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WHY DID MOSHE'S FACE SHINE…

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

...AFTER RECEIVING THE SECOND SET OF TABLETS, NOT THE FIRST, WHICH WERE MADE FROM G-D?

The radiant face of Moshe reflects the diverse dimensions of the Torah, from the written to the hidden, the oral to the mystical. It symbolizes forgiveness, renewal, and God's multifaceted gift to Israel. * On the Hayom Yom for 17 Tammuz.

by Bing AI and ChatGPT

On the 17th of Tammuz, a significant fast day, we commemorate several historical events, one of which is the smashing of the Luchos (tablets) by Moshe. As he descended from Mount Sinai and witnessed the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf, Moshe shattered the divine tablets. This profound act of breaking the tablets symbolized the rupture caused by the nation's transgression and the subsequent loss of the extraordinary spiritual illumination that Moshe had received.


"When the Torah was given, Moshe received one thousand 'lights' as a gift. However, with the sin of the Golden Calf, these lights were taken from him and were not restored with the second tablets. The second tablets did have a superior quality: they were given along with laws, midrash, and aggadot, etc., a 'double gift of Torah-wisdom.' Additionally, at the second giving of the tablets, Moshe's face shone with rays of light." (Hayom Yom, 17th of Tammuz)


Why did Moshe's face shine after he received the second set of tablets, which he personally hewed, whereas it did not shine after receiving the first set, which were the miraculous work of G-d?


There are four categories of response to this question, each offering a unique perspective:


1. REFLECTION OF THE WRITTEN TORAH ON THE FACE OF MOSHE

The first category suggests that the light on Moshe's face reflected the written Torah engraved on the tablets. According to Rashi, Moshe's face shone with the light of the written Torah, representing a direct gift from God to Israel. It signified the everlasting and unbreakable covenant between God and the nation. The radiance on Moshe's face served as a visible sign of God's love and unwavering faithfulness to Israel.


2. REFLECTION OF THE ORAL TORAH ON THE FACE OF MOSHE

The second category posits that the light on Moshe's face emanated from the oral Torah given alongside the tablets. According to interpretations by Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Sforno, Bechor Shor, Midrash Rabbah, and Rambam, Moshe's face radiated with the light of the oral Torah—an additional gift from God to Israel. The oral Torah encompasses the dynamic and evolving tradition of interpretation and application of God's word, serving as a wellspring of wisdom and guidance for the nation.


"The light that shone from Moshe's face was not only from the written Torah engraved on the tablets, but also from the oral Torah given alongside them." (Ibn Ezra on Exodus 34:29)


3. REFLECTION OF THE HIDDEN TORAH ON THE FACE OF MOSHE

The third category suggests that the light on Moshe's face reflected the hidden Torah, concealed within the white spaces between the letters. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that Moshe's face shone with the light of the hidden Torah, a secret and mystical aspect of the Torah. It served as a source of inspiration, innovation, and a connection to God's will and wisdom beyond human comprehension.


"And this was because he had revealed the etzem (the essence) of the Torah, which is hidden in the white spaces between the letters. And the etzem of the Torah is higher than the letters, which are the garments of the Torah. And therefore his face shone with the light of the etzem of the Torah." (Keter Shem Tov 1:1)


4. REFLECTION OF THE MYSTICAL TORAH ON THE FACE OF MOSHE

The fourth category explores the idea that the radiant light on Moshe's face reflected the mystical Torah. According to Ramak, Zohar, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Moshe's face shone with the brilliance of Zeir Anpin, the aspect of God connected to the lower realms. His face also radiated with the wisdom of chochma ila'a, hidden within the Ancient Holy One. This transformation came from Moshe's self-nullification and unwavering devotion to God's will.


"Moshe had ascended to the level of Zeir Anpin, also referred to as 'the small face,' representing the aspect of God that is connected to the lower realms. As a result, his face shone with the luminous light of Zeir Anpin."

(Or Yakar on Exodus 34:29)


Moreover, Moshe had received the light of chochma ila'a, the supernal wisdom concealed within Atika Kadisha, the Ancient Holy One. This wisdom served as the wellspring for all prophecy and revelation. Consequently, his face radiated with the brilliance of this elevated wisdom.


According to these interpretations, Moshe's face emitted the light of the mystical Torah, representing its sublime and transcendent aspects. It symbolized the revelation of God's essence and attributes within creation. Furthermore, it represented the unification of God and Israel in a state of love and harmony.


WHAT DOES IT TEACH US?

The light that shone from Moshe's face was not only a physical phenomenon, but also a spiritual message. It was a message that God had forgiven Israel for their sin and renewed His covenant with them. It was a message that God had given Israel not only a written Torah but also an oral Torah, a hidden Torah, and a mystical Torah. It was a message that God had chosen Israel as His beloved people and partners in creation.


The reason for this difference is as follows: During his first stay on Mount Sinai, Moshe had not yet attained human perfection; he reached this state only during his third stay there. Moshe achieved the ultimate degree of perfection possible for a human being, resembling Adam before the sin. Our Sages describe Adam as "reaching from one end of the world to the other." This means that Moshe attained the level of "the image of God" in which humanity was originally created, and this image shone on his face. Hence, "the skin of his face shone."


According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Moshe's face shone with the light of Godliness, which is the ultimate source and goal of the Torah. Moshe's face shone with the light of God's unity, which he realized through his self-nullification and devotion to God's will. Moshe's face shone with the light of God's essence, which he revealed through the transformation of his physical body into a vessel for Godliness.


This interpretation reveals how Moshe Rabbeinu attained the highest level of human perfection and connection to God through his self-nullification and devotion to God's will. It also demonstrates how Moshe Rabbeinu transformed his physical body into a vessel for Godliness, with his shining face expressing the deep connection of his soul to God.


Furthermore, the light that shone from Moshe's face was also a sign and promise for the future. It served as a sign that one day, all people will see God's glory and recognize His sovereignty over the world. It was a promise that God will send Moshiach, who will be like Moshe but even greater. Moshiach will teach us all aspects of the Torah, revealing its secrets and mysteries. Moshiach will shine with Godliness and inspire us all to follow his example.

Ultimately, Moshiach will bring peace and harmony to all creation and unite us all with God.

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