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Forty Third Day of the Omer

The mountains get steeper as one gets older, I find. It is something to do with quantum relativity whereby distances expand and take longer to traverse as a quotient of time and effort expended. Just as the number '49' starts off seeming like ''not so very long really, it's only seven weeks after all'', and then it begins somehow to stretch further and further ahead of one whilst logic tells one the remaining period should be getting shorter.....

What must it have been like for Moses? OK, so he was fit and, as we learn, even forty years or so later his physical stamina and strength remains barely dimmed. God calls him to ascend yet another mountain at the end of his journey, to take his last look, forward and back - backwards on his career so far and all his experiences and achievements, and forwards to where he will NOT be going. No, another generation of leadership will now need to carry the burdens, face the risks, cope with the crises, will have to argue and plead and intrigue and bully in order to get things done. Will have to interpret God's commands to a stiff-necked and quarrelsome People.

One sometimes hears the Latin phrase "Vox Populi, Vox Dei", translated as 'The Voice of the People is the Voice of God'. Oh no it isn't! In fact the phrase can be traced to a letter written by the scholar Alcuin of York in 800 CE to the Emperor Charlemagne in which he says quite the opposite - ''Do NOT listen to those who tell you that the Voice of the People is the Voice of God!!'' Do those who misquote the phrase do so knowingly? We Jews know from the Torah that the voice of the People is usually a voice of rebellion or despondency and insubordination.

What did Moses expect when he followed the command in Exodus to ascend the mountain, having taken various preliminary precautions beforehand? Did he expect he would meet this God who had appeared to him without shape or name at a bush in the desert a little while earlier? Did he expect a Plan? Did he expect it would take so long and end up - for him - so unsatisfactorily, that after all those years of carrying the burden almost single-handed he was now to be taken off the board and replaced by another piece, almost as though it did not matter? What did the Revelation mean to him, personally? His face was beaming when he returned down the mountain slopes, but this reassured nobody.

Someone once told me that Moses was the most wicked person in the Bible, because he broke all ten commandments at the same time! It must have been a powerful rage, a surge of deep destructive anger, that led to that action - and the consequent need to climb all the way up once again. The Voice of the People had been heard singing before a Golden Calf. The Voice of God had to be raised substantially, to be heard over the noise of the People.

Which Voice will WE wish to hear, when Shavuot finally comes?

Rabbi Dr. Walter Rothschild. Berlin


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