This portion (Exodus 33:12 - 34:26) starts with Moses telling God: "See, You say to me, 'Lead this people forward,' but You have not made known to me whom You will send with me." (Exodus 33:12) And Moses continues to ask to know God so that Moses can continue to find God's favor, including a request to see God. God grants Moses' request, except for seeing God's face (no one can see God's face and live).
The portion continues with God commanding Moses to make the tablets on which the Commandments are to be re-written (the action described occurs following the episode of the Golden Calf). The Covenant is reestablishment. Many commandments follow, but we will focus on these today: None shall appear before Me empty-handed (Exodus 34:20). We are commanded to observe Shabbat, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. After 40 days and 40 nights with God, Moses returns to the children of Israel and begins to teach.
It is interesting that the text we read includes the commandments to observe the three pilgrimage festivals that require all Jews to go to Jerusalem (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot).
In May, I was part of the WRJ Mission to Israel and was privileged to visit our Israeli Movement partners and YES Fund grantees. I met with Israeli friends in Tel Aviv. One asked if I were aware that Israel is the only country which limits the rights of Jews to worship according to their custom and conscience.
Towards the end of our trip, the 46 of us participated in Rosh Chodesh worship at the Kotel with Women of the Wall. The police did not allow our group to bring in a Torah openly. (One was smuggled in. The police searches of our bags to find the hidden parts made some of us late to worship.) We were surrounded by security and those, male and female, young and old who tried to drown out our voices which were lifted in prayer and study. We completed our service and proceeded with our day and our trip but I will never forget how it felt to be harassed by my fellow Jews as I worshipped according to my custom.
Shortly after our return, the Israeli government reneged on the agreement to establish a proper pluralistic prayer space at the Wall. And legislation was introduced giving the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate exclusive control of conversions. This is personal to me: My husband's Reform conversion would not be recognized by the government of Israel.
What can we do?
Lizabeth McOsker is the secretary on the WRJ executive committee. She is a member of Isaac M. Wise Temple Sisterhood in Cincinnati, OH.