If you could choose to meet one person in
history, who would it be?
Theres a part of me that is very curious
to meet a man who was derogatively called Acher
(someone else [sic]) after he turned apostate upon
leaving the famous garden.
The story goes like this: His original name was
Elisha ben Avuya, one of the greatest sages of his time. Elisha
together with three of his colleagues, Rabbi Akiva, Ben Azai
and Ben Zuma once went into the garden, i.e. they
had a mystical experience. Ben Azai died in the process, Bem
Zuma went insane, Alisha became an apostate. Only Rabbi Akiva
came out intact.
After he became a heretic, his crime was considered
so terrible that his colleagues no longer referred to him by
name. Instead, they called him Acher, the unmentionable
other. Alisha was considered the epitome of one
who knows his Master and intentionally mutineers against him.
A related story that contributed to Achers
rebellion is when he saw a father tell his child to perform
the mitzvah of shiluach hakan (sending away
a mother bird before taking her eggs). The child in effect preformed
two mitzvot (shiluach hakan and honoring your parents)
both of which carry G-ds promise for a reward of long
life. Instead, what happened? The child climbed a ladder to
fulfill his fathers wish, and he fell to his death. When
Elisha saw this he ripped his clothes and cried out: There
is no Judge and there is no justice
Achers story is both fascinating and mysterious.
I am strongly tempted to meet and ask him what he saw there
in the garden that so disturbed him. It would be
amazing to hear his experience. To hear what he felt like when
they changed his name. And when his great student Rabbi Meir
would study with him and would justify it to his colleagues
by saying: I eat the fruit and discard the peel, I suck out
the juice of the fruit and discard the pits. What did Acher
think about that? Did he agree? And what did he feel when he
was finally allowed into hell (yes, even hell didnt
want him) and then into heaven? And what does he think today
thousands of years later about the issues of justice
Indeed, who among us has not been plagued by the
question of justice in this world? When we see tragedy strike
good people and recently there has been a spate of these
around my corner of the world when we see good people
suffer we all wonder where is the Judge and where is
So, Acher would be an intriguing person to get
But thats in my more rascalish mode. In
a more sober moment, I think that today I would like to meet
Moses. A far more complicated individual. One who spoke to G-d
face to face as one speaks with a friend, and he
not only maintained his faith, but he is the ultimate
symbol of faith and dedication, the quintessential man of G-d.
Moses was no less a sage than Acher. And he too
was in the garden like no other person in
history, and he too witnessed the suffering of the innocent,
and confronted G-d on the topic (Why do You do evil to
this nation!?), yet he maintained his deep faith. What
did he know and what did he see?
I am absolutely infatuated by the journey Moses
took on Mt. Sinai. First he spends 40 days receiving the Torah
(from Sivan 6-Tammuz 17). Then he returns for another 40 days
to pray that G-d pardon the people for building the Golden Calf
(Tammuz 18-Av 29). Unsuccessful, he returns for yet another
40 days (Rosh Chodesh Elul-Yom Kippur) and he finally secures
complete forgiveness on the holiest day of the year.
[My infatuation is taking the shape of a new book
that will be published in the next month a spiritual
guide to personalizing the High Holiday season].
We are actually now in the second week of Moses
second climb on the mountain. These days are not considered
such great ones days of wrath which
include the Three Weeks when we mourn the destruction of both
Temples and a series of other tragic events in history.
What was Moses doing up there all this time? What
did he see and what did he learn? What did he say and what was
said to him?
From the account in the Torah (primarily at the
end of Exodus, and a bit in Deuteronomy and in other places)
we know that his hands were full. We know that he did not waste
any time and immediately confronted G-d. We also know
from a series of cryptic verses in Exodus (33:12 and on) --
that Moses got straight to the heart of matters by asking G-d
to show him His (G-ds) ways and His personality. And G-d
complies. Moses learns about the Essence of G-d and G-ds
mysterious ways in running the universe.
In a most intimate exchange, Moses asks G-d to
see His face. Instead G-d shows him His back. G-d
places Moses in a crevice in the mountain, placing My
hand over you until I pass by. I will then remove My hand and
you will see my back, but My face you will not see.
What did Moses see?
Perhaps we may never fully know. Perhaps you have
to be a Moses to know. Yet the Torah does document it. I am
sure that many other things took place on that mountain that
the Torah does not share with us. The fact that this is shared
with us means that it must be relevant to us, and that we can
in some way understand it.
Whatever the explanation and we have plenty
of time to analyze it the entire journey of Moses is
just so compelling.
One thing we do know: Moses did not give up. 40
days, another 40 days, another 40 days, and he prevailed!
He must have heard every possible reason from
G-d why the Jews deserved what was coming to them. He must have
learned all the complexities of Divine justice and the balance
of things above and below. Yet, single-mindedly, with no support
system, he hammered away again, again and again
No matter what actually happened up there, what
we do know is that Moses as opposed to Acher was
not only undisturbed by what he learned, but he came back with
the biggest gift of all: There is always hope. Even when things
break and how they did break! the human spirit
is endowed with the power of persistence, and sheer and absolute
persistence can break down any door.
Acher may help legitimize and lend credence to
our doubts and questions, but then what are we left with? The
same questions and confusions that have disturbed countless
generations before us. Great! As if we didnt have enough
doubts and fears
What does Moses leave us with? He leaves us with
confidence in ourselves, belief in the future, hope in our children
and grandchildren. Yes, to believe what a concept, what
a force! And to believe even when there seems no reason to
that takes guts, that takes courage, that takes real power.
So, though we dont really know what Moses
was doing up there, day after day after day for 120 days, what
we do know is that he left us an eternal legacy the ability
to face our deepest questions about justice and injustice, about
the innocent and their suffering, about G-d and His mysterious
ways and come away stronger, more confident than ever.
Perhaps what he ultimately learned is that our
questions, doubts and fears dont weaken reality, just
as our answers and courage dont strengthen it. So why
spend the rest of your life agonizing, justifying, excusing,
cowering (of course, with a courageous masquerade) spend
it better on growing, building, perpetuating. Even when the
going gets tough, hold on to the future, rather than be victimized
by the past.
What else can be said when I see friends and colleagues
suffering senseless loss.
Yes, while the people were suffering below Moses
was experiencing a parallel reality above. He did not succumb
to the resignation and the quiet -- or loud desperation
from below. He wasnt interested in the millions of arguments
making a case for despair and hopelessness. He had no time for
that; he knew that anyone can come up with such arguments. With
half a brain (or less) in your head, every conceivable argument
can be made and a strong one at that -- that we are going
nowhere, and the more things change the more they stay the same.
A strong case can be made for a life of complacency and mediocrity.
Moses wasnt interested in repeating all
the arguments for negativity that came before him and that would
inevitably come after him. He wanted something unique, something
legendary, something unprecedented something that would
instill hope in humanity, hope in our future, hope in our destiny.
Ahh, Moses. What a character! He would be a great
person to meet for a drink