Moses (and Pictures) in the Cloud

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה עֲלֵ֥ה אֵלַ֛י הָהָ֖רָה וֶהְיֵה־שָׁ֑ם וְאֶתְּנָ֨ה לְךָ֜ אֶת־לֻחֹ֣ת הָאֶ֗בֶן וְהַתּוֹרָה֙ וְהַמִּצְוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר כָּתַ֖בְתִּי לְהוֹרֹתָֽם׃ וַיָּ֣קָם מֹשֶׁ֔ה וִיהוֹשֻׁ֖עַ מְשָׁרְת֑וֹ וַיַּ֥עַל מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶל־הַ֥ר הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃ וְאֶל־הַזְּקֵנִ֤ים אָמַר֙ שְׁבוּ־לָ֣נוּ בָזֶ֔ה עַ֥ד אֲשֶׁר־נָשׁ֖וּב אֲלֵיכֶ֑ם וְהִנֵּ֨ה אַהֲרֹ֤ן וְחוּר֙ עִמָּכֶ֔ם מִי־בַ֥עַל דְּבָרִ֖ים יִגַּ֥שׁ אֲלֵהֶֽם וַיַּ֥עַל מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶל־הָהָ֑ר וַיְכַ֥ס הֶעָנָ֖ן אֶת־הָהָֽר׃ וַיִּשְׁכֹּ֤ן כְּבוֹד־יְהוָה֙ עַל־הַ֣ר סִינַ֔י וַיְכַסֵּ֥הוּ הֶעָנָ֖ן שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים וַיִּקְרָ֧א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֛ה בַּיּ֥וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֖י מִתּ֥וֹךְ הֶעָנָֽן  וּמַרְאֵה֙ כְּב֣וֹד יְהוָ֔ה כְּאֵ֥שׁ אֹכֶ֖לֶת בְּרֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֑ר לְעֵינֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ וַיָּבֹ֥א מֹשֶׁ֛ה בְּת֥וֹךְ הֶעָנָ֖ן וַיַּ֣עַל אֶל־הָהָ֑ר וַיְהִ֤י מֹשֶׁה֙ בָּהָ֔ר אַרְבָּעִ֣ים י֔וֹם וְאַרְבָּעִ֖ים לָֽיְלָה׃

Adonai said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and wait there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the teachings and commandments which I have inscribed to instruct them.” So Moses and his attendant Joshua arose, and Moses ascended the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us until we return to you. You have Aaron and Hur with you; let anyone who has a legal matter approach them.” When Moses had ascended the mountain, the cloud covered the mountain. The Presence of Adonai abode on Mount Sinai, and the cloud hid it for six days. On the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. Now the Presence of Adonai appeared in the sight of the Israelites as a consuming fire on the top of the mountain. Moses went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain; and Moses remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:12-18

This is, shall we say, a rough time for Moses. He’s already got Israelites mad at him for taking them out of Egypt (the devil they knew) and into the wilderness (the devil they didn’t). He’s already gotten unsolicited, if, well, useful advice from his father-in-law. He’s already had to throw blood at his people (which, I imagine, can’t be the most enjoyable experience for either party). And, although he doesn’t know it yet, when he comes back down from the mountain he’s going to have a rather large livestock problem.

But, still, Moses is generally an obedient guy, if a little uncertain of himself, so of course when God says, “Come on up here,” Moses goes.  Forty days and forty nights of listening to all manner of rules. At least, unlike Noah, Moses had no worry of being eaten by a lion during that time.

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My first job when I began rabbinical school was teaching fourth grade religious school at a Reform Synagogue in the Philadelphia suburbs. I had a really great time. I love working with kids, and I feel pretty comfy in the classroom. This synagogue was especially nice because the fourth grade curriculum was pretty loose. Basically, I needed to teach the kiddos about the Torah.

There are lots of ways to do that. My thinking was, well, these guys are gonna learn all the big stories in other places, if they don’t know them already. They’ll get a pretty decent idea of Genesis and the first half of Exodus– before the narrative turns largely toward legal stuff for a stretch. They’ll probably pick up bits and pieces of other spots in Torah. But, there’s a lot that they aren’t likely to run across in the course of their Reform upbringings. So, I decided to teach every parsha and have the kids make their own Torahs class by class.

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It wasn’t always easy. Getting them excited about narrative was naturally much easier than getting them excited about lineage and law. But, for every parsha, I picked out at least a couple of tidbits that I could teach and that the kids could then own. I told them the stories, I had them act them out, I had them play “choose your own adventure” with bits of text, I had them engage in art projects and writing projects and dialogue. When (age-appropriate) sections got tricky, I let them argue. When they asked me why things were as they were, I pushed them to think through it and tell me. I wanted them to feel that the entire Torah was theirs, not just the top 10 stories that they were likely to encounter again and again throughout their childhoods.

Which brings me to the cloud. When we reached parshat mishpatim (the one I quoted from above), I told the kids that Moses went into the cloud to talk to God.

This was 2013. The “cloud” meant something that it hadn’t for millennia prior.

“Wait, into the cloud?” one of my kiddos gasped in disbelief. See, this is why I love fourth grade. It’s the magic age. They’re just old enough to have very real, deep conversations while still being young enough to feel like they’re truly kids and to want to believe in magic. Or, in this case, in “Moses and the Amazing Technicolor E-Storage.”

I laughed so hard and explained that Moses was in, according to the Torah, a literal cloud. Not where pictures go.

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Griping Israelites ala fourth grader

Which brings me to pictures in the cloud. I’ve taken hundreds since getting here. Some, obviously, I’ve put up on this blog. Some I’ve thrown on instagram (you’ll see the latest of those if you scroll to the bottom of the page). But, most are just chilling, so I figured it was time to put together an album for those who’d like to see more. These are mostly just shots I’ve taken while out and about in Jerusalem and offer a decent sense of some of what I’ve been experiencing in day-to-day life. It’s a facebook album, but the link above should give you access even if you don’t have a facebook account or if we aren’t facebook friends. Enjoy.

 

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