“Please show me Your Presence,” Moshe asks Hashem on Mt Sinai after Israel has been forgiven for the sin of the golden calf.
“I cannot, since no one can see my face and live,” Hashem answers. “I will put you in a cleft in the rock…you will see my back, but my face cannot be seen” (Shemot 33, 18-23).
Much has been written about this dialogue between Hashem and Moshe; what is Moshe asking for, and what is Hashem’s answer?
Rav Mordechai Yosef, the Ishbitzer Rebbe, offers a deep explanation. When Hashem’s presence passed over Moshe, he saw all that happened in the past through God’s perspective. Even the most theologically problematic matters, i.e., the existence of evil, disease, etc., were all revealed to Moshe. This is Hashem’s back.
But what Hashem could not show Moshe was the future, i.e. Hashem’s face. That is something no one can see. Hashem’s providence can only be fully understood in retrospect. Especially in light of the great numbers of tragedies that Israel has undergone, Hashem cannot be understood in the now. Only through the passage of time, when we reach a point of greater clarity, can we see the present in its proper context.
Hashem’s Presence may be hidden in the now, but the faith that carries us is the knowledge that in the future we will see clearly how Hashem was guiding us the whole time.
Dedicated to the complete healing of my dear friend Eliezer Chaim ben Zelda Tzipora.