If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week Rabbi Sandra Kviat of Crouch End Chavurah and part of Liberal Judaism’s outreach team, selects Exodus 24.12
When Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand taught at Leo Baeck College, one of the things she always used to tell student rabbis was that it was important to have moments in the Torah that really speak to you.
A core text that says something to me and about me, is Exodus 24.12 – God said to Moses: “Come up to me on the mountain ‘veyeheh sham’ and be there.”
A question that comes up is if God has already asked Moses to come up on to the mountain, then why does he also ask him to “be there”.
Surely he’s already there, as God has already told him to go? We know, of course, that everything in the Torah is important and nothing is superfluous – so it can’t just be discounted as a mistake.
The Kotzker Rebbe says what this means is that sometimes you can be somewhere physically but you’re not actually there. A good example is that it’s very easy just to do the routine and ritual for a barmitzvah or batmitzvah without ever really being there – either as a parent or as a student.
One of the things I always tell my students is that, above all, they have to be present. There’s no point in doing these things if you’re just following along and not taking them in. It’s the difference between sitting on the tourist bus and getting off the bus.
You can coast along just staring out of the window and enjoying the air conditioning. Or you can get off the bus and walk around yourself. It may be hot, sweaty and uncomfortable – but it’s the only way you will really feel and take in what is around you.
What this text always reminds me of is that sometimes you just need to stop, get off that bus and make yourself aware of what is going on.