Here’s the d’var Torah I offered yesterday morning at CBI. (Crossposted to Velveteen Rabbi.)
This Shabbat falls during chol ha-moed, the intermediate days in the midst of the festival of Sukkot. The appointed reading for today (Exodus 33:12–34:26) does make brief mention of Sukkot. Almost at the very end of the parsha we read “And you shall observe the feast of weeks, of the first-fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the turn of the year.” The feast of weeks is Shavuot; the feast of ingathering is Sukkot.
But mostly this parsha is about something different: a request from Moshe, and God’s intriguing answer.
“If I have found grace in Your sight, show me Your ways,” asks Moshe. And then Moshe adds, “Show me, please, Your glory.”
In response, God says: “I will make My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim My name before you, and I will manifest graciousness and mercy — but no one can look upon Me and live.”
As some of our b’nei mitzvah students would be quick to remind me, God doesn’t “look like” anything — God doesn’t have a body — so what would it even mean to look upon God?
It seems to me that the Torah here is speaking, as it so often does, in metaphor. First, Moshe asks “show me Your ways,” and God is happy to comply; in a sense, the entire Torah is God showing us God’s ways. But then Moshe asks to see God’s kavod, God’s glory. And God says, that’s not possible. Here is one reason why that might be.
Much later in our history, the kabbalists would speak of God as ein-sof, “Without End.” God is infinite, limitless, vaster than our human minds can comprehend. Any human mind which actually expands far enough to encompass all that God is would…crack open, I think. Would be stretched beyond its limits. God is precisely that infinity which we can’t comprehend.
Instead, God gives Moshe a different option: stand in a cleft of rock, and after I pass by, you can see My afterimage. I believe that we can see God’s afterimage all over creation: in our relationships, in our ethical obligations to one another, in moments of transcendence and power in our lives. Each of these is a tiny cellular glimpse of a facet of all of what God is, as in a hologram where each part contains the whole. Continue reading