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Parashat Ki Tissa: Let me see your face?

02/22/2019 01:51:45 PM


After Moses has won forgiveness from God for the sin of the Golden Calf, God begins to travel
with the people in the form of a cloud. Moses goes into a special tent to speak to God “…as one
man speaks to another”. At these times the people can see the cloud descend and envelope the
tent and they know God is near. In one of these encounters, Moses asks “Oh let me behold
Your Presence!” God says “…you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live.”
God tells Moses to stand in a special place and “…as my Presence passes by, I will put you in a
cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand
away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”

As God does this, God recites the words that have become a beloved High Holy Day prayer –
“Adonai, Adonai, Merciful and Compassionate, Patient, Abounding in Love and Faithfulness,
Assuring Love for Thousands of Generations, Forgiving Iniquity, Transgression and Sin, and
Granting Pardon”. God cannot completely grant Moses’ wish for complete, intimate
connection. However, God appears in semi-human form, gives as much as is possible, and then
gives us these beautiful words by which we should reach for God when we need God the most.

This passionate yearning for being at one with God is what fuels all the mystical practices of
Judaism, and all religions. It is the reason that much Kabbalistic poetry, like the Lecha Dodi and
Yedid Nefesh prayers, express this yearning in terms of God as the Beloved. It is also why
Jewish spouses are encouraged to enjoy marital intimacy on Friday night. The experience of
deep connection to another human being is supposed to help us understand God and Shabbat.
This encounter between God and Moses also illuminates the frustration of relationships. Is it
truly possible to completely merge with another being the way we yearn to? Can we ever truly
“know” another person? There is deep fulfillment in all loving relationships – and ultimately,
there are also limits. We are ultimately also alone – with ourselves and God.

Opening our hearts to other people, and to God, requires the vulnerability expressed by Moses.
We don’t always get what we ask for. We may be rejected or disappointed. Just as we struggle
with this in our own lives, God struggles in the Torah to find the balance between wanting to
control the people – and allowing God and us the opportunity to make room in our hearts for
each other.

Mon, May 20 2019 15 Iyyar 5779