OU Torah Insights Project
Parshat Ki Tisa
The Torah teaches that after receiving the Law, Moshes face shone. The Daas Zekeinim Mibaalei Tosafos explains that the luminosity of Moshes face was, in fact, the light of the Shechinah. Hashem transferred the splendor of His presence to Moshe in order to assure a post-golden-calf Klal Yisrael that no other leader was as worthy as Moshe. Subsequently, they unanimously received him as their leader.
When the Jews saw the light, however, they became fearful and reluctant to approach Moshe. They kept their distance from him. Rashi comments that before the sin of the golden calf the Jews were able to withstand the Shechinah on Mount Sinai in all its glory and holiness. But now they were unable to endure mere beams of light from Moshes face. From this we see the debilitating effect of sin.
In an attempt to lure them back, Moshe veiled his face in their presence. He only removed the veil when conversing with Hashem.
But a careful reading of the chapter reveals that "Moshe spoke with the Jewish people and when he was finished, covered his face." This would imply that the Jews werent fearful of Moshes face at all! How do we understand an earlier verse that says the Jews were afraid to approach him?
The Seforno explains that generally the people were fearful and Moshe remained veiled. But they overcame those fears when they were studying Torah with him. Although it was difficult for Klal Yisrael, they deemed it critical to see the face of their teacher. This is based on the verse in Isaiah, "Your eyes will see your teacher." The Maharsha comments that when one sits before his rebbe and observes his facial features and subtle movements, he will be able to read into these nuances and thus understand more Torah.
We learn two important lessons from this parshah. First, Moshe made every effort to be mikarev Jews to study Torah. He endeavored to hide his greatness and holiness, even if it meant wearing a mask! If Jews were intimidated by his sanctity, he would contain it for the greater cause.
We are all aware of the many stories of great sages who went out of their way to appear "normal," so as to draw Jews closer to them and to Torah. The Talmud teaches that even the Torah uses colloquial speech so that a broader audience of Jews will understand and follow Halachah.
Second, Moshe removed his veil when teaching Torah. When a worthy student shows interest, a teacher must expose the student to the full range and depth and beauty of Torah. This is also the way of Hashemas evident on Mount Sinaiwhen He taught Torah to Klal Yisroel with the full force of the Shechinah amidst fire, plumes of smoke, lightening and thunder!
Rabbi Aaron Mehlman
Rabbi Mehlman is rabbi of Congregation Ohav Sholom in New York City.