February 20, 2003
The Finger of God
Parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)
One of my favorite questions to pose to a group of adults is "What was a spiritual moment for you?" Hearing the details of the responses is powerful; the room becomes silent as each person relays his or her experience. The listeners are moved, inspired, opened in new ways.
Often the reflections include glorious descriptions of nature -- standing at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon, gazing into the heavens and feeling awed by the numerous stars, or the power of the dramatic colors of a sunrise. Other answers revolve around special moments in the cycle of life, such as the birth of a child, or standing next to a young person as he or she becomes a bar or bat mitzvah. Occasionally, the group is enthralled by hearing about an unusual encounter with someone special who has touched the speaker in a deep way.
These spiritual recountings are often of monumental and extraordinary events. So, too, in our Torah portion this week, Ki Tisa, we read of momentous events in which God's presence is encountered. The Torah describes God giving Moses the two tablets of the covenant at Mount Sinai. Meanwhile, the people are despairing of Moses' return and demand that Aaron make a "god" for them. So the Golden Calf is built.
God tells Moses what the people are doing and threatens to destroy them. So Moses descends the mountain, and sees for himself the people dancing around the calf and proceeds to smash the tablets.
At this point, Moses ascends Mt. Sinai once again and intercedes for his people. He pleads with God who then relents from destroying the entire people.
Later, Moses pleads to see God, but that request is denied, "for a human may not see Me and live," God tells Moses.
God, however, does promise that Moses will be able to see His "back." Then Moses returns to Mt. Sinai for the third time and receives the revelation of God's Thirteen Attributes. After 40 days, Moses receives the second set of tablets. He comes down from Sinai, his face shining with rays of light.
These are large events, yet within them is a subtle occurrence. When God gave Moses the two tablets, the Torah tells us they were inscribed with the "finger of God." What is the finger of God? Surely we do not believe that God truly has a finger. God is not contained in a form, so what is this metaphor that is quietly slipped into this dramatic narrative telling us?
The 19th century teacher Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher teaches that the expression "finger of God" means something that is not doubted -- that its essence, quality and intentions are clear. It is clearly evident that God's hand is in it. Through the metaphor, the Torah teaches that clearly it is God and none other who created the tablets of stone.
Yet the very next thing that happens in the Torah is the people cry out to be able to see a god, they want a concrete proof that God is with them. Moses, meanwhile, is in possession of the tablets that were inscribed by the finger of God, a much more subtle indication of God's intercession in their lives, one they needed to wait for and have faith that they would
How often does that happen to us? We tend to see God in the large, glorious events. Yet, the result of God's presence is around us in the smaller details as well. In the second to last stanza of the "Amidah," the central Jewish prayer, we recite "Modim anachnu lach." "We give thanks to You, the all-Merciful our God, God of our ancestors, today and always.... For your miracles that greet us every day, and for your wonders and the good things that are with us every hour: morning, noon
Where are the indications of God's finger in our world? They are not just in the crevices of the Grand Canyon, but in the blades of green grass on our lawns that we walk past each day. They are not only in the moment of birth, but in the moments of giggles as well as the frustrations of our children. They are not only at a life cycle event, but also in the everyday moments as we breathe in and breathe out. They are not only in the incredible awareness and intuitiveness of unique individuals, but also in the daily interactions and relationships we have with our colleagues, friends and family as they pay attention to us, whether in support or disagreement.
As one of the people whom I asked to describe a spiritual experience noted, there is divinity in the patterns of the universe. There indeed is divinity in our own ability to create patterns that create words that enable us to erect buildings. So not only is God's finger in the single moments and the individual encounters, but God is in the complexity of their interconnections. Sometimes we just need to have the faith that we will see it. God's finger is pointing at the everyday miracles. We only need to see where God is pointing. Â
Rabbi Mimi Weisel teaches at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.