The special Torah readings for Shabbat, the sixth day of Sukkot, are Exodus 33.12 – 34.26 and Numbers 29.26-31,[i] which describes the special sacrifices for the fifth and sixth day of Sukkot. This week’s portion comes on the heels of the episodes of the molten (or golden) calf and Moshe’s smashing of the original Tablets in anger. A short rabbit trail here; we would do well to consider anger issues in our lives and how they affect not only ourselves but others. Aside from this episode, we recall Moshe’s other bout with anger that resulted in his and Aaron’s inability to enter into the Promised Land (Numbers 20.10-12).
Returning to this week’s reading, it is curious to note that the parasha begins with Moshe questioning, maybe even arguing, with the LORD in an attempt to ensure that He does not neglect or abandon Israel in any manner (Exodus 33.12-15). Then, Moshe turns from his intercessory activity to a more personal request — “Please, show me Your glory!” (Exodus 33.18). As ADONAI knows the heart of all men, He answered Moshe’s heart request and not his spoken one — “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live” (Exodus 33.18). Remember when in a vision Isaiah proclaimed
Then I said: “Oy to me! For I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I am dwelling among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, ADONAI-Tzva’ot!” (Isaiah 6.5)
For a mere man (or woman) to look upon the majestic face of the Almighty was a death defying activity. In the Apostolic Writings, Yeshua taught His disciples, “Not that anyone has seen the Father except the One who is from God—He has seen the Father,” (John 6.46). This barrier however is not a bad thing, but rather a protection for man. The LORD told Moshe, “no man can see Me and live.” The sinfulness or uncleanness of man is not able to stand before the holiness and purity of the Almighty. During the last number of weeks, during the period of Selichot and then the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) we have been acutely aware of this separation and our need to be restored to proper relationship with the LORD – and that there is nothing that we ourselves can do. In this week’s reading there are two verses that are recited numerous times, with great intensity
יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן–אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם, וְרַב-חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת. נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים, נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע
.וְחַטָּאָה; וְנַקֵּה, לֹא יְנַקֶּה–פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְעַל-בְּנֵי בָנִים, עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים
“ADONAI, ADONAI, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, showing mercy to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means leaving the guilty unpunished, but bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34.6-7)[ii]
It is only the grace and compassion of ADONAI-Tzva’ot, the LORD Almighty that allows man to be able to stand before the LORD Himself. Of the many benedictions at the end of the letters in the Apostolic Writings, this one from Jude seems to resonate with the Exodus 34 passage.
Now to the One who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Yeshua the Messiah our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, both now and forever. (Jude 1.24-25)
As Sukkot is a time of remembering the care and provision of ADONAI, it is only proper that the Haftarah foresees the LORD’s care and protection during a future cataclysmic invasion, that of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16). Thinking about this future episode I was reminded of the וְלַמַּלְשִׁינִים (Blessing 12: Against Informers), which is recited during the Daily Amidah.
For the slanderers let there be no hope, and may all wickedness perish in an instant. May all Your people’s enemies be swiftly cut down. May You swiftly uproot, crush, cast down and humble the arrogant swiftly in our days. Blessed are You, LORD, who destroys enemies and humbles the arrogant.[iii]
There is little doubt as one reads through the Nevi’im (Prophets), that just as assured as Israel was disciplined for her disobedience and iniquities so will those nations who were the instruments of her discipline eventually suffer and in many cases complete annihilation. While some might say that this is unfair of the LORD, to punish those whom He Himself used to discipline Israel. This is an issue for discussion well beyond the scope of this devotional. Nevertheless, it can be pointed out that the prophet Isaiah quoted the LORD through the Ruach HaKodesh saying,
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” It is a declaration of Adonai. (Isaiah 55.8)
It would be foolish of man to attempt to impose a sense of morality and justice upon He who is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Using another analogy from Isaiah, it would be similar to a piece of pottery arguing with the potter because the potter did not consult the pottery over his existence (cf. Isaiah 45.9).
As we celebrate these final days of Sukkot 5777 (2016), let us truly rejoice in the LORD and His care for us, following the lead of the psalmist
Know that ADONAI, He is God. It is He who has made us, and we are His. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. … For ADONAI is good. His lovingkindness endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations. (Psalms 100.3 & 5)
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] The text on this page contains sacred literature. Please do not deface or discard.
[iii] Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Introduction, Translation, and Commentary. The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz (Hebrew/English). Koren Publishers, Jerusalem, 2009. p 120