Shabbat Commentary

2/3 Mar: Ki Tissa comes in 5:28 pm, goes out 6:31 pm

In Parashat Ki Tissa, Moses pleads, “Har-eni nah et k’vodecha – Let me behold Your presence!” God’s response is really strange. “I cannot show you my face, but you can see my back.”  What is this all about ?  Maimonides says that God has no body and that no bodily attributes can be attributed to him. He has neither front nor back and that such expressions in the Torah and in the books of the Prophets are all metaphorical and rhetorical.

As I understand it, God is telling Moses there no way you can see me straight on – that’s what God means by ‘His face’.  What you can see is my effect on the world – that is what he calls ‘His back.’  I think God was teaching Moses that same lesson. There are things in this world about which physical attributes, such as place, just do not apply. “Where is God” is not the appropriate question. The question we must ask is “When is God?”

Rabbi Harold Kushner said that the difference between theology and religion is like the difference between reading a menu and eating a good meal. Theology is when we talk about God; religion is when we feel God’s presence in our lives.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman.

March 1, 2018