One of the greatest gifts of the Beit T’Shuvah community is our ability to be a space for people to struggle out loud. We all know that life isn’t easy – but in the world of normies, it seems like life is supposed to be easy. The glamorous aura of success is supposed to follow us through life… right?
At first, this week’s parasha seems to reflect the glamorous success of the Jewish people’s exodus from slavery. Led by God out of Egypt and across the Sea of Reeds, the Jewish people received God’s commandments and are now journeying to the Promised Land. They take time, in this week’s parasha, to build a Tabernacle, a special structure that creates a space for God to dwell in their midst. In slavery, we had struggled – but now, in freedom, we are succeeding.
Yet there is something strange about this parasha that hints at a larger story, one that includes struggle. In the entire parasha, Moses’ name is not mentioned once. At this point in our story, we know that Moses isn’t perfect; he’s had his moments of resistance and rebellion. Yet he leads the Jewish people nonetheless, as the greatest leader the Jewish people has ever known. Why is he absent from this parasha, during the construction of this special dwelling-place for God?
To explain, teacher Chana Weisberg cites the Torah commentator Baal HaTurim, who looks ahead in the Torah to next week’s parasha. In contrast to the glamor of the construction of the Tabernacle, next week’s parasha tells the story of one of the Jewish people’s greatest failures: making and worshipping the Golden Calf. In this incident, the Jewish people don’t just rebel against Moses and Aaron – they reject the idea of a Power greater than themselves that they cannot see, hear, or touch. Moses pleads on behalf of the Jewish people, saying, “Alas, this people is guilty of a great sin – now, if You will, forgive them! And if not, erase me from Your story!” (Exodus 32:31) The Baal HaTurim notes that due to Moses’ greatness, Moses’ statement was partially fulfilled even though it was conditional. God forgave the Jewish people, so Moses’ statement was not erased from God’s story – but Moses’ name was erased from this week’s parasha.
As we read this week’s parasha and reflect upon the splendor of this creation of the Jewish people, celebrating their success at creating the first ever Jewish place of worship, we notice the absence of Moses’ name, and we remember that glamorous success is never the whole story. We may reach moments in our lives – or we may see moments in the lives of others – when success seems to be a given, when good things seem to come so easily. But we must remember as well that struggle is always part of our story, that even the greatest among us face failure and hardship.
As we come together to celebrate this Shabbat, may we remember to struggle out loud even as we are celebrating our success. May we remember that life is a complicated mix of failure and triumph, of struggle and success. And may we connect to the deepest richness of life as we share all our experiences, whether painful or celebratory, in sacred community.