Ki Tisa is known for the disastrous incident of the Golden Calf, but less known for the second most important encounter in Jewish history. If the first was the Ten Commandments, the second was Moshe’s request to see God’s Divine Glory.
‘I shall make all my goodness pass in front of you and reveal the name of God before you. I shall show favour to whom I favour and mercy to whom I show mercy.’ (Ex 33:18-19) This is perhaps one of the more overlooked, perplexing sections in the Torah. Moshe already spoke with the Almighty face-to-face (33:11), what more was he asking of God?
Shemot Rabbah suggests he was seeking to understand the spiritual workings of the Heavens and the Earth. Maimonides (1138-1204) writes that he wanted to learn how the Almighty governed the Israelites. Rashbam (1085-1158) proposes that Moshe pleaded for God to continue caring for the people directly, not through an angel. Practical concerns one expects from a leader under immense pressure.
In response, Moshe who was favoured by God, was taught how to pray during times of trouble. Concealed in the cleft of a rock, he called out in God’s name and was shown the 13 Attributes of Mercy (34:6-7) which we still recite daily. And the Israelites were promised a new covenant (34:10).
While the Ten Commandments instituted Divine justice in the world, these verses promise then and future generations Divine forgiveness. Together, both are essential for us to exist in a relationship with the Creator and Sovereign of the Universe.
The Israelites, on the verge of destruction, were rescued by Moshe’s unfaltering dedication and intervention. His intimacy with the Divine averted a near irreconcilable spiritual crisis. Instead, he sought and received further assurances of God’s clemency and set into place a model for all times.
Rabbi Jeff Berger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org