We read in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18), Moses was commanded to ascend the mountain and remain there to receive the tablets affirming God’s commitment to the people that God designated, as a Holy Nation and a Kingdom of Priests.Rashi the great medieval commentator interprets the seemingly superfluous two words “remain there” to emphasize to Moses that he would remain on the mountain for the forty days it takes God complete this holy work.
Yet the brief command “remain there” can be viewed as God’s challenge to Moses. Now that you have ascended mountain to receive the Commandments what’s your next step? Will these precious moments on this sacred space enlarge your spirit and enrich your life? Interpreted in this way, ascending the mountain is a metaphor for attaining high goals. It requires great effort and imagination to get to the top, but once there what’s next?
In the 1972 movie The Candidate, Robert Redford portrays a young idealist who emerges as the opponent of a powerful incumbent Senator. At first he is ambivalent, but ultimately he is swept up in the excitement of the campaign that he wins. The film ends with a frightened and concerned Senator elect turning to his campaign manager, asking, “What do I do now?” He captured the prize and found himself perched on the mountaintop, but had no idea what to do next. He was painfully aware that he could not indefinitely remain on the mountain basking in the glory of victory.
Few of us are candidates for public office but all of us at different stages of our lives do ascend mountains and rejoice in our accomplishments. It may be the promotion for which we have worked so hard; it may be the excitement of standing at the side of a life partner and sharing in the ceremony that sanctifies our relationship; it may be any goal we have set before us that we have attained by virtue of hard work. Standing on the mountain of this achievement the question is how long we will remain there basking in the glory of our accomplishment. Will we descend from the heights to build upon today’s achievements? Will we prove ourselves ready to focus on new goals and hopefully ascend future mountains?
For Moses ascending the mountain and basking in God’s glory for forty days was a remarkable experience. When he descended he directed his energies to lead and teach his people. The forty days on the mountain were a heady experience; but it is for the forty years of down-to-earth leadership that he is celebrated in both Jewish and human history.
For each of us life is a series of highs and lows. May we cherish the moments when we find ourselves on the mountain top, and when in due time, we descend may we have the courage and the inspiration to plunge ahead with our lives. From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat filled with peace and blessing.