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Torah Sparks

March 17, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Exodus 30:11-34:35; Hertz Chumash, p. 352
Triennial Cycle III: Exodus 33:12-34:35; p. 362
Maftir: Numbers 19:1-22
Haftarah: Ezekial 36:16-38, p. 999

(30:11-16) Instructions concerning the contribution of the half shekel as a means of taking a census of men fit for military service.

(30:17-38) Instructions concerning the fabrication of the brass basin used for washing up before entering the Sanctuary and the manufacture of the anointing oil and the holy incense.

(31:1-11) Bezalel is appointed in charge of the making of the Tabernacle.

(31:12-17) A special warning regarding the sanctity of the Shabbat.

(31:18-32:6) God gives Moses the two tablets of the Covenant. Meanwhile, down in the Israelite camp, the people despair of Moses' return, and demand of Aaron that he make a "god" for them. The result is the Golden Calf.

(32:7-35) God tells Moses what the people are doing, and threatens to destroy them. Moses descends the mountain, sees the people dancing around the calf, and in a fit of anger breaks the tablets. The actual worshipers of the calf, 3000 in number, are put to death. Moses intercedes for his people and ascends Mt. Sinai once again. He pleads with God, who relents from destroying the entire people, though He sends a plague as punishment.

(33:1-11) God tells Moses to lead the people toward the Promised Land and says that He will no longer dwell in their midst. The people must strip off their finery as an act of contrition. God continues to speak to Moses directly.

(33:12-23) Moses pleads to be able to see God as a confirmation both of his authority and his relationship with God, but that request is denied, "for a human may not see Me and live." God does promise that Moses will be able to see His "back," i.e., have an indirect manifestation of His Presence.

(34:1-9) Moses returns to Mt. Sinai for the third time and receives the revelation concerning God's Thirteen Attributes.

(34:10-26) The renewal of the covenant between God and Israel, with further instruction concerning the keeping of the mitzvot.

(34:27-35) After forty days, Moses receives the second set of Tablets. He comes down from Sinai, his face shining with rays of light.

Discussion Theme 1: The "Show Me" State

He (Moses) said, "Let me behold Your Presence!" and He answered, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name Lord, and I will grant the grace that I will grant and show the compassion that I will show but you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live (Exodus 33:18-20)

  1. This passage is another one of the climaxes of the book,... In contrast to the scenes given in other ancient literatures, where for instance, the texts speak of a physical brightness too great to bear, or of epic descriptions of the gods, our passage is remarkably brief and devoid of physical description. All that is ventured here is a statement of G-d's essence, or, more precisely, of his essence for human beings: merciful but just. This image, which had such a great influence on the development of Christianity and Islam as well as Judaism, is of the highest importance in the understanding of the biblical G-d; it is almost as if the text is saying "This is all that can be known, intimately, of this G-d and this is all one needs to know." There is no shape, no natural manifestation (in contrast to the thunder and lightning approach at Sinai - but one should bear in mind what has just happened with the Calf) - only words, which describe G-d's relationship to human beings. (Everett Fox; The Schocken Bible Vol. 1, The Five Books of Moses; p. 450 (comment to 34:4-9))
  2. In reply to Moses' second request i.e. that G-d inform Moses of His essence and true being, G-d said, "You will not be able to see My face." G-d explained to Moses that He could not be perceived by human beings because He is completely detached from all creatures. But G-d revealed that, to a certain degree, Moses would be able to understand what G-d is, which is the epitome of human understanding. That degree of insight was achieved only by Moses, not by anyone before him or after him. G-d also bestowed upon Moses the knowledge of the nature of all creatures. This is what G-d meant by "I will let all My goodness pass before you" i.e. G-d taught Moses how each creature interacts with others, and how He guides creatures, both as a group and individually... Moses is faithful enough to be entrusted with a thorough understanding of the nature of G-d's entire universe. G-d informed Moses of this by saying here "and you will see my back" meaning: You will perceive what emanates from Meand what came about through my will, namely My creatures. This is what the Rabbis mean by saying: He showed him the knot of the tefillin. The tefillin allude to this matter: namely, how all creatures are tied one to the other and to their origin from one cause, until the matter is traced to G-d - The First Cause. (Avraham ben Natan HaYarhi, 13th C., Judaica Press Books of the Bible: The Book of Exodus Vol.2, p. 557-7a)

Discussion Sparks:

What is the nature of the limitations that G-d puts on this revelation of the Divine to Moses? Think about what is revealed, what does this tell us what G-d wants us to know about the Divine Self? Why does E. Fox above think that these attributes are all we can ever know about G-d? How does all this compare to the conception of G-d in some of the other major religious Faiths in our time?

Shabbat Parah

The special maftir designated for this Shabbat, describes the ceremony of the Red Heifer. Its ashes were used for ritual purification. Since one had to be ritually pure to offer the Pesah sacrifice, this reading before Rosh Chodesh Nisan served as an alert to everyone to be sure that they were in the proper state of ritual purity.

For us today, this special Shabbat is an early reminder that Pesah is coming and that we might want to start preparing.

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