As stories about my mother z"l continue to pour in, I realize how much I didn't know about her
. I'm accustomed to not knowing. As a child, I was curious as I watched meetings of leading rabbis at which important decisions would be made. Women with many children in tow would suddenly appear in the house. I was told to not ask, and didn't know until sitting Shivah that my mother was protectively hiding them from abuse. My father zt"l had a drawer filled with jewelry collected for some unknown purpose, which, I recently learned, was for young married men who could not afford to buy anniversary gifts.
Those are relatively small matters. I often wonder how much the expert pundits really know about what's going on behind the scenes of a major political or foreign policy story. The recent Wikileaks scandal certainly revealed how much we didn't know about familiar stories. Presidential candidates who pledge change are unaware of the complexity of the issues that confront the Commander in Chief. It's frustrating to not know what lies behind the debate between Dagan and Netanyahu about Iran. I can accept the not knowing about insignificant issues, but I hate ignorantly standing on the sidelines while others make decisions that will affect the world.
I would have found it unbearable to remain at the foot of Sinai when Moses, Aaron, Nadav, Avihu and seventy sages ascended the mountain (Exodus 24:9). I can just imagine finding out that, "They saw the Lord of Israel, and under His feet was the likeness of sapphire brickwork, and it was like the essence of the heaven in purity (24:10)," and demanding a similar revelation. One minute we are all receiving direct Revelation only to be displaced the next minute and being told, "There are things you cannot see or know!" I would have already felt relegated to the ranks of lumpen when God said, "I send an angel before you to protect you on the way (23:20)." God demands that we be fully aware of Him and then erects barriers to that awareness! I want to climb Sinai with Moses! I want to see "the Lord of Israel!" I don't want an angel acting as an intermediary; I want access to God! Why are we bounced between knowing and not, between direct, fully aware contact and angels?
The final scene on Sinai, the one famous for, "We will do and we will listen," is less about law than about accepting what we cannot know. "To Moses He said, 'Go up to God, you, Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall prostrate yourselves from a distance
(24:1)." In other words; there will always be distance between the greatest leaders and God. When the people respond with, "We will do all that God has spoken (Verse 3)," they responded to the laws, not the distance, the things we cannot know. They missed the point.
Moses reads the Book of the Covenant to them, all the stories since Creation, so that they will understand that this is not about law, but a relationship, and relationships constantly evolve in a process of mutual discovery. There never is a point at which we know everything. A relationship with God, as a relationship with a human being, is one of constant learning about each other; listening, as in, "We will listen," and as in Shemah; "Hear O Israel," listen for more about Me.
It is only at this point that God can give the Two Tablets; absolute truth is dangerous in the hands of people who do not realize how much they do not know. Just as I cringe when someone declares that he knows the reason for the Holocaust, I shudder when people authoritatively declare people they don't know to be heretics and sinners.
There is much I don't know about issues large and small. What I don't know opens the door to listening and learning, an opportunity to discover more about God, people, and me.
I wish you a Shabbat of not knowing, a day of listening and learning.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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