Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat January 8 - 9 

Torah Reading: Shemot  (Exodus 1:1 -6:1)
Candle Lighting Time 4:27 PM
Shabbat ends 5:32 PM


In this week’s parsha, we are told that Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep when he approached the “Mountain of G‑d.” At this point the Torah describes what he saw and what he did:

“An angel of G‑d appeared to him in a flame of fire from within the thorn-bush. And he gazed, and look!—the thorn-bush was burning with fire, but the thorn-bush was not being consumed. Moses said, “Let me turn now and see this great spectacle! Why will the thorn bush not burn?”

G‑d saw that he had turned to see, and G‑d called to him from within the thorn-bush, and He said, “Moses, Moses!”

He said, “Here I am!”

And He [G‑d] said, “Do not come near here. Take your shoes off your feet, because the place upon which you stand is holy soil!” He said, “I am the G‑d of your father, the G‑d of Abraham, the G‑d of Isaac and the G‑d of Jacob.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at G‑d.

In the Talmud there are two views whether Moses’ refusal to gaze at the sight of the burning bush was a positive matter or negative. It is easy to understand why it was positive. Moses was in such awe of this Divine experience that he felt unworthy of gazing on this manifestation of G‑d.

Moreover, when Moses approached to see the marvel, he was told by G‑d not to approach and to remove his shoes and only after that did Moses proceed to cover his face. By telling him not to approach and to remove his shoes wasn’t G‑d intimating to him that he should keep a certain distance from this bush? So why fault Moses for taking G‑d’s hint a step further and covering his face?

In truth, both opinions are true and are not mutually exclusive. Moses did the right thing for covering his face and yet Moses also did the wrong thing for covering his face. But how can we explain this?

To answer the question, it is important to distinguish two types of rights and wrongs. The rights and wrongs in the first category are the absolutes that never change and they are not relative. It is absolutely wrong—and will always be absolutely wrong—for anyone to hurt an innocent person. It is absolutely right and desirable to help the needy.

There is another category of rights and wrongs that are by design relative and temporary. A child may not drive a car. Obviously an adult may drive a car. In addition, the child himself will eventually outgrow that restriction.

When it comes to our exposure to G‑d’s presence, there are times and places when it is desirable and there are people for whom the time and place might vary.

When G‑d wishes to make His presence felt to someone, there can be two reactions. One can, out of curiosity, attempt to get closer. That can prove disastrous. We know of many great people - including Moses’ nephews Nadav and Avihu - who lost their lives coming too close to the Divine. The opposite reaction is to be repelled by that exposure and recoil in fear. Moses exhibited both of these reactions. At first he was curious and then he recoiled by covering his face.

The fact that his actions provoked two opposite opinions as to which approach is more important or primary, tells us that this area of right and wrong is indeed relative and subject to change with the passage of time.

When we encounter a situation such as Moses did; when we have a spiritual experience, and we wonder if we should pursue it or run away from it, we have to realize that there are different responses for different people at different times and places.

In Moses’ case, the message he received from G‑d was to not get closer. Moses was in doubt as to whether he should look or cover his face. Was G‑d’s instruction to him not to approach and to remove his shoes a sign that G‑d wanted him to cover his face or not? Moses felt he had to err on the side of caution.

However, the Talmud, by voicing a mild criticism of Moses for doing that, conveys the message that when in doubt, it is better to err on the side of getting closer to G‑d.

The lesson we can glean from this story is that when G‑d comes to us and gives us instructions as to how close we can come, we must not take that as a cue that we should add on more barriers than already exists. And even the barriers that exist today might come off the next day when we mature and are capable of getting closer.

To use a simple metaphor form traveling by car: A stop sign is not a red light. We don’t have to wait for the stop sign to turn into a start sign to proceed. It just means pause, take note, be cautious, and, by all means, proceed!

When Moses was told by G‑d to not get closer and remove his shoes, it was not intended as a signal to Moses that he create even more restrictions on his encounter with G‑d.

The same can be applied to many aspects of Judaism.

For example: There are restrictions that have been placed on the study of the mystical teachings of the Torah. These restrictions were not intended as red lights. They were merely stop signs to prepare us for the entry into these very powerful areas of study. But by all means we should not cover our faces. Just don’t go to areas that are beyond your level; find a worthy teacher who can bring the teachings down to your level or find one that can raise you up to his level. Remove your shoes so you realize that you are not studying an academic subject. It is holy turf you are treading upon; treat it with respect and reverence. But don’t cover your face!

Another example relates to the restrictions placed on the efforts we make to hasten the Messianic Age. Throughout rabbinic literature we find what appear to be restrictions on these efforts. For example, the Talmud states that one should not try to “force the end.” Likewise, the Talmud states, one should not try to calculate from Biblical verses when Moshiach would come. The Midrash relates that when Jacob, in last week’s parsha, wanted to reveal the time of the final redemption, this knowledge was taken from him.

These and other references could appear as warnings not to get too close; not to be preoccupied with the subject of Moshiach and Redemption.

However, there are a multitude of references that convey the opposite message. Jewish classical sources speak of the need to pray for, and even demand Moshiach. Moreover, in the famous Ani Ma’amin recitation, where we express our most fundamental beliefs, we state clearly and unequivocally “And even though he tarries I await his coming every day.” And indeed our central prayer—the Shemona Esrei, or Amidah—expresses this sentiment when we ask G‑d to bring Moshiach speedily, for “we wait for your salvation all the day.”

Clearly, our Sages did not intend for us to be passive about the coming of Moshiach. One cannot say, “whenever G‑d wants to bring Moshiach, it’s His business. My role is to simply perform the Mitzvot and study Torah.” This approach is clearly contradicted by explicit statements throughout Torah literature that we must do everything in our power to bring Moshiach. The Talmud lists many observances that are geared to bring the redemption such as the giving of Tzedakah, having children, etc.

How do we reconcile what appears to be contradictory positions about our role in getting close to Moshiach? Do we close our eyes as Moses apparently did or do we keep them wide open, even as we know our limits and that we stand on holy turf?

The answer is that the Messianic Age, as the esoteric teachings of Kabbalah (which are inter-connected), involve both sentiments.

On the one hand there were times when it was premature to study Kabbalah and to focus on the Messianic Age. But with the passage of time things change and these subjects became timely and even urgent.

Already in the thirteenth century, Nachmanides (the greatest Jewish scholar and leader of his time, not to be confused with Maimonides) states that the prohibition concerning calculating the deadline for Moshiach has passed. Now that we are so close t the time of Redemption, he writes, it is permissible to engage in that kind of speculation.

Malbim (a great 19th century Bible commentator) explains the reason for the change in attitude and compares it to being on a journey. As long as we are on the road we do not focus on the destination for that will take our eyes off the road. But once we near the end of our journey, everything changes. At that point, it behooves us to do everything we can do to make sure that we know where, when and how we will find our destination and be prepared to enter into it.

As long as we were on the road, and were far from the period of Redemption, there were some justifiable roadblocks that were appropriately set up to prevent us from overly investigating the subject in depth and being preoccupied with it. There was a time when it was proper to hide our face, even as we never lost our faith and hope for it.

However, as history progressed and the time of Redemption has gotten closer, the greatest Jewish leaders of all stripes—Ashkenazic Sephardic, Chassidic, Non-Chassidic, etc. have all instructed us to prepare ourselves to greet Moshiach and for the final Redemption.

Now it is time to proceed after the stop signs that were put in our way. Now is the time to remove the cover from our face and to stare Redemption in its face. 

Moshiach Matters  

A chasid persistently asked his Rebbe to tell him why the Messiah has not come and why the Redemption promised by the Prophets and Sages has not been fulfilled. The Rebbe answered: "It is written, 'Why has the son of Yishai not come, either today or yesterday?' The answer lies in the question itself: Why has he not come? Because we are today just as we were yesterday." 

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit  

© 2001- 2010 Chabad of the West Side