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Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach, The Intermediate Shabbat of Passover (Exodus 33:12-34:26)

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing that you have asked; for you
have truly gained My favor and I have singled you out by name.’” (Exodus 33:17)

Because this Shabbat falls during Pesach, the normal cycle of weekly parashot (portions) is interrupted by a special Torah reading. In addition, we read Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs, just prior to the Torah service. The custom of reading Shir Hashirim on Pesach dates back to at least the 8th Century.

The Torah reading includes the aftermath of the episode of the Golden Calf: God’s instructions to Moses to carve two new tablets to replace the shattered ones (Ex. 34:1) and the revelation of God’s thirteen attributes (Ex. 34:6, 7). These are not obvious first choices for Pesach reading; after all, they occur three months after escaping from Egypt (Ex. 19:1). Still, they provide an important perspective on the holiday’s message.

Pesach is also called z’man cheiruteinu, the time of our freedom or liberation. While the Israelites are freed “from” slavery in Egypt, the purpose of that freedom is achieved only at Mt. Sinai; to be free “to” observe the mitzvot, or commandments. Freedom “from” is necessary, but freedom “to” is really the point. So reading about Moses crafting a new set of stone tablets is a reminder of the responsibilities that freedom brings.

Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea, describes an angry and vengeful God who parts the Red Sea and destroys the pursuing Egyptian army. The imagery is militaristic; God is an ish milchama, a warrior (Ex. 15:3). In contrast, the thirteen attributes highlight God’s attributes of mercy and forgiveness. It’s good to have a powerful God on your side, but the attributes of mercy are really God’s “long strategy.”

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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