Chol hamoed pesach

“The Eternal! The Eternal! God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness.” Exodus 34:6


On Shabbat of Chol Hamo’ed Pesach, the British Reform Movement has chosen a different reading from the above, which is taken from the Orthodox lectionary. I can understand why Reform has chosen Exodus 13, where the discussion of the festival is far more extensive. The more common traditional reading is barely concerned with Pesach at all. But how much more sublime is this reading, containing within it the oft-repeated description of God, known as the thirteen attributes of God.

After the dramatic episode of the Golden Calf, Moses pleads to save the people, and is then presented with a vision of God’s Presence. This precedes the second long encounter between God and Moses when, having broken the tablets, Moses must recarve them. God privileges Moses with yet another amazing encounter, often interpreted as God revealing directly His name – His thirteen attributes. They include compassion, grace, kindness.

Some interpreters have suggested that the intimate knowledge of God gained by Moses is absolutely appropriate for Pesach, the festival when we also read the passionate poetic verses of Song of Songs, often seen as an allegory for the love between God and Israel.

Moses demands, and receives, the most direct glimpse of, and contact with God ever obtained by a human being. He felt a yearning, an urgency to have direct experience of God, “If Your Face/Presence does not go with us, You cannot carry us out of here” (Exodus 33:15). On Pesach we are told to remember the Exodus, and to experience it. As American educator, Mark Elson, has written, how can we lift ourselves out of our ordinary lives, remember and appreciate our redemption at this time without an immediate sense of God’s Presence? This reading connects us to the festival, and ensures we feel confident that God will carry us out of our bondage by giving us the sense, as Moses had, of being sure that God has just passed by.

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