For the week of February 26, 2005 / 17 Adar 5765
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 30:11 - 34:35
Haftarah: 2 Melachim / Kings 18:1-39
A Close Encounter, Torah Style
Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. "O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes," he said, "then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance." (Shemot / Exodus 34:8,9)
This week's portion contains what is perhaps the Torah's greatest encounter between God and any human being. God had told Moses that he was pleased with him, to which Moses responded by asking God to reveal his glory to him. God was willing to partially grant his request, in that he would allow his goodness to pass by Moses and allow him to see his back.
Some time later, just as He said, God passes by Moses. It is impossible for us to fully imagine what this was like, yet we know it had a profound effect on him in that his face was literally shining as a result.
I would like to focus on Moses' immediate response to this encounter. Note what he says:
Shortly before this was the tragic episode of the people worshipping the golden calf. God had told Moses that due to this sin, he was going to destroy the people. At that time Moses prayed that God would relent, which to some extent he did. Still, the people's rejection of God meant that his presence with them would be in jeopardy.
So when God afterward intimately revealed himself to Moses, this was the issue that Moses addressed. His prime concern was over God's relationship with his people. Moses' cry was that this relationship would be preserved.
For Moses, God's revelation was a sign of his favor. It was on the basis of this that he made his plea. Moses understood that God’s continued relationship with the people could only be based on God extending mercy to them.
Moses wasn't blind to the sin of the people. He gave no excuses, but asked God to be with them regardless.
Notice how he didn't distance himself from the people even though he did not personally participate in the sin of the golden calf. "Forgive our wickedness," Moses said. Also he had no intention of reveling in his personal relationship with God apart from the whole community.
For Moses this intense spiritual experience had everything to do with the welfare and destiny of the whole nation.
If we look at other similar encounters in the Scriptures, we find this same correlation between God's revelation to a human being and the wider community.
I can't say for sure if it is the encounters themselves that lead to community concern or if it is that God prefers to reveal himself to those who have this concern. I think it is likely both. However it works, we can see that in every case God wants to bring blessing – not primarily to the person he is encountering – but to others.
There is so much to this beyond what we have time for in a brief message, but one thing I think we need to take from this is that we should beware of those who teach a spirituality that is individually centered. While God does want to reveal himself to us individually and personally, no matter how wonderful that is, it is not just for us alone. One of the reasons God desires to encounter us is that he wants to bring his goodness to others through us.
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