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Biblical Personalities-Moses’ Light-For Us, Not Him

It is written, “And Moses did not know that there were beams of splendor on his face (Exodus 34:29).” It is important that we understand the Torah’s intent in telling us that, “Moses did not know.” What purpose did this serve, and what is the lesson that is derived from it? At first thought, this would seem to be a superfluous idea.


We can understand this to some extent through the well-known paradox posed by Maimonides, regarding God’s knowledge of the future and free will (Hilchot Teshuvah 5:5). God’s knowledge of the future is absolute and imperative. Therefore, if God knows that an individual will be righteous, it is impossible for him to be otherwise. The same is true in the opposite case where God knows that a person will be wicked. The question then arises, how is it possible that man be given absolute free will, to do as he chooses?

Maimonides answers this paradox. It is well known that we have absolutely no conception of God’s true nature and Unity. God, His Name, and His knowledge are an absolute Unity. God’s knowledge is not at all like that of man, since a human being and his knowledge are separate and separable entities.

God’s Essence and knowledge comprise a single unity. Therefore, just as we have absolutely no conception of God’s own Essence, we have no understanding of His knowledge. It is thus written, “My thoughts are not your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8).” This is the essence of Maimonides’ words.

Even though many other thinkers have attempted to answer this paradox, Maimonides came closest to the truth.

God wanted to teach His chosen people the Torah and its commandments. This was accomplished through Moses, who was an aspect and an attribute of the Knowledge on high (Zohar 2:121a).

God and His Knowledge are One, however. Therefore to the extent that we can express this, Moses was included in God’s Unity and intrinsic Essence.

This being so, however, Israel would not be able to grasp the Torah and commandments through Moses. Moses was an aspect of the Knowledge on high, and just as the Unity and Knowledge of God’s Essence cannot be comprehended, the teachings of Moses would also not be understandable. For this reason, God made for Moses, “Beams of Splendor.” These beings referred to the light that emerged outside of his body. The beams were counterparts of the Emanations Victory and Splendor, which correspond to the legs, and are therefore outside the body (Zohar 1:21b).

It was through the Splendor of the light that radiated from these “Beams of Splendor,” that Israel was able to comprehend the Torah and Commandments.

If Moses had known of this radiating Light, however, then it would have been included in his knowledge. Moses’ knowledge was included in the Supernal Knowledge. Therefore, if Moses had known of it, that radiating light would have been included in the Supernal Knowledge, and it would not have been able to serve as a vehicle for the transmission of the Torah and Commandments to Israel. It too, would have been like God’s Knowledge, of which we have no comprehension.

For this reason, Moses did not know of this light and was not aware of it. It was not included in his knowledge, and Israel was able to comprehend the Torah and Commandments. The Torah therefore tells us that, “Moses did not know.” Understand this. (Ohev Yisrael, Ki Tissa)

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