​​​​​​What are you waiting for?

Noa Kushner // Mishpatim 2018

Sometimes we’re just waiting and it is… agonizing.
We are so aware we are waiting for whatever it is, whoever
It’s excruciating, all this waiting

Now the iphones / or ipharaohs as I like to call them
Have actually changed our perception of waiting
Because we can almost always be entertained or “connected”
We can forget that we are waiting.

But still
Maybe you can remember a time when there was nothing on the whole world wide internet that could provide enough distraction
We can conjure up how it was
Maybe we were in the doctor’s office, somewhere waiting
Waiting for test results
Waiting to see if this time it would work out
Waiting for the plane to take off
Waiting for our beloved to return
For the letter to come from your daughter at summer camp
For the call from the potential employer
For the call back from the one whom you offended and apologized
And now you are waiting for the call back
Waiting for the day to end
For the sun to come up
Or maybe waiting for something even bigger than all these
Sometimes we don’t even realize we are waiting, we have gotten so used to the weight of it for so long

I was thinking about waiting rooms
And I was feeling the certain relief of a waiting room
Because, even if we don’t know the outcome in the waiting room
The waiting, has been defined, hasn’t it?
It is between four walls
even if the doctor is very late this waiting has an endpoint.

Yehuda Amichai has a poem where he talks about the waiting room of Torah and all the people inside
Job hunkering down waiting for more bad news
The waiting room of Moses in the desert
Where he paces back and forth and doesn’t sit still for an instant.
Amicha ends the poem with the line:

And all of us
Wait with them
in a rustle of wings
And a flutter of newspapers
And coughs and sighs and whispered conversations—
We wait for the door to be opened by the angel in white
And behind that angel the blinding white light.

As if to say, life is a waiting room and when the waiting ends, life itself ends.
As if to say, there is no time when we are not waiting for something, many things, there is no time when we are not anticipating something else is coming
There is no time when don’t somewhere know, somewhere in us, that we don’t get to live forever
And so we are always waiting for or at least anticipating one thing, whether we are aware of it or not.

So the question becomes, the question that weaves in and out of our lives
The answers changing:
What are we waiting for? How are we waiting?

How can we learn to wait for something truly new, to imagine something on another level, so that we don’t just wait for the same things over and over?

How can we understand all this waiting
as an active waiting
As in, I am not only waiting, waiting is what you see on the outside, I may seem as if I am perfectly still, I may be indistinguishable from the person next to me
But inside,
something is growing, something is going on
And this waiting is the beginning of growth.

I am thinking about waiting because in Torah this week and the upcoming weeks we have two kinds of waiting going on simultaneously
One very different from the other.

See in this week’s parasha, Mishpatim
Moshe will goes up on Sinai receiving the aseret hadibrot, the ten commandments
Fourty days and fourty nights
He is not waiting, he is receiving or writing or creating moral DNA or coding the universe or whatever we think happened there
But everyone else is, as you might remember, at the bottom of the mountain, a ways away.
And there’s a midrash that we were waiting for Moshe to come back
But the thing is, we were ONLY waiting
In fact,
We were desperate for Moshe to come back
See, according to tradition, even though we had witnessed all these full scale miracles, the ones that got us out of Egypt
Maybe because of these miracles,
Even though, because either way
we were used to either a totalitarian dictator, Pharaoh, or a high octane, high presence God – represented of course by Moshe and only Moshe
The rabbis say that we were not free yet
Rather in leaving Egypt we had just traded our round the clock Pharaoh boss for Moshe
Someone we believed was as all controlling as Pharoah, just with more power.
We hadn’t really found God say the rabbis
Or ourselves
So that when, in the parasha in a few weeks, Moshe is late coming down
Some say he was six months late
Some say he was six days late
Some say he was only six seconds late
We were so undone, so strung out from the waiting
Waiting without any understanding of the possibility of our growth,

That when (according to midrash) Moshe did not come back right when we expected
The feeling of waiting and anxiety was so severe
We collapsedWe could not wait any longer
And out of desperation
We made a Golden Calf / a Moshe – Pharaoh substitute right on the spot
We prayed to it and danced around it in a trance saying, “This is God.”

See, when you are waiting that intensely without understanding that the waiting can be a precursor to growth
Everything, even a golden calf statue, could quickly and easily become your God. 

See, we thought, mistakenly, that if we had a golden calf
We could stave off the excruciating feeling of waiting and not being filled
We thought, mistakenly, that Moshe’s absence was the whole problem
And the lack of security that seemed to go with it
We had not yet learned that we are always waiting
That being free is getting used to the waiting, learning what to do with it, Maybe learning how to plant something in that waiting
Learning how to transform that waiting into growing.

There is a second image of waiting, this one in our parasha
I had never noticed it until now, maybe you didn’t either

In fact, this second kind of waiting is only hinted at -- when Moshe is getting ready to ascend Sinai at last.
And Torah says:
Va yakam Moshe v’ Yehoshua m’sharto /
And Moses rose with Joshua his servant

V’ya’al Moshe el har ha-elohim /
And Moses went up to the mountain of God

So all we know from this is two things:
(1) Joshua (Moses’ close student) gets up with Moshe at a key moment, and (2) then Moshe goes up Sinai alone. 

And we also know that when Moshe is coming back down from Sinai, 
In the middle of what will be the golden calf fiasco
Right before Moshe sees what is going on and in bitter disappointment and anger breaks the tablets  
Moshe first sees and talks with Joshua who seems to be right where Moshe left him, Joshua’s been waiting by himself at the foot of the mountain. 

So, in other words, now we understand, while Moshe was on Sinai and Israelites were losing their minds and building idols, Joshua is by himself, also waiting the whole time but just quietly and loyally. 

Which makes the rabbis wonder: How did Joshua survive all alone? What did he eat? 

And it makes me wonder, 
how is it that Joshua, who (according to Rashi) just a few chapters ago was so worried about the idea of Moshe dying he could even tolerate hearing the words spoken out loud – 

How is it that Joshua, here, all alone, not only survives the prolonged absence of his teacher

He has the emotional presence to greet Moshe, right when Moshe comes off the mountain, Joshua doesn’t even ask for anything, only tries to help. 

We want to know: What is the nature of this kind of waiting, what keeps Joshua whole?

I have two answers:
First, Rashi (our 11th century supercommentator) says: 
I do not know what Joshua’s role is here. 
But I think he was escorting the master until the place where the limits of the mountain were set.
(Meaning, everyone knew only Moshe could go up Sinai and so Joshua took Moshe as far as he could go.)

What keeps Joshua whole? I think maybe it is because Joshua has a role to play, he has a role to accompany Moshe as far as he can possibly go and then no further. Maybe Moshe should have given all of Israel this explicit role. To help send Moshe off and receive him again. 

Because when we have this role, when we accompany someone we love as far as we can possibly go and no further, even if we cannot go with them, we realize our importance
To them, to us
We are not empty, far from it
We might, a piece of us, wish we could go completely with them
But we are not empty 

Like a parent accompanying a bride before she reaches the chuppah
Like going with someone to the hospital – this far but not into surgery
Like watching someone you love soar from peering in her classroom window, from the front row
Like leviat hamet / like accompanying our dead to the grave
We walk as close to those we love as we possibly can, we carry them, and then there is a line we cannot cross
Because as much as we love them, we can’t go with them
We stay where we are and we are important from where we stand, to them and to us.

This sending off and receiving someone back, sometimes in a different way (even though death) is one of the great tasks of life and Joshua has discovered it. By giving himself this role, by waiting in this way, casting and receiving, loving and releasing, he is able to stay grounded in his waiting. 

“Moshe is coming back,” He thinks to himself. “And I will be here to greet him.” 

And I want to suggest a second answer for why Joshua stays whole:
That maybe during these 40 days and 40 nights
Joshua sees that even all alone, even without Moshe present, he still exists.
He sees hIs life is not a yawning gap waiting to be filled
And he begins to understand that waiting can also be the beginning of something
A beginning of growing into someone else

Maybe Joshua doesn’t see this on the first day
Maybe the first few nights even are lonely and frightening
But I imagine that he starts to understand, as the hours pass

That even if he cannot fully realize it now
The reality that Moshe will die
And one day Joshua will take the place of Moshe
He understands on a deep level this reality

Maybe not to be realized today but one day
He starts to hear it
He starts to see that he has something within himself
He sees that (ah ha!) even without Moshe, he can keep some of Moshe in him
That there are many ways to keep someone’s presence very close
And so the waiting becomes growing
He opens up to who he might be
And the waiting strengthens his faith. 

Finally, you know there’s a tradition that when Moshe dies much later, Joshua will write the last eight lines of the Torah – the lines that describe the death of Moshe and ready us to enter the promised land
Joshua will lead us there
And his book, the book of Joshua, will follow and describe it

And so, given everything, I am convinced it is during these moments in the desert
When Moshe is receiving the Torah
That quietly, at the very same time, 
Just as Moshe receives most of our Torah on high, on the mountain topIn opening his eyes to what might be, to who he might be, 
In understanding that he is not just waiting, there is something growing at this very moment
Joshua is receiving his first eight lines down below.