Ki Tissa 5778 – Can You See His Face?

By: Dr. Jeffrey Buch

What gives a word or phrase it’s weight?  What gives a speaker his credence?  Why do we accept a message from this source but not from another?  Can anyone see G-d’s face and live?  Or, does that last statement really mean, that none of us will see G-d’s face until we pass from this world?  And what does it mean “to see G-d’s face?”  Let us “see” what guidance for such is given in Parsha Ki Tissa.

This is quite a busy parsha.  It wraps up the building of the Tent of Meeting containing the Ark, G-d requires a tax with 100 % participation rate at a ½ Shekel price for all the Israelites for the redemption of one’s soul.  Moses ascends Sinai to receive the Law.  The impatient and “stiff-necked” Israelites in their worry over Moses not returning in 40 days exactly (having miscalculated by one day shy of 40), commit the sin of creating and worshipping the golden calf.  Moses shatters the original tablets of the Law. Moses commands the Levites to slay the perpetrators that instigated the golden calf incident.  Moses reascends Sinai to receive the new tablets of the Law and in the process, argues with G-d not once but twice.  First, he argues not to slay all of the Israelites for the sin of the golden calf and again he argues that G-d cannot have an angel serve as G-d’s surrogate in leading the people on His behalf- but rather that He must dwell among the people and lead them Himself as originally promised in order to keep His promise to our patriarchs and to avoid the appearance to the other nations that he has abandoned the Israelites.  Wow!  This is quite a bit to have packed into one parsha.  But wait, there’s more!

Moses gets to see G-d’s glory, but not His face!  For no person can see G-d’s face and live.  After this encounter, Moses returns with the second set of tablets with a glowing face that is too bright for the people to see directly, so Moses must wear a veil over his face when he encounters other people.

This is enough to make your head spin!  So, how do we proceed to unpack all of this and what is the most important lesson.  How about if I let one of you pick?  No, only I’m only kidding.  What I will now proceed with is not clearly seen, but rather inspired from what I have experienced in this parsha.

Our patriarch, Jacob, earned the name Israel, after “struggling with G-d” and overcoming that ordeal.  This is emblematic of what it means to be Jewish.  Our lives are a struggle-with the laws we have been given- and how we choose to –or not- incorporate them into our lives.  The process of “getting there” makes us who we are even more than the degree of observance that we show on the outside.  As a result of this struggle, our observance is true and pure of heart, rather than simply a manifestation of blind faith and its perfunctory meticulous performance of rituals- which have the outward appearance of observance but without any spirit or heart.

In this parsha, Moses is not merely struggling with what G-d has instructed, Moses argues directly with Hashem.  What Chutzpah he shows!  Yet, we should remember the original precedent set by Abraham arguing with G-d and bargaining with G-d in order to try to save Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction if he can find only 10 good men, a minyan.  As you recall, he did not find a minyan or even close.

So how does arguing with G-d align with the desire to see G-d’s face?  It seems that the more we struggle with our attempts to observe G-ds Laws, the more we argue with G-d’s laws, then the closer we come to knowing G-d and knowing truth.  This is the only way to observe the Laws.  When we observe them with the purity of heart and spirit that results from struggling with them there is truth.  When we blindly perform rituals to perfection, we can have the outward appearance of piety but all too often lack  spirit and heart.  In our struggles with observance, we find the face of G-d, or as close as we will come in this Life.  Let us struggle together in observance, sensing the purity of spirit and the joy that can power our prayers and our lives.

Shabbat Shalom!