SALT - Sunday, 17 Av 5778 - July 29, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
Jeffrey Paul Friedman z"l
August 15, 1968 – July 29, 2012
 ז"ל יהודה פנחס בן הרב שרגא פייוועל 
כ"ב אב תשכ"ח – י' אב תשע"ב
            In Parashat Eikev, Moshe recounts the events of cheit ha-eigel – when Benei Yisrael worshiped a golden calf less than six weeks after the Revelation at Sinai, a sin to which God responded by decreeing annihilation.  As Moshe recalls, after burning the golden calf he climbed back up Mount Sinai and spent another forty days atop the mountain praying on the people’s behalf, after having initially spent forty days receiving God’s laws. 
Curiously, Moshe emphasizes in this context the pristinely nonphysical nature of his existence during this period: “I fell before the Lord like the first time, for forty days and forty nights.  I did not eat bread and did not drink wine, because of all of your sin which you committed…because I dreaded the anger and fury…” (9:18-19).  It appears that Moshe makes this point as part of his effort to stress the gravity of this sin, drawing the people’s attention to the pains he needed to take to save them from the repercussions of their misdeed.  He “complains” that he needed to live an angelic existence for yet another forty days, after having already lived this way for forty days when receiving the Torah from God.
            Rav Shlomo of Radomsk, in his Tiferet Shelomo (Rosh Hashanah), wonders why this aspect of Moshe’s efforts would be the subject of his “complaint” to the people.  Wouldn’t Moshe relish the opportunity to spend yet another forty-day period in the heavens, living like an angel, in a state of pristine closeness to God?  Can we not reasonably assume that for a righteous person like Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest possible privilege would be spending time basking in God’s presence in the heavens?
            Apparently, the Rebbe of Radomsk notes, this assumption is incorrect.  The greatest privilege of all is not living an angelic existence in the heavens, but rather living a noble, sacred existence within the confines of human existence here on earth.  The highest level of sanctity and religious achievement is not living as an angel, free of physical needs and desires, but rather living as a human being who struggles to balance physical satisfaction with spiritual commitment.  Moshe did not want to live as an angel in the heavens; he wanted to live as a human being on earth, devoting his life to the service of God within the constraints and amid the complexities and struggles of human existence.
            The Rebbe of Radomsk here reminds us that we should not despair during periods of struggle and failure, as this process is precisely the way we are meant to serve God – as frail, imperfect human beings.  We need to balance our desire for perfection with a recognition of the human reality, that God created us as flawed beings and expects us to serve him as such.  Our mistakes and failings should not discourage us, but rather motivate us to try harder, with the recognition that we were created to serve God as complex human beings, and not as perfect, pristine angels.