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

“God descended in a cloud and stood with him there,
and he called out with God’s name.” (Exodus 34:5)

We read a special selection from the Torah on each day of Pesach (Passover). This custom interrupts the weekly cycle of parashot (portions) on Shabbat. The selection is an odd pastiche of topics: Moses’ request for God’s presence to guide the Israelites through the desert in the aftermath of the Golden Calf episode, God’s instructions to Moses for crafting the second set of tablets (remember, Moses smashed the first set), the presentation of God’s thirteen attributes, the prohibition of idolatry, and commands to observe Pesach and Shabbat. It closes with an enigmatic law about kashrut.

Individually, each of these subjects seems tangential to the Pesach story. Together they offer a commentary on the nature of freedom. This time, Moses must carve the stones for God to inscribe (Ex. 34:1); sustaining freedom requires individual effort and investment. The list of God’s attributes focusses on God’s mercy, and ends with God’s ability to cleanse (Ex. 34:6,7); a free society requires a balance of justice and mercy, with provisions for forgiveness and reconciliation. The prohibition of idolatry (Ex. 34:17) is a reminder of the purpose of freedom: to be different.

The command, “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk,” (Ex. 34:26) is perhaps most enigmatic. Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888; a German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism) says meat and milk represent the survival aspect of life (eating meat) and the reproductive aspect of life (mother’s milk as first nourishment), respectively. Animals eat and reproduce instinctively. Freedom means rising above our instincts to make intentional decisions about the lives we lead. The Haggadah tells the story of what God did for us; this Torah reading reminds us what we are supposed to do for ourselves.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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