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This is the second in a series of three videos that I'm going to do with you, kind of trying to tie together the end of the Torah, almost connecting the middle of the Torah to the end of the Torah. Last week I suggested that I was going to do this with you through the lens of the Book of Psalms. I began to delineate a theory that a particular section of the Book of Psalms, Psalm number 90, is a kind of insider's view into the spiritual world of the prayer that Moses expressed to G-d at the darkest moment of Israel's history, in the aftermath of the Golden Calf. In that prayer he had beseeched G-d to allow the people of Israel to enter the land like the stars of the heavens as was promised to the forefathers. And indeed, Moses lives to see the realization of that prayer; the blessing that he gives to the people just before his death when they're assembled at his feet by the hundreds and by the thousands like the stars in the heaven, and they will go into the land, even though he will not. These are the themes of Psalm number 90 in its most basic outline.
But I want to start going beyond the basic outline with you and to actually delve into this Psalm and I think we'll discover a fascinating world of [unclear 1:34] richness here. Let me just jump in here with the first sentence or two. Tefillah l'Moshe ish ha'Elokim - a prayer of Moses, the man of G-d; Hashem - L-rd; Ma'on atah hayita lanu b'dor va'dor - You have been a habitation for us from generation to generation. You've been the environment in which we live. A home in which we live, almost. Now that might seem to be a strange thing to say about G-d, we don't usually think about G-d that way but the next verse of the Psalm kind of elaborates it for you. B'terem harim yuladu - before even the mountains were born; Va'techollel eretz v'teivel - before the land and the bedrock of the earth was ever carved out. Even before that, going back into the infinite recesses of time, You were there, You were always G-d.
Okay, so what does this really mean? What the psalmist is getting at here is that G-d in a kind of curious way is the place in which we all live, it's like there's a home within a home within a home, and you just have to regress to the largest, most fundamental home at all. In other words, if I would ask you what is your home, what's the environment in which you live? So you might say your house, but your house also lives somewhere, there's an environment for the house, right? That's the land that it's built upon. But if you look at land surface, the surface of the land that we look and see, that also has an environment, which is the bedrock of the planet. The bedrock of the planet that too has an environment in which it exists, that comes from somewhere too, that comes from the infinite Creator Himself. So G-d really is our home; the environment that encompasses us all.
Okay, so, so much for the first verse or two here of Psalm 90, but now I want to take you actually to the last verse of Psalm 90 and you'll see something astounding. The first clue to the relationship between these verses comes with actually just a single word; Ma'on. Ma'on, you'll recall, that's the Hebrew word for the idea of habitation, environment, that G-d is the environment or the home, the domicile in which we all live. Okay so just meditate on that word for a moment, Ma'on. How do you spell it? Mem, Ayin, Vav, Nun. And now take your eyes away from the very beginning of the Psalm and go to the very end of Psalm 90 and see if you find a word that sort of kind of reminds you of that.
Vihi no'am Hashem Elokeinu aleinu - let the pleasantness of G-d descend upon us. The word there for pleasantness, you know how you spell it? Nun, Vav, Ayin, Mem. Guess what boys and girls, that's Ma'on spelled backwards. Now isn't that interesting? I want to suggest to you that it's not just the word Ma'on that becomes inverted in the last verse of the Psalm to become No'am, it's the larger ideas of the verse as well. I mean, that's a kind of mind-bending notion. The first verse is talking about G-d creating the world, which is this habitation for us and that G-d Himself is sort of a habitation for that, so we sort of live within G-d if you will, as strange as that may sound. But now you're suggesting to me that the last verse might be talking about some sort of mirror image of that idea? That's like so dizzying I have no idea what that would even mean. But just hold on to your horses and let's just explore that idea for a quick second.
What exactly does the last verse of the Psalm say? You'll see actually that it expresses its own little prayer - if Psalm 90 as a whole is a prayer of Moses, here's a little prayer within a prayer. Vihi no'am Hashem Elokeinu aleinu - G-d, please allow the pleasantness of You, our G-d, to descend upon us; U'ma'asei yadeinu konenah aleinu - and the works of our hands, G-d, we want You to establish those and to make them successful. Okay, so those are kind of nice, poetic words, but what exactly does that mean? What's the idea here?
Well as it turns out, the Sages of the Midrash actually suggest that these last words of Psalm 90 were once expressed by Moses at a certain crucial moment in the Five Books of Moses. You know, we have been talking about Psalm 90 as a poetic expression of Moses' prayer of the Golden Calf, the Sages now are going to point one other moment in history they want us to look to. They suggest that these last words of Moses were actually said by Moses during the Dedication Ceremony of the Tabernacle. If you look carefully in the Torah, at the very end of the Book of Exodus, it says that Moses blessed the people after they had done all of their hard work in making the Temple complete and the Sages suggest that the words of that blessing were the last words of Psalm 90.
So here's what the Rabbis say. They tell a story. They say that, you know, when everything was complete, when the people had built everything for the Mishkan - for the Tabernacle, and they had offered all the offerings of the Dedication Ceremony, G-d's presence had not yet come into the Tabernacle. Aaron the High Priest knew it, the people knew it, and they were chagrined and they were ashamed and they thought the whole enterprise was just a terrible failure. They had failed to bring G-d's presence into the world. Aaron approached Moses and said, I know why this happened, G-d is angry at me, right? It was the Golden Calf. We haven't achieved forgiveness for that yet. The people thought it was the Golden Calf.
Moses turned to the people and turns to Aaron and blesses them all and this is what he says; Vihi no'am Hashem Elokeinu aleinu - let the pleasantness of G-d come upon us. The pleasantness of G-d, according to the Midrash, is a euphemism for the Shechinah - for the presence of G-d. Let the presence of G-d descend upon us. U'ma'asei yadeinu konenah aleinu - and G-d, we need You to establish the works of our hands, to make the works of our hands a success. This Mishkan that we've built, we've built it for You to come inside, for it to be Your home. Make the works of our hands successful, don't allow all this work to have been in vain. Come into the works of our hands and be at home within us.
Fascinating. You know, if you accept the Sages' interpretation of these words, if you see the end of the Psalm as a plea by Moses that G-d should inhabit the Mishkan, the works of our human hands, you know what the implication of that is? The implication is that this last verse of Psalm 90 is in fact a mirror image of the first verse of the Psalm. The first verse says that G-d at the earliest moments of creation what did He make? He made a G-d-made environment for us, we call it the world, that's where we live, and because of that we sort of live within G-d, the maker of that world.
Now go to the last verse of the Psalm, the last verse focuses on us, mankind, the one who dwells, so to speak, within G-d. And it contains a prayer, a prayer that's an inversion of the first verse. G-d, I know that I live within You but I need You to live within me. You made something, the handiwork of Your own hands, we call it the universe, well I made something too, we call it the Mishkan. Come and inhabit the woks of my hands, don't let this go up in smoke. Ma'asei yadeinu konenah aleinu - make successful the works of our hands; Vihi no'am Hashem Elokeinu aleinu - and allow Your presence to be at home within us.
Okay, so all of this is very fine and good but now I have a challenge for you. How exactly does this all come together? The beginning of the Psalm seems to talk about G-d making a place for us, the end of the Psalm seems to talk about us making a place for G-d. Great, all of that is very well and good, but what does all of this have to do with the themes that we began to trace in Psalm 90 last week? Last week we saw all of these intertextual parallels of Psalm 90 that brought us back to Moses' blessing at the very end of his life, at Har Nevo, and perhaps even more significantly, the parallels draw us to another place as well; to Moses' prayer at the Golden Calf. Okay so if this is Moses' prayer at the Golden Calf, so how could it also be Moses' prayer at the Inauguration of the Mishkan? What do all these lofty words about habitation and the Mishkan have to do with the issues of survival that were front and center when G-d was considering destroying the people after the Golden Calf? Somehow we have seem to have a lot of beautiful themes that are starting to emerge in Psalm 90, but almost no idea as how they all connect. How do they all connect?
I want to suggest to you next week that Psalm 90 is actually nothing less than the story of the second half of the Torah. All of these seemingly disparate themes join together into an elegant tapestry, the center of which in fact is Moses' prayer at the Golden Calf. Come back next week and let's tie it all together.
Hey, it's Rabbi Fohrman again, thanks for watching this video. If you have comments, thoughts, questions, observations, feedback, I would love to hear about it. Just comment in our little comments section below. I don't get a chance to respond to all of them, but I do like reading them and will actually respond now and then. So have a great Shabbos, look forward to hearing what you have to say.
1. Bereishit: Thank You, God...For Not Making Me A Woman?
2. Noach: Why Aren't Dinosaurs In the Torah?
3. Lech Lecha: The Battle For Abraham's Legacy
4. Vayeira: Abram, Sarai, Hagar, Ishmael and...Exodus?
5. Vayeira: Epilogue
6. Chayei Sarah: Eliezer and Samuel's Surprising Connection
7. Toldot: What Is Isaac's Legacy?
8. Vayeitzei: Understanding Rachel's World
9. Vayishlach: From Jacob to Israel
10. Vayeishev: Does God Speak To Us Today?
11. Miketz: Reversing the Sale of Joseph
12. Vayigash: Understanding Pharaoh's Dream
13. Shmot: Does God Really "Love" Us?
14. Va'era: Seeing God in Science
15. Bo: God's Justice In Action
16. Beshalach: Fruit Trees In the Sea?
17. Beshalach: Epilogue
18. Yitro: Seeing Ten Commandments in the Burning Bush
19. Mishpatim: Does Our History Become Laws?
20. Mishpatim: Epilogue
21. Terumah: Angels In the Tabernacle? Part I/2
22. Tetzaveh: Angels In the Tabernacle?- Part 2/2
23. Ki Tisa: A Closer Look At Kiddush
24. Vayakhel-Pekudei: God In Space, God In Time
25. Vayikra: How Can We Relate To Sacrifices Today?
26. Tzav: A Deeper Look At The Priestly Role
27. Tzav: Epilogue
28. Shemini: What Does Aaron Teach Us About Loss?
29. Tazria-Metzora: Rejoining the Community
30. Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Social Justice...and Sacrifices?
31. Emor: An Epic View of Jewish Holidays
32. Behar-Bechukotai: Walking With God
33. Bamidbar: Why We Count
34. Beha'alotecha: Where It All Went Wrong
35. Shelach: How Can We Relate To Such a Vengeful God?
36. Korach: Why Did Korach Rebel?
37. Chukat: Why Did Moses Hit The Rock?
38. Balak: What Is Israel's Purpose In The World?
39. Pinchas: What Is True Leadership?
40. Matot-Masei: The Art of Negotiation
41. Devarim: What Did Moses Do Wrong?- Part 1/2
42. Va'etchanan: What Did Moses Do Wrong?- Part 2/2
43. Eikev: Why Does The Nation Of Israel Merit The Land?
44. Re'eh: Why Do We Need Both Oral and Written Law?
45. Shoftim: The Significance of Saving Private Ryan
46. Ki Teitzei: How To Merit Long Life
47. Ki Tavo: The Pursuit of Happiness- Part 1
48. Nitzavim: The Pursuit of Happiness- Part 2/2
49. Vayeilech: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 1/3
50. Ha'azinu: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 2/3
51. V'Zot Habracha: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 3/3
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