You cannot stay on the mountain forever:
You have to come down again.
So why bother in the first place?
Just this: What is above knows what is below,
But what is below does not know what is above.
One climbs, one sees, one descends, one sees no longer.
But one has seen.
There is an art to conducting oneself in the lower regions by
The memory of what one has seen higher up.
When one can no longer see, one can at least know.
(Rene Duamal – Mount Analogue)
Moses’ experience on the mountain was the culmination of his spiritual journey from the burning bush to the parting of the Red Sea to receiving the tablets of the law. The top of the mountain seals the relationship with the Divine for him and in the cleft of the rock he is favoured with a special partnership of God and human being. For Moses this brings certainty and belief but he cannot remain in this state and on top of this mountain. Only by returning to the People and bringing the message of the Divine can he fulfil all this spiritual potential. He must descend and in doing so comes back to the reality of a people who have not experienced the same certainty and have the need to create it for themselves in the shape of the golden calf.
Despite the immediate shock of coming back down to reality and the sudden urge to destroy the tablets and all they represent, Moses remembers the essence of his experience and struggles on to ensure that Torah will become life’s direction for this People and all who join them in times to come. We are told in Talmud Berakhot 8b that the rabbis wondered what happened to the broken shards of the 1st set of tablets.
‘Luhot v’shivrei haluchot munachin baAron’ – the whole tablets and the broken pieces of the tablets were kept in the ark together
Nothing is discarded from our experience whether on top of the Mountain or elsewhere. Living our life daily will depend on what we have seen and what will be kept together in the holy places of our hearts, minds and souls.
Martin Buber taught that the I-Eternal Thou experience is episodic and transitory. When one is transformed by an experience or a moment in time, it can only be lived once. From that moment on, the feeling of being ‘in’ the experience transfers to being ‘about’ the experience. Remembrance is all that we have left to keep hold of the compelling nature of what has happened to us. We do not need to be Moses to experience this. Listening to a favourite piece of music, the moment when your child is born, reading the obituary of a friend – these are times when we are all so completely absorbed by life’s awe and wonder. What Moses however was able to do was carry the experience into the lives of others and into a historical consciousness that remains part of the narrative of our People and our Faith. Moses is considered the first and foremost Hebrew prophet because of his ability to ‘speak forth’ God’s words with profound awareness of both God and humanity. He was evermore able to live with the Mountain in mind and the People before him.
Rabbi Dr Michael Shire
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.