one of my favourite parts of the torah is in the book of numbers, at the beginning of chapter 14. the children of israel are complaining again, wishing they were dead, or back in egypt; and contemplating returning to egypt. a few chapters earlier i love the bit where they remember the melons and cucumbers and leeks they used to eat in the good old days! anyway, despite the pleas of moses and his guys, the congregation threatens to get nasty and are about to stone them when god shows up in the tabernacle. god is utterly fed up, and suggests that god will destroy them all and start all over again with moses. this could be a big opportunity for moses - to be the founder of a whole new, and hopefully better, people! so what does moses say? listen god - i think this is really bad p.r. for you. if you kill the children of israel now, the egyptians and the others won't be saying o well they were really whiny and totally deserved all they got. no, god, these guys will be saying that you are all mouth and no trousers. you made big promises, but you just couldn't follow through. don't you think it would be a better move to forgive the children of israel and give them another chance? and god responds: good point, moses. i shall do as you say.
WHAT WAS THAT?!
the holy sacred torah has a passage in it where moses argues with god, and not only is not struck down, but also changes god's mind?
indeed it is so. and it is not the only place in the torah where god's mind is changed after a discussion with a human.
this is such an important moment - i don't understand why it is not one of the most famous parts of all the torah. moses' words requesting pardon are part of our atonement services. the previous verses, however, where he dares to argue with god, are not highlighted.
i have so much to say about this, and no idea where to start.
first of all i'll go with brit, which i choose to translate as covenant. by this i mean a relationship, that i often describe on the one hand as a deal, i.e., god gets this and we get that; and on the other hand as a partnership, where we agree to work together towards a particular goal.
try and forget about all the power stuff with superman god smiting us according to his will and punishing us with his absence.
try and think about being in a relationship with someone that you think you could like if you got to know them better.
what kind of things might you do to develop this relationship in a positive way?
perhaps most organised religions started out as a way of gathering together the things they thought would help to develop this relationship.
the problem for me is that over time many people forgot that their records, their sacred scriptures, and the rituals that they had developed over the years, that these things were supposed to help them, rather than oppress them. by this i do not mean to say that if something is too difficult then it is ok to just bin it. i am trying to talk more about how the forms themselves become sacred over time, and the content within them, the thoughts and feelings that engendered them, start to melt into the faraway corners of memory.
trying to get back to the point here ... why am i so excited about the above passage of torah? because god listens. and god is flexible. and god is flexible enough to hear something difficult, and not let pride stop god from changing god's response. even the greatest power that the human mind can posit is able to turn and say hmmmmm maybe there is another way to do things. not only that, but god also is the one to begin the conversation.
whether you believe in god or not, is not the question. whether you believe in relationship, or not - that is the question! if so, what follows logically for me is how do i figure out how to be in relationship with anyone and anything? and that's where selichot comes in! selichot is a time put aside every year as we start to prepare for the new year. the summer is ending (unless you are in the southern hemisphere of course. apologies for my northerncentric perspective). it is a time when we can check in on our relationships, when we can turn to each other and ask, "are you ok?" and then, i hope, i can listen to the answer.