Our portion this week, Ki Tisa, packs a lot into its chapters. Perhaps the most famous story is that of the Golden Calf. I have no doubt that many colleagues will be speaking to this over this Shabbat. However, lets look also at a wonderful passage from Exodus 33: 17-23. Moses, and God speak as to the future. Moses insists that God accompany the Israelites on their journey and finally asks God: “Let Me behold Your presence” ([33:18]). God responds that “you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live” ([33:20]) God places Moses “in a cleft of the rock” and he promises to shield Moses’s eyes with His hand until he passes by “Then I will take my hand away and you will see My back, but My face must not be seen” ([33:21],21,23). Quite an amazing visual.
How can this incident relate to our own aging? I was thinking about how we experience God. We often do so in retrospect. It is like that passage of Jacob’s ladder from Genesis when he proclaimed that God was in this place but he did not know. Yes, we sometime experience an event or a moment and say how “spiritual” it was. Yet, let me suggest that we often experience the Divine as we reflect on an incident in our lives. It is as if we understand that old saying that we live life forward but understand it backward. Often, when we are “in the moment”, we may not be aware of everything that is happening. Yet, when we take some time to reflect, we can become aware of a sense of something greater than our own experience, and that some greater meaning was gained.
Many of us are trained to seek answers to questions. We need to “see” proof of something. Yet, what this passage may also be saying is that there are many things in life that may defy answers. Those answers may have to wait until we live a little, experience life a little more and place that experience against the larger journey of our life. Sometimes, there may be no hard answers to a situation and we are faced with a sense of acceptance. Here is where faith comes in to play. It is as if that metaphor of God’s face not being allowed to be seen is a way of saying that there may be moments on life where no answer can be found and so one’s faith must be the source of strength. We all have faced such circumstances when the answer to an event or circumstance is that there is no answer. Therein is part of the mystery of our own existence. Try as we might to see God, we can only “know” God through the collective experience of our life.
Rabbi Richard Address