Because we are so familiar with the story of Moses at Sinai, sometimes it’s hard for us to remember that at the top of the mountain, Moses is also just a guy, a man estranged from the home where he grew up, a leader whose people will often despise him and direct their anger at him instead of at God.
What might Moses have been thinking while standing at the top of Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah from God as we read in the Torah portion this last Shabbat: “How do I know that this is really God talking to me? Will the people even listen to what I have to say to them? I didn’t even ask for this job! I feel so alone up here on the mountain all by myself!”
We can imagine the entire scene, the clouds, smoke and fire, the thunder and heavenly shofar blasts, the people afar, the elders at the foot of the mountain, Aaron, Moses’ brother half way up:
And even more than that, when we think of the Torah, both narrative and law, we picture Moses with rays of light emanating from his head, Aaron in his priestly garments, King David with his harp and his son, soon to be KingSolomon. We might even think of a synagogue or study house and all the Torah that has been produced in the generations since the Bible. The cover page of Ashalei Revivei, a book on the dietary laws by 16th century scholar Rabbi Joseph Karo, including comments by Rabbi Moshe Isserles, published by Shlomo Propps of Amsterdam in 1711 includes all the above:
But for me, a small detail at the top of the title page that speaks toward those thoughts of the leader, teacher and prophet Moses, up there all alone atop Mt. Sinai:
Above Moses holding the two tablets are the two letters “bet” and “hey.” They can be an abbreviation for “B’ezrat Hashem”—with God’s help, or God willing—or they can signify the words “Baruch Hashem”—thank God.
We all have moments in our lives when we seem to be experiencing the truth, when we feel like we can see our path forward clearly. Sometimes, though, we’re just not sure, and we wish had someone nearby to talk to. So we might say, “God willing, it will be OK.” Others of us are quite happy to contemplate what is before us on our own with no distractions, and simply thank God for the opportunity to do so.
But as with most things, most of the time, it’s not one or the other, it’s both.