Having cast off the yoke of cleaning for Pesach, and survived the sedarim and the discussions they tend to engender, I sometimes have a “what now?” feeling. In this case, I’m asking myself “What happens after liberation?” Well – it’s disorientation, wandering, mistakes, grieving lost opportunities – and hopefully, eventually, healing. And of course, according to our tradition, Revelation. From the second night of Pesach, we count forty-nine days to Shavuot, commemorating the giving of the Torah. According to our sages, we count those days because our freedom is not complete until the Revelation. It takes time after the trauma of slavery for us to be ready to fully accept the responsibility of serving G-d.
On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach, we read about an interaction between Moses and G-d (Exodus Ch: 33 – 34). Moses asks, in his most daring conversation, to be granted a glimpse at G-d’s Eternal Presence. But G-d will not allow it. G-d tells Moses to station himself by a rock, and promises to place him b’nikrat hatzur, in the cleft of the rock, and to pass His goodness before Moses. In the subsequent verses, hidden in the cleft of the rock, Moses hears the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, followed by the promise that G-d will safely deliver the people to the promised land. To Moses, those words must have been profound – a vision of a future in which he and the people could now begin to have faith.
On Shabbat Chol HaMoed, we also read Song of Songs, traditionally attributed to King Solomon and understood as depicting the spiritual relationship between G-d and Israel. In Chapter 2, verse 14, we read, Yonati b’hagvei haselah, b’seter hamadreigah – “Oh my dove, in the cleft of the rocks, let me see your face, let me hear your voice”. This is G-d pleading to see the face of the people, in contrast to Moses pleading to see the face of G-d. So much longing for the very simplest visual form!
In both the Torah reading and in this verse from Song of Songs, we have both the image of the cleft of the rock, and the longing for revelation. Moses is placed in a cleft of the rock, whilst the lover in Song of Songs pleads with the beloved to step out of the cleft of the rock. In each case there is a sense of precariousness, but also a sense of anticipation. The “cleft of a rock” on a mountain is a place both of discomfort and the expectation for something better. For me, this image of Moses being held precariously in the cleft of the cliff is a powerful one at this post Exodus moment. We did not go free from Egypt into a state of comfort or certainty. We crossed the sea and found ourselves in the wilderness, still in a state of uncertainty. The certainty was yet to come.