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Seeing God

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Rabbi Ari Shvat

Tishrei 19, 5778
Question
Trying to really understand what was going on, at Mt. Sinai, what does it mean when Hashem hid Moses in the rock and showed him his back, is that what took place or just a really bad translation. I feel like a great deal is going on here and it’s important. I have never heard anyone give a good explanation of this. Please help! Feed me some wisdom! Shalom! A friend brought this up while we were in the Sukkah and I had no good answers for him.
Answer
God, Who doesn’t have a body, definitely doesn’t have a face or a back, so obviously the Torah’s speaking allegorically. The Rabbis explain the symbolism beautifully (Rambam, Yesodei HaTorah, 1, 10, based on Brachot 7a), that the “face” represents the details, as opposed to the “back”, which is just the general idea. When you see someone from the back, you can’t really identify him, just whether he’s generally tall or short, broad or thin, etc. as opposed to a mug-shot, police line-up or even the laws of aguna (testimony on a dead husband to allow his widow to marry), where definite identification is only done through the unique details of one’s face. God is telling Moshe, you asked to understand God (Shmot 33, 18), but man is only capable of understanding His general traits (see there, 34, 6-7: mercy, forgiving, patient, kind, truth…), but not the details how these traits are implemented in His world (e.g. why it seems He is merciful to one more than to his neighbor; why “bad things” happen to good people…). Accordingly, “and you shall see My ‘back’, but My ‘face’ you shall not see” (Shmot 33, 20-23).
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