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Parshas Ki Sisa - Moshe's Intimate Encounter With God

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Mar 11, 2009

The dialogue and intimate encounter between God and Moshe Rabbeinu in Parshas Ki Sisa is one of the most difficult-to-understand sections of the Torah. Nonetheless, let's see if we can gain a minimal comprehension of what is transpiring in this most deep and profound narrative.

Immediately prior to Hashem's acceptance of Moshe's plea for total forgiveness and His continued presence among B'nei Yisroel, Moshe supplicates, "Please show me Your ways, and I will thereby know that I have found favor in Your eyes." (Shemos 33:13) Targum Yonasan ben Uziel explains that Moshe asked God to reveal why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper (from Peirush Yonasan, ref. Berachos 7a). The Sforno interprets that Moshe requested of Hashem to disclose other secrets of His mastery of the universe: how Hashem creates physical beings from naught and how Hashem enables beings to have free will despite His omniscience.

Why were these theological questions part of Moshe Rabbeinu's attempt to obtain God's favor? Similarly, why did Moshe ask Hashem a few pesukim later, "Please show me Your glory" (ibid. v. 18), whereupon Hashem hid Moshe in a cleft while Hashem enabled Moshe to intimately encounter His Presence. What do Moshe's probing theological questions and his special Divine communion have to do with teshuva for the Chet Ha-Egel and the plea for God to continue to accompany B'nei Yisroel? Would more elaborate tefillos for forgiveness not have been more appropriate?

As was explained in an earlier d'var Torah in this series, the Jewish People had taken Hashem's Presence for granted; this is what led to the Chet Ha-Egel. Hashem bestowed upon B'nei Yisroel objective manifestations of kedusha at Har Sinai and through the Luchos, and the people - who had never truly sought nor longed for Hashem - failed to appreciate the gift of His Presence. Rectification for the Chet Ha-Egel necessitated that B'nei Yisroel seek and pine for Hashem's Presence. The relationship with God had to be bidirectional; the people now needed to approach and draw near to Him in order to merit the dwelling of His Shechinah in their midst.

But how does one do this? How does a person draw near to and pursue God? One cannot experience God with his senses, and God has no geographic location where one can go and seek Him. What is the method of drawing close to Hashem, and how were B'nei Yisroel expected to employ it?

Since Hashem lacks any physicality and cannot be perceived with human tangible senses, one must approach and encounter His Presence with the non-tangible aspects of the human experience: the intellect and the soul. This is precisely what Moshe Rabbeinu, as the emissary of K'lal Yisroel, did in his dialogue with the Divine.

Moshe sought for God to reveal the secrets of His mastery of the universe: how people are rewarded and punished - although from a limited, human perspective it cannot be fathomed - or for the mysteries of Creation and God's Omniscience to be disclosed. By posing these questions, Moshe drew near to Hashem via the intellect, seeking to be close to Hashem through Divine, inscrutable wisdom. Moshe also requested that God enable him to experience His glory. This represents the second method of approaching Hashem, through the soul. Moshe asked that he be in God's proximity in a spiritual sense, such that his neshama encounter Hashem's Presence with a proximity never before possible for a human being.

God responded totally favorably to Moshe's request for forgiveness and the manifestation of His Shechinah by approaching Him through the intellect and spirit. B'nei Yisroel, through the agency of Moshe Rabbeinu, had come full circle and demonstrated their love and attachment to God, Whose Presence they longed and pined for, thereby rectifying the Chet Ha-Egel and enabling Hashem to forge a new covenant that would endure forever.


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