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Shabbat Chol Ha'Moed

In our reading for Shabbat Chol Ha'Moed Pesach, we discuss the new tablets that are hewn for Moshe following the breaking of the Tablets at the Sin of the Golden Calf:

Prior to this important moment in the Torah, a dialogue takes place between Moshe and Hashem (Exodus/Shemot 33:20) – Moshe asks to see Hashem's face, in a very famous response Hashem answers that none can see his face and live.

One this critical verse Rashi comments:

“And He said, “You will not be able…”: Even when I let all My goodness pass before you, I [still] do not grant you permission to see My face.”

The next verses (Exodus/Shemot 33:22-23) take the conversation forward.

And it shall be that when My glory passes by, I will place you into the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by.

Then I will remove My hand, and you will see My Back but My Face shall not be seen.

According to the Talmud (Brachot 7a): He saw the Tefillin knot of Hashem.

Perhaps another way we can delve into this idea is the following:

In the face of an experience, especially a terrible harrowing ordeal, we are often not able to remember that all things: from the smallest detail to the largest geopolitical movements are directed by Hashem.

We cannot always perceive the face of Hashem in the moment, this is why the wording that Rashi choses is so interesting: “even when I let all my *goodness* pass before you…” it is almost like a Kal v’Chomer (argumentum a fortiori): even in my goodness, how much more so in difficult and hard times.

The conclusion is that only the “back” can be seen, that is hindsight: it is when we look backwards into our lives we are able to perceive that all things were directed by Hashem to bring us to exactly the right place and the right time – whether we perceived them as good or not both during after is largely up to us.

A wise businessman once told me that it is only through mistakes that a company grows – they must be considered and treated as opportunities and lessons. He also told me that it was very difficult to have success in business until you crash and burn a few times.

This is perhaps the key of our Torah and its greatness; our “saints” and patriarchs were not perfect people, they were people who achieved high levels of perfection despite making human mistakes and errors – throughout the narrative of the Children of Israel walking through the desert we see many times that they complain, fall into negative habits, protest and rebel. This pattern is repeated throughout the Tanach – so much so that a certain other replacement theology religion uses this fact to suggest that Israel was rejected and replaced due to this with a new covenant.

The secret is that our Torah is True, it is Spiritual teachings for mortals not for perfect demigods:

The Torah comes to legislate and create the conditions for us to have peace and tranquility – it is not for any other reason than our humanity that we fall short.

On Pesach the message of human freedom is paramount, breaking the bonds of Egypt, destroying the Yetzer Hara and of miraculous deliverance – for those who understand the narrative of the Children of Israel; the journey begins at Pesach, it certainly does not finish there:

From the time they leave Egypt, wander the desert, fight the wars needed to settle the land of Israel, the various exiles and dispersions into foreign kingdoms, the inquisitions and expulsion from the diaspora, the holocaust, the expulsions from Arabic countries following the second world war, the settling of the land of Israel and the various wars fought there to grant independence to our nation and protect it from attack on all sides until this very day.

The process of Israel acquiring freedom takes place in a moment and takes thousands of years to still be yearning to achieve, this is similar to a marriage:

Although the ring is slipped onto the finger in a moment, the marriage itself can take years to develop and grow into a responsible loving relationship of trust.

When we look backwards into time with our beloved partner, we are able to laugh about some of those arguments we had, perhaps they were not even as important at the time as we thought they were – perhaps with the benefit of time, experience and perspective we can see that we became closer not only despite those differences but because of them.

Where other religions see only the failing of Israel, we see a marriage, an eternal relationship – relationships are not perfect, people make mistakes: it’s the getting through the hard times that defines a strong relationship.

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Pesach Somayach!

Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2024 ©

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