Exodus 33:12 to 34:26 – Torah Portion for the Intermediate Shabbat during Sukkot
This special Torah reading for Sukkot provides the most complete description of God found in the Torah.
During Sukkot, as with other major holidays, we have a special Torah reading. Each of the days of Sukkot has its own reading that deals with different aspects of this holiday. For this intermediate Shabbat we return to Exodus.
Moses has just ventured up the mountain after the Golden Calf incident. Then, Moses has a conversation with God. Moses is told to lead the people forward. After this request Moses states: “Now, if I have truly gained your favor, pray let me know Your ways, that I may know you and continue in Your favor.” (Ex. 33:13)
God responds in two ways: First God tells Moses that he will pass before him… But, God tells Moses that he cannot see the face of God, because any human who sees the Eternal directly will surely die. So God places Moses in a cleft of a rock and covers Moses’ eyes. After God passes, God uncovers Moses’ eyes. God tells Moses that he will be able to view the back, but not the face, of God. (Ex. 33:16-23)
Torah does not describe what Moses saw. Maybe what Moses saw was the essence of God … God’s creation on earth … The breath-taking view from the mountain of the valley below and all the people that Moses had been leading. Moses realized that, without the Eternal, none of this would be possible. This view contained the spirit, the essence, the result of God’s work on Earth. What Moses saw was the end result of God’s creations. Maybe this is the back-side of the Eternal that Moses witnessed…. And Moses was satisfied.
Moses then proceeded to remake the two tablets of stone that the Eternal had given him. Then, after the tablets were complete, God appeared in a cloud before Moses and gave a second answer to Moses’ question by stating his name: “The Eternal! The Eternal! a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin – yet not remitting all punishment, but visiting the iniquity of parents upon children and children’s children, upon the third and fourth generations.” (Ex. 34 6-9)
So on this holiday of Sukkot, which commemorates God’s giving of the Ten Commandments and Torah, we read what is probably the most expressive description of the Eternal found in Torah.
The Eternal and Moses are the two of the most powerful forces in Torah. It is as if the two were close friends or associates. No other person in Torah approaches this relationship with God. This relationship was so special that rabbis of old created a story to illustrate the importance of the essence of Moses to God.
When Moses was about to be taken from this earthly world by the Eternal, Moses was told to climb the mountain to view the land the Israelites were about to enter. Both Moses and God knew that this action would be the last before Moses would die. As Moses viewed the beauty of the Promised Land, the Eternal appeared and approached him. God stooped to take the breath of life from Moses. However, after breathing in the spirit of Moses, God held onto this breath. Then, because, to God and Torah, time consists of the past, present, and future … all at the same time.… God proceeded to the moment of the world’s creation and seeked out the lifeless body of an unborn Adam. The Eternal reached out to Adam with the same love shown to Moses. It was then that God breathed the spirit and life of Moses into Adam. And thus, as we prepare to begin Genisis/B’reishit, the journey of mankind begins for us again.
Throughout Deuteronomy we read that Moses is telling the Israelites – and us – to learn and follow the words of God. What better way to this end than to read and study Torah together. But before we begin again … we celebrate the completion of another book of Torah by reciting: CHAZAK, CHAZAK, VINETCHZAK. From strength to strength, we strengthen each other. (and isn’t that what Torah study is all about?)