One of my teachers, Rabbi Mordechai Finley, taught that it is easy to find God when we are alone on top of a mountain. The challenge is to find God when we are caught up in the messy reality of daily life. Judaism challenges us to find God amidst the petty realities and profound worries of our lives.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses ascends to the peak of Mt. Sinai and receives God’s revelation. He is in direct contact with God for 40 days and 40 nights.
While he is up there, the Israelites grow afraid. In Moses’ absence they command Aaron to create an idol, the Golden Calf, to comfort them–the ultimate violation of the covenant. Fear drives the Israelites away from God, and Moses in a rage comes down the mountain and smashes the tablets. Later he will seek God out again on another mountain and ask God to reveal its essence.
Alone, on a mountain top, Moses can find God, but with the Israelites he is full of anger and frustration. Just like us.
Perhaps that is why Judaism never developed an ascetic culture of religious orders who withdrew from society or hermit monks. Judaism is lived among people, in community, not alone on a mountaintop. Because, as Rabbi Finley taught… that is the heart of the spiritual life: to find God among people.