I have thought of this alot in the weeks leading up to the “apostasy” of the Golden Calf, the challenges this harsh object lesson poses to the reader. Listening to Bar and Bat Mitzvah students wrestle aloud with this text, one develops a certain kind of sympathy for their youthful impatience. They want, as teenagers are genetically disposed, what they want NOW. Patience, afterall, is a virtue, which, like most virtues, are developed by, not inherent to, individuals.
I don’t think I’m telling you something you don’t already know.
Patience takes practice, tolerance, generosity of spirit.
Interestingly, when Moses learns God’s name up on the Mountain, he learns that God’s name has many attributes: Eternal, Eternal, God of Compassion and Gracious, Slow to Anger, Abounding in Kindness and Faithfulness, Extending Kindness to the thousandth generation, Forgiving Iniquity, Transgression and Sins.
“Slow to Anger” is literally translatable as Long Nosed (Jewish, obviously) meaning Patient. A short, fiery nose in the Biblical poetry is a sign of impatience. So, beneath the humor there is the idea that patience is a key to understanding the apostasy of the people’s desire to make a God they could see.
How do we know? When do we find this information?
After the sin of the Golden Calf – when Moses comes down from his second trip up the Mountain after having destroyed the first set of tablets in a fit of anger. He goes to the second set and is so enamored of the experience of speaking to God face to face that he himself desires to “see” God. Here is the famous passage, at the end of Exodus 33 where God says, “You cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live.”
Even Moses expresses that very human desire to “see” the Divine.
And he’s answered in Exodus 34 with a “vision” that is a name, a complex name, with many diverse attributes, one of which is long-nosed patience.
Final thought: a person gives honor to a place. Translating “honor” literally, one may offer “a person gives ‘weight’ to a place.”
What’s heavier than a statue of gold?
The virtue of patience.
Moses gets it himself, finally, and his reward, at the end of Exodus 34, is that God renews the Covenant.
And from then on, after Moses goes to speak with God, he veils himself before the people, modifying and mediating the direct contact with the Divine. With the veil, we learn that more can be seen when less is seen. That the idol is the need for the immediate, the instant gratification.
And that patience wins in the end.
[Note: This post originally appeared on Rabbi Andy Bachman's blog Brooklyn Jews.]