Torah for the Times

Friday, March 8 , 2012 - 15 Adar, 5772

Torah Reading: Ki Tisah (Exodus 30:11 - 34:35)
Candle Lighting Time: 5:38 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:39 PM

Second First

Moses’ Radiant Face

Our Parhsah tells us that Moses’ return from his forty day stay on Mount Sinai to receive the Torah was fraught with great disappointment and grief. The Jewish people had degenerated into idol worship just forty days after they had heard G‑d’s direct command to them to not have other g-d’s. In dismay and shock, Moses shattered the tablets. He then ascended the mountain a second time to appease G‑d’s anger. After another 40 days on the mountain, G‑d acceded to his pleas and agreed to give the Jewish people another chance. Moses thus descended to hew the sapphire stone for G‑d to engrave in it a second set of Ten Commandments. Moses then ascend the mountain for a third time. At the end of a third period of forty days Moses descended with a second set of Tablets. That day was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

In this week’s parsha—which chronicles these events—we are told that when Moses descended from the mountain with the second set tablets, his face shone. The radiance that emanated from Moses’ face was undoubtedly a reflection of the Divine energy that Moses had received after being so close to G‑d on Mount Sinai.

But the question must be raised: if Moses’ stay on the mountain to receive the Torah was the source of his radiant face why didn’t his face shine the first time he descended from the mountain with the first set of tablets?

The Light of G‑d’s “Hand”

Rashi, whose commentary is geared to providing us with the simple and straightforward understanding of the text, says the following: “From where did Moses [now] merit these rays of splendor? Our Rabbis said: [Moses received it] from the cave, when the Holy One, blessed is He, placed His hand on his face, as it is said: “and I will cover you with My hand” (Exod. 33:22). This is a reference to G‑d’s response to Moses’ request, “show me Your glory.” G‑d agreed to his request by covering Moses with His “hand.” This G‑dly revelation is what caused Moses’ face to shine. Since this event occurred before Moses received the second set of tablets, his face only shown after he came down from the mountain on Yom Kippur.

Teshuvah Power

The Rebbe (Sefer Hasichos 5752, volume 2, p. 433) provides a deeper explanation. In simple terms the Rebbe explains that the second set of tablets were a product of the Teshuvah (repentance or return) of the Jewish people. The power of their Teshuvah initiative elicited a deeper and more esoteric level of Torah knowledge. This higher dimension of Torah knowledge that was revealed through Moses’ was thus the source of his radiance.

Rosh Yeshivah and Rebbe

In other words, there was a significant difference between the experience of the giving of the first set of the tablets and the second set. One of the Lithuanian sages of the twentieth century, Rabbi Yoseph. B. Soloveitchik, approached this anomaly by distinguishing between the role of Moses the first time he descended with the second descent: The first time Moshe descended from the mountain with the first tablets he descended as a “Rosh Yeshivah-the Head of a Talmudic Academy ,” i.e. a Torah scholar whose mission it is to impart the knowledge of Torah to receptive students.

The second time Moses descended from the mountain he descended as a Rebbe; a Jewish leader who puts his own life on the line for the sake of his people. Moses, the Torah tells us, asked G‑d to erase him from the Torah if He did not forgive the Jewish people for their involvement in the construction of the golden calf. This self-sacrificing leadership generated the light that shone from Moses’ face!

Our Impairment

There is yet another possible way of understanding why the Torah speaks of Moses’ face shining only after he descended the second time. Perhaps the first time it also shone but the people were unable to see the light because their involvement with the golden calf desensitized them and rendered them spiritually resistant to seeing such pristine light.

A story is told of the illustrious chasid, Reb Itche Masmid, who upon discovering that the Previous Rebbe’s speech was impaired and unintelligible due to serious illness, he remarked: “We have becomes so desensitized that we cannot understand the Rebbe…

Converting Reish and Daled

And yet another explanation based on the Chassidic work Bnei Yissaschar:

Moses—upon learning from G‑d of the indiscretion of the Jewish nation in their construction of the golden calf—was told by G‑d, “Descend!” Our Sages explain that G‑d’s order for him to descend was not just a physical order, to go down from the mountain. G‑d was informing Moses that he was now diminished because of the Jews’ sin. G‑d gave Moses his greatness only for the sake of the people he was to lead. If they were diminished so was Moses!

As a result of this diminution, his face didn’t shine. However, when he brought down the second tablets that followed their Teshuvah and their return to Hashem, the light was restored to Moses’ face as well.

Bnei Yissaschar explains that the Hebrew word for descend “reid” captures the essence of what occurred at that time. This word consists of the letters reish and daled: These two letters are quite similar in their shape but they are light years apart when they are connected to the letters aleph and ches. When we add a reish to these two letters the word is acher, which reads and means “another,” as in the verse: “Do not have another-acher g-d.” When we add the daled to the same two letters it yields the word echad-one, as in the verse, “G‑d is one- Hasehm echad.” In those two verses, these two letters reish and daled are actually enlarged to underscore the danger of substituting the daled for the reish or vice versa, which would imply that G‑d is acher, another (G‑d forbid,) or that we should not worship the One G‑d.

This is precisely what happened when the Jews worshipped the golden calf. They took the daled of echad signifying G‑d’s absolute unity and converted it into the reish, acher or other, which refers for the very opposite of g-d’s Oneness -idolatry. They perverted the daled and reish—“one” became “another.” Hence the word reid that connotes degradation consists of these two letters because it is the perversion of these two letters that is the cause of degradation.

This, Bnei Yissascher says, is what the rabbis meant when they said “Descend from your greatness.” This has a dual meaning. First it means that Moses was diminished. Second, it also can be translated as “the greatness was degraded,” suggesting that the “great” or large letters of the reish and the daled that underscore the integrity of these two words, echad and acher, was compromised, diminished and perverted.

These two explanations are actually complementary: Moses was diminished because the people took the “great” letters of the world reid-the reish and the daled, reduced and confused them. It thus resulted in Moses’ descent as well. His light could not be revealed.

The second set of tablets however remedied this and restored the daled and the reish to their rightful places and allowed Moses’ concealed light to be fully restored; nay, to even become more powerful than before, as the Rebbe explains, because of the power of Teshuvah.

Adar and the Rectification of the Letters Reish and Daled

It is providential that this Torah portion, with the entire saga of Moses’ descent, occurs in the middle of the month of Adar. The word Adar consists of the two letters reish and daled with an aleph—that stands for G‑d who is one—in front of those two letters.

It is no coincidence then that the two heroes of Purim are Esther and Mordechai. Esther derives from the word hester meaning concealment and alludes to the hidden light that was caused by the spiritual degradation of the Jews at that time. They had experienced the same degeneration represented by the word reid-descend. Their descent was caused by their “bowing down to an icon,” reminiscent of the worshipping of the golden calf.

Mordechai, whose name contains the letters reish and daled in it, was able to reverse that process of degeneration and decline. This power he possessed is alluded to by the other letters of his name: The two letters reish and daled are prefaced by the letter mem, which stands for Moses and Moshiach. Mordechai, the Moses and Moshiach of his generation, was able to turn the reish of idolatry of the Jews at that time who bowed to the icon into a daled, an affirmation of G‑d’s unity.

The other two letters of Mordechai, the chof and the yud, are an acronym for knesses Yisroel—the Jewish nation. Mordechai was able to reveal the hidden light of Esther—who symbolizes the Jewish people—and reverse their downward spiraling. In the words of the Megillah: The Jews had light, joy, happiness, and glory. All of the light that was concealed (Esther) was now fully revealed. The catalyst for this reversal was the Teshuvah of Knesses Yisroel-the Jewish people who were inspired by Mordechai.

Revealing the Light of Moshiach

We are living in the days of Moshiach. Moshiach’s face is radiating G‑dly light, but this light is unfortunately still in a state of Esther-concealment. Moshiach’s role as the one who ushers in the final Redemption has yet to materialize. The world is still shrouded in darkness even as we anticipate the Redemption every day. What can we do to see his radiant face and translate that light into the end of the darkness of exile?

From all of the above explanations as to why Moses’ face shone only after receiving the second tablets it is obvious that our ability to see Moshiach’s radiance is also connected to our efforts at Teshuvah and self-refinement. We must strive to live an “Adar” life; a life in which our reish anddaled are in the right place—preceded by the Aleph. It then becomes Adar, which is a composite of two words: Aleph Dar-the Aleph dwells, connoting that G‑d who is the “Aleph” of the world feels comfortable dwelling in it. Knowing that this light is here ready to be revealed it generates the joy, happiness and glory that follow the word light in the Megillah. And this joy of Adar that derives from the knowledge that G‑d dwells comfortably in our midst will be the catalyst that will enable us to see the radiant face of Moshiach imminently!

Moshiach Matters

When Moshiach (who is a king) will be revealed, we will require the special anointing oil to anoint the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) and (perhaps) Moshiach himself. The author of the book Kinas Sofrim quotes Rashbatz who says: "We have total faith in G‑d that this oil will be revealed upon the arrival of Moshiach."

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