Thursday, October 4, 2012
Two-Minute Torah: Seeing God's Face
This Shabbat is known as “Shabbat Hol Ha-Moed Sukkot,” the intermediate Shabbat of Sukkot. When an intermediate day of either Sukkot or Pesach falls on Shabbat, we read a special reading rather than from the weekly cycle.
This Shabbat’s reading from Exodus concludes with the commandment to appear before God on the three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, and this is why the reading was chosen. (As a linguistic aside, the Hebrew word “h.ag” which colloquially means holiday, strictly speaking refers only to the three pilgrimage festivals and is a cognate of the Arabic “h.ajj” or pilgrimge to Mecca.)
But immediately prior to this, Moses has what can only be described as a “meltdown” after he comes down from Mt. Sinai to find that the Israelites have made the Golden Calf. He demands that God show him His face or he will not agree to continue in his leadership role. God tells Moses that no one can see His face and live, but He will show Moses His back?
What does it mean to say that we cannot see God’s face but we can see His back? Does God have a face? A back? Why can we see the latter but not the former?
Come to shul this Shabbat morning to hear my perspective on this question and share your own thoughts.