Sign In Forgot Password


10/23/2019 11:12:03 AM


Rabbi Robins

Rabbi Yair Robinson

Congregation Beth Emeth

10/18/20: Sukkot


It’s been a very long week, but if you can try to remember back to the beginning of it, this past weekend, you may remember that there were not one, but two major running records broken. First, in Vienna, under very special circumstances, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya ran a sub-two hour marathon, a previously thought impossible feat. Then, later this past weekend in Chicago, fellow Kenyan Brigid Kosgei beat the women’s marathon record, running the race in two hours, fourteen minutes and four seconds, beating Paula Radcliffe’s record set back in 2003. Now, I’m not a runner. I have exactly one 5k under my belt. If I’m running, it’s probably because something is chasing me, and after a while, I’m just going to let them catch me. But even I know enough to understand that to run a Marathon and FINISH, never mind run one at this speed, is a tremendous achievement. After all, the first guy to run a Marathon DIED. Granted he ran it twice and it was right after a battle, but still. I think we can all appreciate what these two individuals have done.

It’s a reminder to us that, so often, what seems beyond our reach is really is only beyond our comprehension. Repeatedly, we are told that something is impossible, when really, it was impossible for us to imagine. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard, or doesn’t require tremendous thoughtfulness, strength and courage. That doesn’t mean whatever impossible feat will be easy. But to call something impossible is really to let ourselves off the hook, to allow us to surrender before we have even begun to take up the challenge. Think of how many times each of us has chosen not to pursue something: because it was too difficult, because we were afraid, because we were sure we would not succeed. That doesn’t mean all of us are meant to succeed in everything equally well, of course. Most of us will never be Mozart or Da Vinci or Maimonides or Eliud Kipchoge. But that should not prevent us from trying, because we do not know where it will take us. Perhaps we will fail, or perhaps some other result may arise that we could not anticipate if we didn’t try.

This week, in our Torah reading for Sukkot, Moses confronts God with a seemingly impossible request. In our reading, Moses first challenges God to lead the people, and promise to be there to support him. God readily agrees, almost breezily, if you can call it that. But it quickly turns out that this is Moses stalling, getting up the gumption to make his real request. Moses asks, nearly shouting.:

וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַרְאֵ֥נִי נָ֖א אֶת־כְּבֹדֶֽךָ׃

He said, “Oh, let me behold Your Presence!”

 Let me see You, God. The real You. Let me see you in your full kavod, your full glory. It is a deeply intimate and personal request of Moses. Certainly, God will say no, right?

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אֲנִ֨י אַעֲבִ֤יר כָּל־טוּבִי֙ עַל־פָּנֶ֔יךָ וְקָרָ֧אתִֽי בְשֵׁ֛ם יְהוָ֖ה לְפָנֶ֑יךָ וְחַנֹּתִי֙ אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָחֹ֔ן וְרִחַמְתִּ֖י אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲרַחֵֽם׃

And God answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name YHVH, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show.

Is it exactly what Moses asked for? No. God goes on to say that no one can look upon God and live. Perhaps, as Rashi interprets, this means God is holding something back. Or, as Sforno suggests, perhaps this means that the request is literally impossible: one cannot “see” God. Regardless, this seemingly impossible request is granted, at least somewhat. Moses gets to know God in a deeper way, knowing God’s name, having God’s goodness pass before, and hearing God recite the divine attributes, which we recite at the holidays to this day as part of our atonement process. Moses strives for something seemingly beyond his reach, and while he doesn’t get exactly what he wants, he gets something close. Or, perhaps, he gets what he really wanted, but couldn’t quite articulate: a deeper knowledge of and connection to God.

And so it is with us. We look around at the brokenness of the world around us, and we feel that the healing of the world may be impossible, forever beyond our reach. We may wish to surrender before we have even truly begun to take up the challenges around us, the challenges we are called to help resolve. This week we were reminded that nothing is truly impossible, and Moses reminds us that, even if we don’t quite achieve what we set out to do, there is beauty and holiness in our striving, nonetheless. May we in our own striving, overcome our fears and may we be filled with the hope to wish impossible things.

Tue, September 26 2023 11 Tishrei 5784