Shabbat Chol Hamoed: Torah Reading
Torah Reading: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26: The Jews had sinned with the construction and wild worship of the Golden Calf. God explained to Moses that He could no longer maintain a direct relationship with the people. They were impure. He is perfect. He cannot dwell amidst the impurity of the people who had been lifted so high only to fall so far, so quickly. “Behold! My angel shall go before you,” it will no longer be God directly leading you. (Exodus 32:34) “I shall send an angel ahead of you,” (Exodus 33:2) it will be an angel who will go ahead of you. There will be distance between God and Israel.
The portion begins with Moses’ refusal to accept this new relationship. “You implied that we would always have a direct relationship.” (Paraphrase of 32:12 -13) God agreed, My presence will go,” with you. Moses understood that his prayers were working and he decided to ask for more: “Show me Your glory.” God agreed, once again. However, “You will not be able to see My face. Behold! There is a place near Me; you may stand on the rock. When My glory passes by, I shall place you in a cleft of the rock; I shall shield you with My hand until I have passed. Then I shall remove My hand and you will see My back, but my face may not be seen.” (Exodus 33:21-23)
Moses stands in a place where he can see some, but not all. He is shaded by God’s hand. It sounds much like a Succah! In fact, when God says that His hand will shield Moses, He uses the Hebrew word; “v’sakoti,” which translates as “I will make a Succah.” There is even a Midrash that explains that God’s hand actually refers to the same clouds that provided protection for the Jews in the desert, the same clouds we remember when we sit in our Succot. (Lekach Tov, based on Job 36:32: “He covers His hands with the light.” The context of this verse is the description of the “Song of Rain as testimony to the Omnipotence of God. We must keep in mind that Succot is when we are judged on rainfall for the coming year. See TBRosh Hashana 16a)
Moses is about to experience a great revelation. He will hear answers to questions that have eternally plagued humanity. He will see the world almost from God’s perspective. Almost, but not quite: A finite being cannot see reality from the perspective of the Infinite Being. Why did Moses need a Succah?
One Midrash explains that Moses needed protection from the angels that would demand that any human being who would experience God’s glory, cannot continue to exist as a human being in a physical body. (Pesikta Rabbati 10:37) This is similar to Moses being unable to enter the completed Tabernacle because the glory of God filled the structure. (Beraita of Rabbi Yishmael based on Exodus 40:34-38).
I picture this story when I cover my eyes while reciting the Shema. I use the experience as a reminder that no matter how much we understand and perceive, our perspective will remain limited.
For Chol HaMoed Succot:
We can understand the Succah of this story as a place of protected revelation; a place which we can use to increase our awareness and understanding of God, with confidence that we will only be given to “see” what is necessary and appropriate for us at this point of our lives.
- Use the Shabbat meals in the Succah to review all that you have learned about God over the past year.
- Ask, as did Moses, for the gift and privilege of seeing more; gaining deeper insight into God.
- Create an environment in the Succah that is appropriate for such “revelations.” The atmosphere cannot contradict the quest.