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Posts Tagged ‘meeting God’

How do we fare when called upon to face unpleasant truths?  How do we manage that call to do a difficult, seemingly endless task?  How deep is our empathy?  This is the essence of what Moses is facing at the burning bush theophany in this week’s Torah portion, Shemot.

Exodus 3:6 says, “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”  That raises a theological question.  If Judaism teaches God has no physical form, what was Moses afraid to look at? Cassuto points out that the Torah is careful not to imply a physical form, just that Moses knew God was presenting some kind of vision, and Moses was afraid to look at it.  However, Moses listens very attentively.  So he is receptive to hearing God’s message, but is clearly missing something.  Moses will accept the mission, but we can say he does so somewhat “blindly.”

Malbim takes the analysis of Moses hiding his face a bit further.  By hiding his face, Moses shows he is not ready for a complete relationship with God. Malbim says that the Hebrew verb meihabit is not seeing so much as giving full concentration on something.  Hiding his face is really Moses retreating into the material world, not able to spiritually and intellectually comprehend God.  The material world is kind of his safety net.  He hears God’s commands.  On some levels he understands what is being demanded of him.  But he is not ready for what eventually will be “knowing God panim el panim(face to face).” It is very important to note the intellectual component of the human/God relationship implied by Malbim.  Meeting God “face to face” is intellectually as well as spiritually demanding.

Did Moses act properly by hiding his face?  Sages who argue he did not say God would have shown him what was above and what was below – the secrets of existence (Shemot Rabbah 1:27).  Malbim’s commentary seems to agree with this by adding Moses was not ready for ultimate truth.  Ba’al Haturim, however, takes a slightly different tack.  He says that had Moses looked into God’s presence at the bush and asked for relief of the Israelites’ suffering, the exile would have been ended right then.  Israel would have been freed.  Thus we can ask, what is it Ba’al Haturim thinks Moses would have seen had he not hidden his face, that is, if he had tried to look at God face to face?

If we extend Ba’al Haturim’s reasoning, God would have shown Moses the full extent of Israel’s suffering in Egypt.  If we combine the comments of Cassuto, Malbim and Ba’al Haturim, we might construct this scenario.  Moses had seen the suffering of an individual Israelite, which led him to kill an Egyptian taskmaster.  Moses is listening to what God is trying to convey, but is not yet ready to grasp the enormity of Israel’s suffering.  Moses is not yet ready to perceive truth from God’s perspective – an intellectual and spiritual experience that is beyond him at the time of the call to his mission.  Moses is just human.  Trying to understand the full scale of human suffering and ultimate truth is a tall order. But Moses DOES listen, so he begins a path to lead the Israelites and finally know God “face to face.”

We can put reaction to the rise of anti-Semitism today in a similar context of Moses’ theophany.  Like Moses, we are obsessed with each incident as it happens in our individualized manner.  These include the shooting at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, the shooting in Poway, the shooting in Jersey City, and the knifing in Monsey, NY – just to name a few. Further, we tend to analyze them strictly on our political backgrounds and perspectives:  are we liberals or conservatives, Republicans or Democrats – just to name the obvious examples.

We are quick to declare that the dominant form of anti-Semitism is on the opposite side of our political belief.  We are afraid to look at the whole picture, that there is hatred of Jews coming from across all the political, religious, and ethnic spectrums.  I read articles written by liberals who refuse to see the seriousness of anti-Semitism from certain people whose general political stands they support.  I read the same approach from conservative writers, who also stupidly condemn Jews like George Soros for his liberal approaches using anti-Semitic tropes.  I have yet to read a condemnation of pastor Rick Wiles by right wing Christians.  Wiles claims the attempt to impeach Trump is a “Jew coup.”  Meanwhile, those on the left use “intersectionality” to justify any anti-Israel approach, saying that Israel is an oppressive country and therefore Jews who support Israel can be condemned.  This opens the door to left wing anti-Semitism.

Like Moses, we are over focused on what is in our own minds instead of truly trying to “look at God face to face,” which means starting to see the larger picture, the full extent of what Jews must be facing today.  The best article on anti-Semitism that I have read is from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who gives a good insight not only into hatred of Jews, but racism and bigotry in general.  https://www.jta.org/2020/01/02/opinion/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks-the-keys-to-understanding-american-anti-semitism-and-fighting-back?utm_content=buffer81f6b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=jtafacebook&utm_campaign=social&fbclid=IwAR3zqO4Nyr2Z0crZGRjBfrM2yHkYUf1hCeq6s2g-B5cnc5KAYqO-Ha2KRng

If, like Moses, we learn to look at God “face to face” and not just hide our face (really our minds), then we will see a much larger picture.  This picture not only includes the depth and diversity of anti-Semitic sources, but also the depth and diversity of those who are ready to stand with us Jews as we fight bigotry.  While a number of the New York attacks on Chasidic Jews are from blacks, the vast bulk of African Americans are deeply caring people who just want bigotry to end.  While the terrorism in the Middle East against Israel is through anti-Semitic Muslim groups (e.g. Hamas), I have met so many Muslims in America who stand with the Jewish people against hatred.  While there are people on the left wing who produce anti-Semitic narratives, the vast majority of liberals can be defined as liberal because they very strongly condemn oppression of Jews.  While some of the most violent anti-Semitic actions have come from right wingers, and there are increasing numbers of white nationalists who stress their hatred of Jews; most American conservatives fiercely condemn anti-Semitism.  If we are truly trying to see God, we will not only see those who hate Jews from all sides, but the vast number of those who will stand with us as our friends.  If we also hear all of these people’s pains and sufferings, and stand with them like they will stand with us, we will gain, like Moses, a deeper understanding of God.

God’s call to Moses at the bush is not about forcing a religious ideology upon the Egyptians.  It is not about violent coercion of any kind.  It is a call to lead a group of people to freedom, to alleviate suffering. When we hear the pain and suffering of others, we are starting to perceive God’s voice.  If we look at the truth of how humans act – the good and the bad – we have taken a step on the path to know God.  Ultimately there can be no hiding of our faces.  If we look into the vision God provides, if we really understand what we are being shown, then, when we dare to look at God face to face – we will find our own face staring back at us.

 

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