The Torah reading for Shabbat Hol HaMoed is from Exodus 33:12-34:26 describing how Moshe beseeched the Almighty to forgive Bnei Yisrael after the Golden Calf debacle.
Summary: The reading for Shabbat Hol HaMoed is one of the most esoteric parts of the Torah, a discussion between Moshe & G-d eventually revealing, for perpetuity, the 13 Attributes of Divine Mercy – the formula used most recently on Yom Kippur.
It begins with Moshe’s request to G-d to ‘show me Your ways’ and G-d’s response that ‘My presence will go with you, and I’ll give you rest.’ Moshe pushed further, ‘If Your presence doesn’t go with me, don’t take us up from here.’
After G-d’s acquiescence, and relying on the favour he had found with the Almighty, Moshe asked ‘Show me Your glory’ and was told ‘I will make all My goodness pass before you and call out in the name of the Lord, I will find favour with whom I find favour and forgive whom I forgive.’
Told ‘man can’t see the face of G-d and live’, Moshe was then placed in the cleft of a rock while G-d passed before him, enabling Moshe to see the back of G-d.’
Moshe was then commanded to carve out 2 more tablets for G-d to again write what was on the first set which Moshe broke. Again Moshe ascended the mountain alone where G-d passed before him in a cloud calling out the 13 Attributes.
Hurriedly, Moshe, bowed down calling to G-d to forgive Bnei Yisrael their trespasses. In response the Almighty promised a new covenant of wonders unlike anything seen since Creation.
Bnei Yisrael were charged to observe the command G-d set that day. The 6 nations occupying Cana’an would be displaced; Bnei Yisrael mustn’t establish treaties with them, for it would lead to stumbling from within. All pre-existing deities were to be destroyed and intermarriage avoided.
They were also expected to observe the festivals of Pesah, to dedicate their first born to G-d, to rest on the 7th day, to observe Shavuoth and the new wheat harvest along with the autumnal gathering at the end of the season.
Thrice per year they were to make pilgrimage to be in G-d’s Presence. Blood of the pascal lamb shouldn’t be slaughtered on hamets, nor should its meat be leftover to the morning. They were to bring their first fruits to the House of G-d; they shouldn’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk.
Comment: Could the mysterious ‘cleft of the rock’ which G-d provided for Moshe have any connection with the second set of stone tablets Moshe himself carved out?
It’s well-known that to acquire Torah requires great effort. Rabbi Akiva Tatz posits that much in life follows a pattern of being gifted something first and then working to acquire its real benefits and essence.
An example he gives is of an infant being cared for before reaching maturity then as an adult taking on the challenge of our own responsibilities. Another example is the case of the second set of tablets Moshe himself had to carve out and carry up the mountain.
But is it possible these were somehow cut from the same ‘rock’ G-d used to shield Moshe from over-exposure? If so, we learn from this allegory that the work of our hands enables us to merit the presence of G-d. And, that a longer-term goal in life is to carve for ourselves the kind of lasting testament worth passing-on to future generations.
In fact, isn’t this a description of the kind of character development the Torah encourages us to embody – living in a moral and righteous way that testifies to the purity & sanctity of our being hewn in the Image of G-d?