At the conclusion of our parashah, Moshe descends from Mount Sinai with a new set of hewn tablets in hand. The Torah narrates, “Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant [karan or], since he had spoken with God. Aaron and all the Israelites saw that the skin of Moses’ face was radiant; and they shrank from coming near to him” (Exodus 34:29–30). How can we understand this divine light? And to what extent may our faces today radiate that same sacred light?
Rashi, the prolific Torah commentator, explains, “From where did Moshe merit these lights of glory? Our rabbis teach, ‘from the light that God’s hand transmitted to Moshe’s face, as it is said, ‘and, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by’“. For Rashi, Moshe’s radiance is derived explicitly from the “touch” of God. Alternatively, one is presented with a different understanding by B’midbar Rabbah, a compilation of midrashim on the book of Numbers. Sparked by Proverbs 6, “a mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light,” the midrash queries, “Why is Torah called light? For Torah illuminates and guides a human since Torah teaches one how to behave according to the will of God. Therefore, the reward of Torah is great” (BR 14:10). For this midrash, the learning of Torah imparts illumination. The Torah’s light blazes a path through the complexities of the modern world. And more than that, the Torah truly has the capacity to impart a radiant spiritual light on those who invest the time to learn.
In the last month, we celebrated two outstanding B’nei Mitzvah, Shayne and Samara, and I am sure we all could see the light of Torah in their faces. I can only imagine that this radiance is the very same light that illuminated the countenance of Moshe.
And perhaps, even more powerfully, our parashah comes to teach us a lesson on Torah teaching. We are told that when the Israelites saw Moshe’s radiance, “they shrank from coming near to him.” Perhaps, by virtue of Moshe’s great learning, the people were intimidated by Moshe’s presence. But what did Moshe do in response to the people’s fear? “Moshe called to them… and Moshe spoke to them.” To Moshe’s credit, he realised his own intimidation factor; and to bring people near, he called to them, spoke to them, and even veiled his own face so as to diminish his radiance. Moshe’s actions speak to his unique humility and profound sensitivity.
May each of us, both in the role of teacher and student, learn from Moshe’s brilliant example.
Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz)