Shabbat Hol HaMo’ed Pesah
By Margaret Klein

We’ve cleaned, cooked, celebrated. We’ve had seders that lasted until midnight. Now it is time to celebrate again. Shabbat in the middle of Passover. A double celebration. We don’t want to sound like the Israelites wandering around in the desert but we’re tired, so tired. Why did we do all this? Is this really what God requires or are we serving some other master? It is intriguing that the root for slave Ayin-Bet-Dalet is the same root for work, for the Temple service, for worship and for servant. Did the Israelites merely substitute one slavery for another’serving God? I don’t think so.

Then this week’s Torah portion comes. Moses has just found the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf. He smashes the tablets. He is angry and tired. He wonders what all of this is for. God demands that Moses return up the mountain again. Moses protests and requires some reassurance that God will go with them. “I will go in the lead and will lighten your burden.” Other translations say, ‘I will give you rest’ There maybe a pun here in the Hebrew. Menuha, suggests Etz Hayyim (page 539), may be a pun related to mahaneh, a camping place, a place for resting. Often I have said to my family that Passover is like camping, as we scramble to find some cooking utensil that we didn’t kasher for Passover, didn’t bring on the journey.

This theme of God lightening the burden shows up again in Psalm 81:7-8, ‘I removed the burden from your shoulder, your hands were freed from the load. When you called in distress I rescued you. Unseen I answered you in thunder.’ Even if we cannot see God, the Divine is present giving us rest and lightening our load.

As tired as Moses is from leading this stiff-necked people out of Egypt, he is now relieved that he doesn’t have to shoulder the whole load. Neither do we. We are not alone in this. We have a partner. What a perfect parashah and reassurance for the Shabbat in the middle of Passover, when we have exerted ourselves with the preparation. Now for the reward. We get to rest. It is God’s gift to us and a symbol of the covenant between Israel and God forever and ever.

Moses, however isn’t quite satisfied. He continues to bargain, to argue, to push God further. He wants to understand God’s ways, God’s very essence. He wants to see God face to face. God says that no one can see God face to face and live, that would be too much knowledge for any human being. However God promises to hide Moses in the cleft of the rock and make all God’s presence pass before Moses. Moses gets a glimpse of this Divine essence and we through Moses learn that the Lord is ‘compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.’

While many sources comment on the repetition of Adonai, Adonai in Exodus 34:6-7, it is also significant that hesed is repeated twice as well. God who forgives the sinner before the sin and after the sin is also a God who loves those who need loving-kindness and that love is extended to the thousandth generation. Since there are no extra words in Torah and every word is imbued with layers of meaning, that God is seen as so loving it needs to be repeated is very reassuring.

The midrash teaches us that we need to act like God. This means that just as God is gracious, compassionate, and forgiving, you too must be gracious, compassionate, and forgiving. (Sifre Devarim, Ekev) Similarly, ‘as God clothes the naked, you should clothe the naked. The Bible teaches that the Holy One visited the sick; you should visit the sick. The Holy One comforted those who mourned; you should comfort those who mourn. The Holy One buried the dead; you should bury the dead.’ (Sotah 14a).

So even if we are tired, even if we are hungry, even if we are displaced, we need to be like God and clothe the naked, visit the sick, comfort those who mourn, and bury our dead. This is why we opened our doors during the seder to let all who are hungry come and eat. When we do these things we get the reassuring message that God is a God of love, who loves us eternally and we can rest in God’s Presence, just like Moses. Our burden is lightened and we experience the joy of rest. May this Shabbat of Pesah be for us today a Shabbat of freedom and rest while we experience God’s loving presence.

Margaret Frisch Klein, wrote this on the anniversary of her Bat Mitzvah and in celebration of her upcoming ordination at The Academy for Jewish Religion.