And yet there’s something more afoot in this work. Moses is delivering his pièce de résistance and knows that he won’t be entering the Holy Land, and yet his posture suggests a dance, not unlike McBee’s works on “David Dancing.” If one of the important traits of a strong leader is projecting optimism even in the face of desperation, McBee’s Moses performs splendidly, and McBee’s treatment of Moses as both the focus of the composition as well as one element in a larger symphony anchors the narrative in a particular place – one might say, adapting “The Maltese Falcon,” that Moses looms on the edge, but ultimately is barred from what dreams are made of – in a way that text cannot accomplish alone.
McBee’s Mountain Torah reminds me, in its structure, of a Max Liebermann painting. A figure in white (Moses wearing a kittel?) ascends a golden mountain in the top left corner, as a cacophony of figures, which range from men wearing prayer shawls to angels, fill the bottom and right side of the canvas. Moses, if indeed he is receiving the Tablets of the Law at Sinai, enjoys silent commune with God, and it’s no wonder that the chaos surrounding the other figures helps breed a Golden Calf. Moses hands hang at his sides; his peers’ gesticulate wildly as Hebrew letters soar above them.
The trick, of course, is for Moses to bring those tablets, which he studied so perfectly with God, down into the chaos and to allow them to illuminate the world beneath the mountain – perhaps like the word of God emerging from the chasm between the light and shadow in Fedida’s Genesis works.