43. Ki Tissah III - RAYS OF GLORY

THERE WAS A REMARKABLE DIFFERENCE in the manner in which the first and second sets of luchot --of the Tablets of the Law--reached the hands of Moses. The first were handed to him by the Almighty. In the presence of all the people, God revealed Himself and, amidst peals of thunder and streaks of lightning, pronounced the Ten Commandments. The sages say that oaf lo porach --that the silence that prevailed was so total that it was not disturbed even by the flight of a bird. The entire universe held its breath in a spirit of reverence and awe during those precious historical moments (Exod. Rab. 29).

The task of Moss was relatively easy and pleasant, for practically everyone was eager to go to Mount Sinai and accept the Torah. In unison they proclaimed naaseh venishma --"We will do and obey" (Exod. 24:7). The angels, we are told, were so enthused with the response that they placed two crowns on the heads of each Jew, one for naaseh and the other for nishma (Sabbath 88a).

When Moses had to climb the Mountain for the second luchot, however, the picture was altogether different. By then the people had worshipped the golden calf and had lost their crowns of glory; the first Tablets had been broken, and an open rebellion against God had taken place. This time the divine order to Moss was ve-ish lo yaaleh imakh, "And no man shall come up with you" (Exod. 34: 3). Moss has to climb the Mountain alone. When he reaches the summit he faces barren soil and hard rocks. At long last he hears the voice of God bidding, pesol lekha shnei luchot avanim korishonim, "Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first" (Ibid. 34:1). Out of the barren hard rock he has to hammer out new Tablets. With his own hands he has to carve, chisel and shape the granite-like stone. The task is formidable; the heart is heavy with doubts and misgivings about his people. He knows that there will be moments when he wilt have to stand alone against the mob who would rather dance around a golden calf than follow the teachings inscribed on the Tablets. But he knows that he cannot and dare not give up.

When Moses is done, he comes down from the Mountain with the second set of luchot. "And Moses knew not that the skin of his face shone" (Ibid. 34:29). His face shone with a new light--a radiance that comes only to those who achieve a lofty goal after great trial and toil; the kind of light that bathes the soul of inspired prophets, great poetsˇ and true saints.

Even ordinary people know what a difference there is in feeling between that which is handed to them and that which they have to obtain. Things that are given do not always provide true satisfaction. They may help make life more comfortable, but seldom will make it happier. But things that require effort and struggle--goals that are attained through the process of pesol lekha --provide contentment, and sometimes even karnei hod --"rays of glory"-- that make hearts full and faces shine.

There are people who have made huge fortunes. They gambled and won. My educated guess is that as a result of easy victories and successes no rays of glory will be detected on their faces. But I did see faces radiating pride and joy on those who had made their way to the top after a long, tedious and arduous climb.

When people meet after a long absence, they shake hands in a friendly and cordial manner. They smile and exchange pleasantries. One will seldom note any extraordinary facial changes on the participants of those standard reunions. But if you had watched on television the scene that took place at the Lod Airport in Israel when the Entebbe hostages were reunited with their relatives and friends, you would have seen faces beaming with elation, eyes brimming with tears and hearts beating with pride. As brother embraced brother and parents crushed children in their arms, there were karnei hod to be seen everywhere.

There was a time when conditions were favorable to Jewish observance; when it was normal and natural to be a believing and pious Jew. There was a maximum of encouragement from within the Jewish camp and a minimum of discouragement from without. The spirit was similar to the one that prevailed at the time of the giving of the first luchot. Things have changed since then. The world, the street, the place of business --the entire milieu--- are not in favor of Jewish piety and observance. This is especially true for the Jew who resides in the smaller communities in America. Only those who have the courage of their convictions are able to follow the pesal lekha route and thus gain for themselves and their religion karnei hod.

In our struggle for Israel's survival, we often stand isolated and alone. Our brethren in the Jewish State are proving to us and the world that where there is determination, idealism and faith, there is the kind of achievement that brings with it "rays of glory." The road is rocky and the task is pesa lekha --demanding sacrifice and pain-- but they bring our people karnei hod and an assurance of netzach Yisrael.

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