D’var Torah: September 30, 2015

Dear Friends,

If only we could truly SEE God and see God’s glory!!?!
We can behold and see so much else – from distant galaxies and water on Mars to the tiniest particles swirling around nuclei and miniscule microbes with amazing structures – so, why not God??
Such is the question which Moses raises in the Torah portion for this Shabbat of Sukkot (Exodus 33:12-34:26). Moses is out in the wilderness, having lead our people out of Egypt and into the desert, and is deeply frustrated by the complaining and rebelliousness, and needs some reassurance that God is still with him. After destroying the original Ten Commandments over the Golden Calf, Moses reconvenes with God, and blurts out the request, “Oh, let me behold Your presence!” (Ex. 33:18)
God opted to acquiesce, and to show Moses a bit of God’s being – which raises its own questions. Yet, most important, and most germane to us, is the request – the yearning to behold God’s presence. Most likely, the ancient sages assigned this Torah reading to the festival of Sukkot, at least in part, in recognition of the harvest bounty which regales us in the fall season, representing God’s benevolence. It was as close as we might come to beholding the Divine presence.
Yet, our yearning still continues. Today, especially in a world in which we have extended the boundaries of human comprehension and the limits of the human encounter – from discovering faraway galaxies to mapping the bottom of the oceans – so many of us are rightly questioning the place of God in the universe. We recall that when Yuri Gagarin penetrated the heavens in the first Soviet spaceship, he declared that hadn’t seen God. And, ever since, we have been looking and yearning, but still not seeing.
And, the same held true for Moses. Even he – who encountered God face to face and who spoke directly with the Almighty – yearned to behold God’s presence, just as do we. Hence, his request.
I think we can learn that yearning is acceptable. Receiving a reply, or an affirmative reply, may be elusive, but the experience of yearning, of longing, or wondering or hungering… are all as ancient as Moses, and as modern as ourselves.
I, too, have asked time and again, “Oh, let me behold Your presence!”
Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Sameach!

Rabbi Douglas Kohn