by Rabbi Mark Goldfarb
The regular Torah reading cycle is interrupted this Shabbat with a special reading for the holiday of Sukkot, from the Book of Exodus. We read of the second covenant entered into between God, Moses and the Children of Israel – this covenant follows the incident of the Golden Calf and the smashing of the original set of Commandments. Moses asks God, who will go with him in leading the people? Moses also asks God to “let me see Your face” and to reveal God’s ways to him. Why does Moses ask to see God’s face? What will seeing God’s face do for Moses?
It seems to me that Moses is facing a professional and personal crisis. Remember, he’s been absent from the Children of Israel for 40 days and 40 nights and in his absence they lost faith, lost their way, and reverted to the most primitive form of spirituality – idol worship. It would appear that Moses is perhaps unsure of his own future, unsure of the commitment of the Children of Israel to live up to the standards God expects of them. Before taking another step forward, Moses looks for reassurance. How will this story end? Will the Children of Israel rise to the challenge? Will he, Moses, be able to rise to the challenge of leading this people?
Many of us face times of uncertainty: graduation/promotion, illness, loss of a job, death of a loved one, and others. It is often during these times, especially the sad and difficult times, that we look for reassurance, a sign that things will turn out OK. When we face serious challenge to our being, we want to talk with a friend, our spouse/partner, a parent. More than just talk, we want to see them – to look into their eyes. In so doing, we find the strength, validation, and the reassurance we need to face our challenge.
A fish once set out in search of water. He asked all his fish friends if they had seen this thing called water, and they were unable to answer him. He swam around looking in the coral formations, plants and sponges. But he could not find the water for which he searched. Finally he heard a voice saying, you are looking too hard. Instead of looking in the coral and dark places, instead of looking at the plants and sponges and your fish friends, try looking around them. There you will find what you are searching for.
Though we search for God’s face when we face life’s trials and tribulations, all that we can see is God’s back, God’s wake if you will, the ripples left behind by God’s presence. When we face life’s challenges, when we feel that God has abandoned us, we find that family, friends and community gather to support us. It is then that we experience God’s ripples, in the form of love, compassion, and support from those around us.
Rabbi Mark Goldfarb is a member of CCAR, National Association of Jewish Chaplains and Rabbi at Temple Beth Ohr, La Mirada