“And Hashem said, ‘Behold there is a place near Me and you can stand on the rock. And it shall be when My glory passes and I shall place you in a cleft of the rock, and I shall cover you with My hand until I have passed. And I shall remove My hand and you shall see My back, but my face shall not be seen,’” (Shemot 33:21-23).
Towards the end of this week’s parsha, Moshe asks to see Hashem. Hashem responds by allowing Moshe to see Him from behind. Of course, Hashem does not have a body or limited physical qualities, so what is meant by seeing Hashem’s back?
It is generally accepted that seeing Hashem from behind is a lower form of revelation, than seeing Him face-to-face. However, my rosh yeshiva, HaRav Yaakov Medan, shlit”a, suggests that the opposite might also be true.
Rav Medan draws from different styles of leadership in the army. There are officers who display their leadership by facing their soldiers, giving them their instructions and orders. However, there are officers who only need to turn around and start moving, and their soldiers follow suit. These soldiers gain confidence seeing their officer from behind, knowing that he is leading them and that he is in full control.
Similarly, one who is sitting in the back row of a car does not want to see the driver’s face. Seeing the driver from behind instils confidence that the driver is in control of the vehicle and the journey.
By showing Moshe His back, Hashem was sending Moshe the clear message that He is in control. Although—it may seem at times as if Hashem has turned His back—we must follow Him confidently with full belief that He is in control of the journey.
Another explanation for seeing “Hashem’s back” is that, although we may never be able to see or understand Hashem directly, the day will come when we will see what is behind Hashem—i.e., we will be able to look back with retrospect and understand His ways.
A similar message emerges from the verse in Tehillim: “Lay a table before me, against my foes” (Tehillim 23:5).
At first glance, this prayer is difficult to understand. One interesting explanation is that this plea is a prayer to Hashem at a time of danger, with the metaphor of a saloon-bar or pub-brawl, where a well-placed turned over table could protect one from flying objects or other forms of danger.
Another explanation is that we are praying to Hashem that, one day, we can “lay a table” —i.e., “drink a toast” to our troubles. The hope is that, one day, we can look back on those people and circumstances that caused us trouble and distress and raise a glass to them—saying confidently that we are better, stronger and greater people, as a result of overcoming such challenges.
By displaying full faith in Hashem and carefully following His ways, may we reach the day when we can raise a toast with all our troubles behind us.
Rabbi Danny Mirvis is the Deputy CEO of World Mizrachi, and the Rabbi of Ohel Moshe Synagogue in Herzliya Pituach. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).