence – by building the Tabernacle. In this reading the Tabernacle is a 'plan B', necessary only due to our failure to withstand the awesomeness of G-d's presence, but it still allows us to 'feel' G-d in our day-to-day lives.
Our Parsha begins with the verse "אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה'". – When a man from [among] you brings a sacrifice to the Lord". The Midrash asks why the Torah uses the word מכם, and learns from there that whoever says 100 Berachot a day (the numerical value of the word מכם is 100), it is as if he brought a sacrifice.
What is the connection between saying berachot and bringing a sacrifice?
The word קרבן, sacrifice, come from the same root as קרבה, closeness. A sacrifice brings us closer to Hashem, but it is limited to a specific place – the Tabernacle, and later the Temple in Jerusalem. But there is a second step, in which we learn to find the divine presence everywhere. By saying berachot we are fulfilling the same function as bringing an animal sacrifice – we can turn every mundane action into a sacrifice, we can find The Creator within this material world and come closer to him.
May we all enjoy, in this month of redemption, to eat from the real Korban Pesach, and to feel the divine presence among us.