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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

God Actually Desires Our Demands

by Rabbi Avi Weiss (Posted on May 21, 2016)
Topics: Ki Tisa, Sefer Shemot, Torah

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Is it appropriate to challenge God when things are going wrong?

The role of the prophet is usually associated with transmitting the word of God to his people. Yet there are times when the prophet takes on another role—that of the defense attorney for the people of Israel, protecting Am Yisrael and cajoling God to intercede.

Although there are no prophets today, it seems that God wants each of us to make such demands of Him. In doing so we acknowledge that we are in a true relationship with God and God has the power to fulfill our requests.

This idea of making demands of God is echoed in Ki Tisa. After the Jews constructed the golden calf, Moshe (Moses) who is atop the mountain, is told by God “haniha li – let me be,” so that I can destroy the Jewish people (Exodus 32:10).

Why does God demand “haniha li,” the Midrash asks? After all, Moshe was not holding on to God. It can be compared, the Midrash continues, to a king, who becomes angry with his child. Taking him into a small room, the king begins to yell, “Leave me alone to kill him.” The child’s teacher passes by and hearing the king, wonders: The king and his child are alone inside, why does he shout, “leave me alone?” Obviously the king really wants me to go make peace between him and his child. What he’s really saying is: “don’t let me kill him, stop me.” In this case, what was said may have meant the exact opposite.

The Midrash concludes that although God says to Moshe, “Let me be,” what He’s really saying is: “Moshe please don’t let me be. Stop me. Don’t let Me destroy the people. Intervene on their behalf.” God wanted to witness Moshe’s care for the Jewish people and therefore gave him the chance to challenge God. By entering into dialogue of challenging God, the Jewish people were saved.

It is told that when the Klausenberger Rebbe came to America he insisted that the tokhaha, the passages in the Torah referring to the curses upon the Jewish people, be read aloud (Leviticus Chapter 26). His Hasidim were distressed. After all the custom is to read the curse in a low tone and for that matter to read it quickly. The Klausenberger explained: During the Shoah I lost my wife and eleven children. As I begin anew, I insist that the curse be read loud and I insist that it be read slowly. This is my, way of saying: “Listen Oh Lord, each of the curses have come true. Now,” the saintly Klausenberger Rebbe said, “I insist that the time of blessings, which are also contained in this part of the Torah, come true.” Because of his commitment to the relationship with the Divine, the Klausenberger Rebbe approached God with ahavat Yisrael and demanded of God that a new era begin.

Part of entering into a serious relationship is by placing demands on the other. We must uphold our responsibilities by doing our share in fulfilling our partnership with God to redeem the world. But, in the same breath, we have a right and even a responsibility to respectfully ask: “Oh Lord are You doing enough?”

Only then, will we respect what God actually wants from us, to hear our voices and to create a true covenantal relationship.