KI TISA: Now you see ME, now you don’t…


This week’s Perasha, KI TISA addresses several issues. Among them, the episode of the golden calf. The people, impatient at the absence of Moshe for 40 days in a row, think that Moshe is dead, and decide to replace Moshe with a calf that will lead them in the desert to reach the promised land. The calf was one of the idols worshiped by the Egyptians, because of its great instinct for orientation: when it needs to eat, the calf can find its mother even if it was blindfolded. Of course this episode represented a most serious betrayal of HaShem and a return of the people of Israel to the most primitive forms of idolatry. And all this happened, a little more than a month after witnessing the manifestation of HaShem on Mount Sinai, revealing the Ten Commandments. HaShem tells Moshe that He will  eliminate the Jewish people. Moshe intercedes, prays for them, defends them and tells HaShem that He will also have to eliminate him. At the end, on the day of Kippur (10 of Tishri), HaShem accepts the Tefila of Moshe and HaShem decides to forgive the people of Israel.

This is of course something wonderful, which we remember every year in Yom Kippur. However, there is something more, less known, that occurred in that same event. After HaShem forgives the people of Israel, a “conversation” takes place between God and Moshe. And at one point Moshe says to HaShem: “הראני נא את כבודך”, which more or less means: “Teach me Your Glory”. The rabbis explained that something exceptional happened here. HaShem’s communication with humans has always been one-sided: HaShem reveals to the prophets or to Moshe Rabenu, conveying a message or a vision. But on this occasion, for the first and last time, it was a man who was able to initiate “a conversation with God” and ask the Almighty something, knowing that he could expect an answer from his Divine Interlocutor. Moshe had this unique opportunity and in a way represented all humanity before HaShem.

What did Moshe ask God? What is the question that worries humanity the most about God?

The Sages explain that Moshe asked God: Why bad things happen to good people? למה צדיק ורע לו

In my own words: If God is Almighty and All Good, why does He let bad things happen to good people? For the man of faith, there is no more critical and crucial question.

By the way, this morning as I wrote these lines, and out of pure curiosity, I did a brief Google search . I wrote: “What would you ask God?” And what I found was surprising. The first article that appeared in the Google search reports the results of a survey of hundreds of university (non-Jewish) students who were told: “If you could ask God about anything, what would you ask?”

The question number ONE that is registered is very similar to that of Moshe .”Why is there so much suffering in the world? If God is All-Good and Almighty, does he not have the resources to prevent evil and suffering? ”

I am sure many readers will probably not share my fascination with Moshe’s “question” and will be eager to know what God’s response to Moshe Rabbenu was. Judaism is unique in recognizing that this question does NOT have a clear answer for man, but that the Tora reveals to us, however, why we cannot get a response.

Knowing how God manages His justice surpasses our intellectual and epistemological possibilities.

HaShem replied to Moshe (shortly and metaphorically) that Moshe, or any other human being, will never be able to see the “front” of the Divine Presence (better said: Divine Intervention), he will only be able to see “the back” of God’s Intervention in this world. וראית את אחורי ופני לא יראו

The best example I can offer is, ironically, a visual example: that of a tapestry. Only HaShem sees the tapestry from the front. We, human beings, who are restricted by the limited time of our short lives and by the space of this physical dimension, only see the back of the tapestry: threads and lines that seem random; chaotic colors, knots and loops. For us all this zigzagging of the fabric does not make sense; but they make possible the perfect image in the front of the tapestry, to which only God has access.