Shab­bat Chol Hamo’ed

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM -

“God said, ‘You can­not see My face, for no one shall see Me and live’” Ex­o­dus 33:20

This Shab­bat I am faced with a dilemma. Re­form con­gre­ga­tions will read from Ex­o­dus 13, hear­ing the laws of Pe­sach, while the Ortho­dox read­ing will be from Ex­o­dus 33:12. Which to choose? It helps that Ex­o­dus 33 con­tains my favourite piece of Torah.

Moses is up on Mount Si­nai with God. After all he’s been through, he asks God for a bit of spe­cial treat­ment, per­haps a re­ward for push­ing through all the chal­lenges so far thrown at him. Moses asks to see all of God’s glory, to see the full­ness of the Di­vine.

God’s an­swer, es­sen­tially, is “you can’t han­dle the truth”. Which I think might be the deep­est truth Torah has to of­fer us. If even Moses can’t han­dle the to­tal­ity that is the truth of God, I cer­tainly haven’t got a hope. It asks us to ac­cept that no one hu­man can know all truth, and if we claim to know all that God is or all that God wants, we are de­luded.

From the fifth cen­tury the Pe­sikta of Rav Ka­hana de­scribes how hu­mans may see a va­ri­ety of God’s “faces”, but God is, of course, One and is greater than any one of the guises hu­mans man­age to fathom. The Pe­sikta goes on to say in the name of Rabbi Levi, that The Holy Blessed One ap­peared to the Is­raelites as a statue with faces on ev­ery side: “so that though a thou­sand men might be look­ing at the statue, they would be led to be­lieve that it was look­ing at each one of them”.

If we for­get that alone we don’t have the whole picture, and that we can learn a lit­tle more when those around us share their view­point too, we are miss­ing out on com­ing closer to the whole­ness of truth.


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