Don’t Get Distracted

Friday, 2 February, 2024 - 1:30 pm

“Why doesn’t G-d speak to us nowadays?” I’m asked from time to time. Wouldn’t Torah learning and Mitzvah observance be much easier if we had direct divine communication? While I appreciate the sentiment of the question, the fact is G-d once spoke to us directly and we promptly demanded it never happen again. In this week’s Torah portion, we learn how this specific drama went down.

When the Israelites reached Mount Sinai after the miraculous exodus from Egyptian slavery 3336 years ago, Moshe prepared them for an important known as “Matan Torah - the Gifting of the Torah.” One of the main reasons for this event was to consolidate Moshe’s legitimacy in our eyes as G-d’s prophet. Approximately a year earlier, Moshe had his first divine communication at the burning bush. G-d instructed him to lead the Jews out of Egypt and serve as the conduit for the communication of the Torah and all the Mitzvot. He would perform many miracles to prove he was a real prophet and not a charlatan, but Moshe hesitated.

As Maimonides explains: Moshe, our teacher, knew that one who believes [in another person] because of signs has apprehension in his heart; he has doubts and suspicions. Therefore, he sought to be released from the mission, saying: "They will not believe me" [Exodus 4:1], until the Holy One, blessed be He, informed him that these wonders [were intended only as a temporary measure,] until they left Egypt. After they would leave, they would stand on this mountain (Sinai) and all doubts which they had about him would be removed. 

Realizing they would hear G-d speak to Moshe, the Jews requested G-d speak directly to them and that is what happened. At the appointed time, the Jews gathered around the mountain, and in a dazzling display of thunder, lightning, fire, and smoke G-d’s thundering voice was heard by the masses communicating the Ten Commandments. This is what happened next.

(Exodus 20:15-16) And all the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled; so they stood from afar. They said to Moshe, "You speak with us, and we will hear, but let God not speak with us lest we die."

Hearing G-d directly might sound exciting and exotic but it’s an experience that robs one of any relationship with the material and physical world, a relationship crucial to accomplishing the purpose of creation in the first place. G-d wants humans of flesh and blood, anchored by the inadequacies and deficiencies of materialism forever challenged with moral dilemmas to be the agents to refine and uplift this world. So our lack of direct divine communication is not a bug in the system, it is a major feature of the system. Seeking exotic and otherworldly experiences is a distraction.

Once we’ve confirmed our prophets deliver real divine messages we can continue living in this mundane and lowly world and confidently go about the tremendous task of making it a better place in accordance with Torah's specific and detailed instructions. This is the true gift of the Torah.



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