Moses is perhaps the world’s first community organizer. Moses gathers his people, fights out against injustice, and manipulates G-d’s power for change. However, Moses, leader of the Jewish people is not immune to great disappointment. Moses’ reaction towards challenges in his life teaches the Jewish people great lessons about responding to disappointment. In Exodus Chapter 32, we see Moses struggle personally, as a leader of a great nation, and in his relationship with G-d. As Moses is atop Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, his people are betraying his trust by building and worshiping a golden calf. Angered, G-d threatens to destroy the people in hopes of creating a superior society to continue his teachings. Moses, defends his community out of love and pleas with G-d: “Let not Your anger, O Lord, blaze forth against Your people, whom you delivered from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand” (Exodus, 32.11)
Upon descending the mountain, Moses sees the idolatry himself. Did the Israelites not have enough faith in Moses to wait for his return and delivery to them the words of G-d? “He (Moses) became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.” (Exodus, 32.19) Moses who earlier defended the people worshipping the calf to G-d saw his dream of leading G-d’s chosen people to the Promised Land shatter like the tablets upon witnessing this wicked act. Moses is disappointed in his people. He must rebuild the mutual faith and trust between himself and his community in order to perpetuate a great nation. In this moment Moses learns that being a leader is not only about his dreams for his community, but rather about how he works with his community together towards success.
What does this teach us for our own lives? How do we handle disappointments?
Like Moses, we often hold great expectations for ourselves, and for others. In fact, we are taught to do so. Throughout childhood we are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” No child answers ‘I want to barely get by’. Instead, we dream of being doctors, lawyers and professional athletes. As time goes on, we are faced with challenges, and disappointments. Maybe we never grow tall enough to be a basketball player, or we realize we fear public speaking. We, like Moses, realize that when things don’t work out according to our ideals we must learn how to cope and work towards the best of our abilities. We turn our love of sports into a hobby instead of a profession. We relentlessly work on that which can be improved, always striving for our fullest selves.
Moses reevaluated the situation and returned with a renewed faith. Taking his disappointment in stride, he shifted his expectations. With his community at the forefront, Moses decides how they can move forward together. He picked up his dreams of leading a people to become a great nation and went back to G-d. This time G-d had Moses craft tablets, which G-d inscribed. “The replacement tablets, unlike the originals, will be a joint human-divine effort … reflect(ing) the perfection of G-d, the second set reflected the will of G-d and the ideals of G-d filtered through the limitations of human beings and the reality of human experience.” (Kushner, p. 43)
Like Moses, we can learn from our mistakes. We may not live a life without failure but we can choose how we respond to challenges. We can find determination within ourselves to reevaluate and renew what we had before it was broken. We may alter our dreams but keep the lessons of our disappointments with us. Through our response to disappointments, we can learn more about who we are and who we want to be. Our dreams change as we grow, and we determine if the dreams we once had align with our current goals and search for happiness. In times of disappointment, Moses was carried on by his devotion and love for his community and by G-d. Moses was able to forgive that which had happened, and realized limitations. He continued to persevere and create new dreams. We too can emulate Moses’s ability to move past challenges. We can rely on our community to carry us through the struggles we face within our lives and strengthen our ability to create new dreams.