You are the potter…

Chol HaMoed Pesach - You are the potter...
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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Contact her at shoshbm@gmail.com – originals from this series are available.

Chol HaMoed Pesach: Exodus 33:12-34:26, Numbers 28:19-25

"And the Lord said unto Moses: Hew you two tablets of stone like the first…" (Exodus 34:1)

As always, the first thing to understand is, "what is the question?" In this case, we have a whole series of midrashim concerned about the fact that Moses destroyed the first set of tablets that G!d gave him on Sinai – what a crime that was!

Some of the midrashim attempt to mitigate the seriousness of the crime; others try to eliminate it altogether (by saying the tablets slipped, etc.). This one, however, takes a very different tack, one that almost seems juvenile to begin with! Listen:

It is written, But now, O Lord, Thou art our father; we are the clay, and Thou our potter (Isa. 64:7). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: ‘Only now am I your father; when ye find yourselves in trouble ye call Me, "Our Father!"’ They replied: ‘Yes, as it says, In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord’ (Ps. 77:3)…

What is the meaning of ‘We are the clay, and Thou our potter?’ Israel said: ‘Lord of the Universe! Thou hast caused it to be written for us: Behold, as the clay in the potter’s hand, so are ye in My hand, O house of Israel (Jer. 18:6); for this reason, do not depart from us though we sin and provoke Thee, for we are but the clay and Thou art our potter.’ See now, if the potter makes a jar and leaves therein a pebble, then when it comes out of the furnace it will leak from the hole left by the pebble and lose any liquid poured into it. Now what caused the jar to leak and thus to lose any liquid placed therein? The potter who left the pebble therein.

This was how Israel pleaded before G!d: ‘Lord of the Universe! Thou hast created in us an Evil Inclination from our youth, for it says, For the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Gen. 8:21), and it is that which has caused us now to sin, for Thou hast not removed from us the instigator to sin. Remove it from us, we pray Thee, in order that we may perform Thy will.’ G!d replied: ‘This will I do in the Time to Come,’ as it says, In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halts, and I will gather her that is driven away, and her that I have afflicted (Micah 4:6).

Midrash Rabbah – Exodus XLVI:4

At first glance, it seems as though the author is saying, "Don’t blame us for having sinned – it’s Your fault for having made us this way!" Or, to quote Jessica Rabbit: "I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way…"

It also helps to know that the Hebrew yortzenu, "our potter," is a quasi pun with yetzer, short for yetzer hara, or "the Evil Inclination."

So, like last week, we see the issue of the flaw, the distinctiveness that makes us unique, as being part of G!d’s design for each of us. In this case, the flaw is definitely negative: it is the pebble that gives rise to the leak, a defect that must be overcome.

In the midrash, G!d acknowledges the flaw, if somewhat reluctantly, and promises to remove it in the "Time to Come," whether that be the Messianic Era or in Olam Haba, the World to Come. But even this begs the question: why include the pebble, why give us the flaw?

The answer comes, in part, from last week’s midrash – that G!d loves us because of those "flaws" – that distinctiveness in our characters that renders us unique. Additionally, as M’ Shoshannah points out in the sidebar, we get to do the work of clearing those pebbles as best we can, trusting that eventually the Eternal One will complete the job.

So, some might ask, why bother at all, if the end is to be taken care of? Because, I suggest, if the flaw is placed there by the Holy One, it is a remnant to be savored, a token of the creative act itself. By knowing our flaws, and struggling to overcome them, we engage with the Eternal One in a very holy, mystical activity.

May you find your pebbles to be gravel, not boulders!

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