Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Ki Tisa

In the Garden of Eden, God speaks with Adam and Eve. After Cain and Abel bring their offerings, God speaks to Cain. God seems to speak directly to some people throughout the Biblical text. In only a few places, though, can we read that God has a direct visual encounter with humans.

In Genesis 32:30, Jacob wrestles with an entity, but sees God’s face at the end of the episode. “Jacob called the name of that place “Peni-El” (face of God) for I have seen God faces to faces”.

This week, after God speaks to Moses faces to face (Exodus 33:10-11), Torah tells us that Moses requests to see “God’s glory.” But God will only let him see the back of divinity, not the face. No one can see the face of God and live. (Exodus 33:17-23) At the end of Torah, though, we read (Deuteronomy 34:10), “Never again has a prophet like Moses risen who knows God face to face.”

With all the folks out there purporting to speak on behalf of God, I found this trilogy of texts most enlightening. God speaks all the time. God speaks many languages and through many traditions. A lot of people hear the voice of God and then try to interpret what they heard. This first level of spiritual engagement is dangerous. We hear voices without context and then in spite of our own human limitations, we tell the world that God spoke to us (only us) and then go about imposing our interpretations on God’s shoulders (such as they are).

Jacob is the first to experience God in multi-dimensions. He hears God, sees. God, and depending on how one interprets scripture, wrestles with God. Interestingly, though, he does not see the “face” of God, he sees the “faces” of God (Panim el Panim – the plural of “face”). He becomes Israel representing the truth God will resonate differently to different people (ultimately the multiple tribes that come from this patriarch). Jacob understands, through his bout with faith (Israel means one who wrestles with God) that there is one God but lots of ways in which God manifests in the world (faces).

This week, God speaks to Moses “Faces to Faces,” but in the midst of the cloud. Moses could sense God’s immediate presence, but could not see the face of the Divine, even while perhaps standing directly next to “It.” Jacob’s wrestling match was a test of faith; it happened “to” him as the entity appeared from nowhere to engage him. Jacob came away from the wrestling match injured – enlightened, but injured.

Moses sought out a connection with divinity, God revealed God’s self progressively. Moses asked to see God. God replied that no one could see God’s face (singular) and live. Moses then gets to see God’s back, as God passes by the mountain. Jacob saw only God’s faces. Moses saw the entire shape form, corpus of all that is God. To think that God has only “one face – one perspective” is to lack faith: to die in faith. God is not a monolithic monophonic idol for passive worship and human manipulation.

At the end of the Torah, we learn that Moses “knew” God, “faces to faces.” The verb here is “Yadah” and translates as “intimate knowledge.” It is a Hebrew word that indicates extreme – even physical – intimacy. Over the course of Moses’ journey, he gained a holistic awareness of God’s breadth beyond the aural and visual. In essence, Moses knew God in the same sense as intimate partners know each other. In an intimate relationship, we know the many aspects of each other, not just the persona aimed in our direction or worn for specific circumstances.

Herein is the difference between love and infatuation. One cannot love another based on a façade. Moses spends much of the Torah as God’s intimate partner, arguing, debating, supporting, and engaging. Faith requires intimacy. Faith is not a destination or goal; it is an ever-evolving journey. For this reason, tradition teaches us to pray with all our heart, all of our soul, and all of our being. Love and faith cannot happen unless we are “all in.” And, as with any sacred relationship, a person of faith knows that what one believes is only the limit of one’s horizon, one’s ability to see, not the totality of truth. Shabbat Shalom.