Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach
By Rabbi Kelley Gludt
The Torah reading for Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach opens with Moses and God discussing the unique nature of their relationship. God has singled Moses out by name, a Hebrew idiom signifying a close and exclusive bond. Moses picks this moment to make a special request — he wants to see God.
God explains that no one can see God and survive, but offers a compromise. God will place Moses in the cleft of a rock and will cover him as God passes, protecting Moses while at the same time allowing him to glimpse the Divine in retreat.
For millennia commentators have poured over this interaction between God and Moses. Some explored the dichotomy between our patriarchs and prophets being able to safely hear God in contrast to the inherent dangers in seeing God, rifting on the discrepancy between hearing and seeing, exploring the qualitative difference between word and action. Still others make it more concrete, explaining that what Moses actually saw was the tefillin knot on the back of God’s head, or that the cave where God tucked Moses was one of the 10 mystical items created by God during the final moments of the last day of creation.
The Hatam Sofer, a leading Jewish scholar in the early 19th century, uses this passage to teach that God’s ways can only be recognized after the fact. In the actual moment, we cannot understand God’s deeds; we are unable to see God’s face. But, after some time has passed, we can see God’s back, meaning we can make connections and link facts to understand a little of how God acts in our world.
At the best of times, God having a hand in our circumstances elevates and uplifts our experiences. In challenging times, looking back and pulling the threads of God’s influence brings order and awareness of our resilience. But today, this can be a difficult view to hold.
We cannot look to God to explain this new reality. Instead, we must wedge ourselves in the cleft in the rock to carefully, oh-so-carefully, glimpse God to remind ourselves of our blessings, to catch much-needed glimmers of God’s marvels in the world, and to peek at the Divine so we can continue to see holy reflection in ourselves and in one another.
Stay home, stay strong, stay well.
Rabbi Kelley Gludt is the director of congregational learning at Beth Am Synagogue.