February 28, 2002
The Light of God
Parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)
Recently I had an opportunity to lead some adults through a group-dynamic exercise. They sat in clusters of five or six, and each person identified a strength of each of the other participants. There were some in the group who knew each other very well, others who were less familiar with one another. The result was actually quite remarkable. After initial discomfort at being asked to look someone in the eyes and articulate one of their strengths, the participants positively glowed from the opportunity to share their remarks. Their faces beamed with delight. Of course, those hearing their strengths enumerated (after their initial discomfort of being the focus of attention) appreciated the process. What was revealing for me was the joy that the speakers experienced.
This encounter was analogous to a stunning, powerful and beautiful moment we read about in this week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa. Moses pleads with God, "Oh, let me behold Your glory!" God responds, "I will make all My goodness pass before you ... as My presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen."
Imagine what it might have felt like for Moses, standing inside a cold, confining, pitch-black cavern, not knowing when light would reappear. Fear? Uncertainty? A sense of loneliness, perhaps? Then God removes His hand. In a flash, Moses is able to peer outside into the light and see God's back as He passes by the rock. Moses is greeted by an overpowering brightness, an awesome awareness of God's presence, a transformational, inspirational moment of sight and insight.
Moses is only allowed to see God's back, yet this limited view gives him a glimpse of God's goodness. Moses has encountered God and has seen goodness. When we experience goodness in the world, we encounter God.
We cannot see nor can we completely comprehend or apprehend God. We can, however, recognize the places and moments that God's presence has been in the world. We can, like Moses, see God's goodness. One way we can have a glimpse of God is when we experience acts of chesed (kindness).
The goodness of others reflects God's image. These acts bring God's light into the world. Yet, there is more to this process: when you bring goodness into the world, it is as if you are shining God's light directly onto another person and then it shines back on you.
We can stay within ourselves, closed up in isolated, dark, inward- focused places, as if shut up in a cleft in rock. Or we can move past our insulation and apprehension and welcome the light. We can look into the faces of others and be critical and closed to them, or we can see the image and light of God reflected in their essence. We can do good, and we can acknowledge it in others: a simple "hello" and "thanks for your help" at the supermarket, an expression of gratitude to a coworker going an extra step, a remark of appreciation to someone even if we are frustrated with them. When we do this, we brighten their lives. These acts of kindness not only bring light to the receiver, but they reflect joy back on to us.
When we recognize the strengths, the potential, the gifts that others give to the world and us, we can see a glimpse of God in them. When the adults in the small groups were given the opportunity to articulate the goodness of others, they were joyous. That joy is the spark of light of God's presence. Let it glow.
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