Ki Tissa 5783
Ex. 30:11 – 34:35
Rabbi Baht Weiss
When do we lower the veil?
At the end of Exodus 34, Moses has come down from Mount Sinai with the second set of tablets. In that moment something unexpected happens.
“Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant, 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 him. But Moses called to them…when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with God, he would leave the veil off until he came out, and when he came out and told the Israelites what had been commanded, the Israelites would see how radiant Moses face was .Moses would then put the veil back over his face until he went to speak with God.”
-Exodus 34: 29-34
An obvious question that arises from this text is: Why did Moses place a veil on himself when speaking to the Israelites and remove it when speaking with God? One would expect the opposite—out of humility and respect, one would think that a person would shield themself from God’s radiant power by veiling themself in their interactions with the Divine. Moses is described as very humble in the Torah. It is seemingly pretty confident to go before God without a veil.
Biblical commentator Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Hungary in the late 1700s and 1800s) offers another way to view Moses’ intentions and actions, as to why Moses would veil himself before the Israelites but not God.
Rabbi Eiger suggests, “Moses was the king and leader of Israel, it was his duty to conduct himself in a regal manner in order to preserve order and guard his honor. Moses, therefore, had to conceal his natural humble and submissive nature with the veil of royal demeanor. On the other hand, when Moses came to speak with God, he removed his veil of regal behavior and once again assumed his natural humble and modest demeanor.”
Moses often doubted himself and his own abilities. He suffered from “imposter syndrome” not thinking he was up to the job. But to play the part of a leader, he had to act assured and confident. Many of us have a public persona that is different than our private persona. We need those quiet moments to prepare ourselves to project the image we wish to portray.
Moses wasn’t appearing bare faced before God out of arrogance –quite the opposite.
According to Eiger, Moses removes the metaphorical veil of assertive, regal leadership when speaking with God for there is no need of pretense or public image before God; God knows all including our true nature. And furthermore, it is not appropriate to conduct ourselves assertively or regally before God.1
Before God, Moses didn’t have to be anything except his genuine self-he didn’t need to hide his true nature. We are lucky when we have people in our lives that love us unconditionally, that accept us for who we are, flaws and imperfections included. Sometimes we find this in a spouse, a partner, a parent, or a special friend. Moses found it in God.
The radiant light that Moses shared with God was too much for the masses to see. His true essence could only be revealed to God. People often say, “its lonely at the top” and it was no doubt the same experience for Moses. The only place he could be his true, vulnerable self, was with God.
We are told that Moses prayed to God, Panim al Panim, “face to face.” When we stand before God in services, we bow in humility and reverence but then we rise to meet God face to face—to be open and honest about who we are.
In a world where we constantly don the armor of protection—the veils we hide behind—it is comforting to know that there are places where we can be our authentic selves. I hope that our synagogue is a place where you feel able to be your true self—where you can meet others (and God) face to face.