Religion & Beliefs

Hide and Seek

In the special Torah reading for the Shabbat of Passover, we continue reading about the Passover saga, starting from where the Seder left off: the day after the crossing of the sea. Dayenu, cry the tired ex-slaves, on their eternal … Read More

By / April 6, 2007
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In the special Torah reading for the Shabbat of Passover, we continue reading about the Passover saga, starting from where the Seder left off: the day after the crossing of the sea.

Dayenu, cry the tired ex-slaves, on their eternal journey to freedom – enough already! But fed by manna, torn by ongoing strife, the children of Israel trudge on through the wilderness on their way home. Except that none of the “children” who left Egypt will actually make it there – their children, the next generation, born in Sinai, will inherit the promise. Residues of how bitterly this story ends for so many are still in our teeth this post-seder morning, along with bits of horseradish and matzah crumbs. Yes, we won and here we are, but at what price did we obtain freedom? Would they have left Egypt if they knew that they would die in unmarked graves in the middle of nowhere? Given the same opportunity today, would any of us make that sacrifice? Are we capable today of having so much faith in the unknown? Faith is a big deal in this Passover story. Perhaps that's why our ancient sages chose the "post-golden calf" scenario for the weekly Torah portion that falls on Passover – telling us something about hindsight and perspective, teasing our endless fascination with our futures. Even Moses, the greatest prophet, is eager to know what's ahead. Moreover, he wants to see the head – the very face of the boss for whom he labors. In a famous passage in Exodus 33 – the bulk of this week's tale – he pleads with the Divine for forgiveness for the cattle – worshipping Hebrews (which is granted, sort of), and then demands to see God. What follows is a cryptic description of a revelation far more intimate than at Sinai – for most translators treat the event as “God showing Moses God's behind,” quite literally. Some translators surprise us by delving further into this metaphor – addressing the human demand for empirical knowledge that will enhance faith as well as the seemingly Divine reluctance to supply “proof.” In chapter 33 God instructs Moses to stand inside the cleft of a rock, eyes covered by God's hands, until the following happens:

And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen (King James Bible 33:23).

Here the translators added a footnote to the word “back”: “As much of my glory as in this mortal life you are able to see.” Most translators render the Hebrew word “achorai" as “God's back parts,” breezing through this shocking striptease without flinching.Michelangelo even depicted the very muscular behind of the Lord on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, two panels away from that famous finger. (How did he get away with that?!) But the traditional Jewish translators simply couldn't bring themselves to portray God as so fundamentally human, and instead translated this verse as allegory:.
The Aramaic Pseudo Jonathan translation provides one amazing image based on lore: God shows Moses the divine (and possibly feminine) nape, adorned with the leather phylacteries, and Tefilin shel rosh, a blurred vision amid a mob of angels:

"And I will make the host of angels who stand and minister before Me to pass by, and you shall see the edge of the tephillin of My glorious Presence; but the face of the glory of My Presence you can not be able to see. "

Meanwhile Onkelos, the other premiere Aramaic translator, usually quite literal, gets very philosophical:

"And I will take away the word of My Glory, and you shall see that which is after Me, but My Aspect shall not be seen."

There is a lot of hide and seek going on during a Passover seder – broken matzahs traded in for expectations and prizes. But maybe the real hide and seek is more internal, echoed in this mysterious passage. If even the greatest of prophets cannot know the future, what about us mere mortals? Perhaps the search for faith — for the ultimate proof of God, the possibility of hope in narrow places and hard times, the promise of redemption, something to hold on to during the long way home — is even more difficult. It may not be much, but for us at Lauviticus Headquarters, seeing God's ass is plenty comforting, and we walk on, single file, all the way to the next part of the story.