Torah Tidbits

Masks and Motives…  featured-rabbi

Shabbat Parashat Shemot

January 10, 2015 – 19 Tevet 5775

Dear Friends,

Masks can be so much fun.  But, depending on the circumstances, they can also be anything but fun.

Earlier this week, three masked gunmen raided the Paris offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo.  With their faces well hidden beneath their masks, the three terrorists wantonly murdered 12 people and successfully escaped from the building.

Why did the terrorists wear masks?  Perhaps to avoid being identified on the way into the newspaper.  Perhaps to aid in their escape after they concluded their deadly mission.  What is clear is that the masks were intended to provide cover for their plan to sow a path of death and destruction in Paris.

When we wear masks, for better or for worse, we intentionally hide our faces from one another.  But, we can never hide our faces from God.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses hid his face as he saw the burning bush.  Our Sages wonder whether this was an appropriate response, or not.  The Torah tells us: “God’s angel apppeared to [Moses] in the heart of a fire, in the midst of a thorn bush…Moses hid his face, since he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:2,6)

Some say, Moses missed an opportunity to learn more about holiness.  Some say, Moses appropriately hid his face in humility at the sight of the burning bush.  Whatever the motive, it was clear that Moses hid his face in acknowledgment of God’s presence in the world.  He did not intentionally hide his face from other human beings.

Later, when Moses descended from Mount Sinai and his face shone so brightly that others were afraid to look directly upon his face.  Nevertheless, Moses insisted on conveying God’s message to the people face to face.   The Torah mentions that Moses, being aware of the brightness of his face, used a veil at certain times as he interacted with the people.  Specifically, the Torah tells us that Moses used the veil to shield those who looked at him from the brightness of the light when he was not conveying God’s Torah to the people.

Moses did not use the veil as a mask to wreak havoc in the world.  He did not use the veil to hide his face from others.  Rather, he used it to maintain his connection with the people.  Moses removed the veil both when he entered God’s presence and when he taught God’s Torah to the people.  Then, when he was done speaking directly with God and teaching our people God’s Torah, Moses lowered the veil over his face once again.  (Exodus 34:29-35)  This allowed him to interact more freely with our people and to guide, and to lead our people on a journey toward the Promised Land, toward a world of peace.

May we allow our faces to shine a light on the beauty of the world and on the potential for holiness and for love that are embedded in all God’s creation.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror