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Jewish Journal

Before and After Sinai - A Poem/Drash for B’shalach

by Rabbi John Rosove

January 10, 2014 | 1:07 pm

Almighty One:
Was not Moses Your most intimate friend
With whom you spoke face to face
Who You sent to confront Pharaoh
To diminish his name
That Yours might be established
As The Creator and Redeemer of heaven and earth?

Was not Moses Your most cherished shepherd
Who stood strong before the despot
Spoke with broken and heavy speech
Words You placed in his mouth?

Was not Moses Your voice,
And extended hand, 
And fingers touching
Water, earth, wind,
And fire,
The all of the all
And beyond?

This friend, shepherd, and prophet
Tended Your people
Through salt-water walls,
Mud and muck
To birth them
And lead them
To You on the mountain
To be Your treasured and cherished people.

But You used Moses
And worked against him
By stiffening Pharaoh’s heart
To demonstrate Your power.

He was Your proxy 
And it was You
Who polluted the waters,
And destroyed the crops,
And killed the cattle,
And the first-born.

Moses deserved better
For all he did
On Your behalf
For the sake of Your Name
Than to die alone
And forsaken
In a wilderness grave?

Yes – We can understand
That justice needed a strong fist
Against Pharaoh’s tyranny.
Small minds needed to cower
Before the shock and awe of Your power.

Yes – We can understand 
That You did what You had to do
And used Your prophet
As a means to a greater end.

Before Sinai You commanded Moses
To take his stick and hit a rock
When the people complained of thirst –
And he did as You told him to do.

Moses brought them to You at Sinai
To see Your clouds of fire,
And he taught that in place of the fist
Words are stronger
The spirit sharper than swords
And all must live peacefully
Under their vines and their fig trees
With none to terrorize them.

That was Your dream
Carried by Your prophets
And Moses was the most beloved of all.

Yet, after Sinai
Little changed in the human heart.
Your people are still small-minded
And constricted by need and jealousy
Anger and hate.
They were not ready to live by Your Word alone;
And as the days passed,
And the years rolled by,
Miriam died,
And her waters dried too
And the people complained again
Having forgotten Your dream
And the shock and awe of You.

Now Moses became old
And he lost patience
For the bickering and complaining.

He had restrained You once
At the Golden Calf –
Or have You forgotten?
You sought the destruction of the world
But Moses stayed Your Hand
Quelled Your rage
Because he cared more
About the innocent among his people
Than honoring You.

After Sinai You commanded Moses
To speak – this time – to the rock
That water would flow
And quench their thirst;
But he took the stick 
And beat the rock
As he had done before.

This time You punished him
And took from him his cherished dream
To glimpse the Promised Land.

He did everything You asked of him,
Except this once.
In spite You made him die alone
Amid bare thorns and weeds
Without the angels knowing
The Place from which his soul left him.

Moses disappointed You
As we have disappointed You
As You have disappointed us!

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