Rabbi David Walk
This is perhaps the most eclectic Torah reading of the year. The range of topics is almost mind boggling. There's a lot of legal material about Shabbat, the census and the
After God has announced that the people will be spared, Moshe asks: And now, if I have indeed found favor in Your eyes, pray let me know Your ways, so that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your eyes; and consider that this nation is Your people (Exodus 33:13). What is Moshe asking? According to our greatest commentary, Rashi (1040-1105), he is asking two questions. First, what behavior will insure finding favor with God? Secondly, Moshe seems to want information on the system of reward and punishment. However, Moshe is not done asking for theological insights. In verse 16, he asks how will we know that we have gained favor with God. God answers that Moshe shouldn't worry, because the world will always know that we have a special relationship with the Creator. Now comes the central request from our prime prophet and teacher: Show me, now, Your glory (verse 19)! I really have no idea what Moshe really wants to know by asking to see God's glory. But most commentators seem to think that he wants to know how to predict Divine behavior. In this case the answer is a resounding: No!! God says that no living human can possibly know the Deity. Just before this negative response, God says something a bit enigmatic, and it's that statement which I'd like to look at more closely.
In verse 19, God declares: I will let all My goodness pass before you; I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you, and I will favor whom I wish to favor, and I will have compassion when I wish to have compassion. While saying no to Moshe's chief question, God is supplying some information. It's not clear what that information is. One could suggest that we have the ability to recognize where God has been and to see the results of God's intervention on earth.
Again, it's Rashi who steps into the breach, he explained: "I will let… pass before you": The time has come that you shall see some of My glory, that I will permit you to see, because I want and I need to teach you the order of prayer. Because when you had to beg mercy for
There are over 200 super commentaries on Rashi. The most famous is Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi (1455-1525) from
We don't read these verses to discover what wonders Moshe experienced while hob nobbing with God on
I've said many times that the purpose of prayer is not like a game of Go Fish, where you try to get what you wanted. There's nothing wrong with cataloging our needs, but the real goal of prayer is to feel close to God. What the Mizrachi is teaching us is that a really good prayer can approach a prophetic experience. In our rendezvous with God we can encounter our Creator in such a way that we intuit all the greatness of our Deity. When that gulf between us is bridged by pious prayer we can feel what God showed Moshe: And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and God called out in the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed: Lord, Lord, benevolent God, Who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth, preserving loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and rebellion and sin (34:5-7). And that's pretty awesome.
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