A biblical scene haunts me every time I read it. Moses stands alone in the cleft of a rock. He has led the Jewish people out of Egypt. He has devoted his life to God’s service
He yearns to see God’s face. But God refuses. “You shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:23)
Hundreds of interpretations have been offered. Most of them focus on theological questions. Does God have a face? Does God have a back? Why can’t Moses see God’s face?
These questions miss the point. This passage is not about physically seeing God’s face. It about our “facing up” to our blessings. Just as Moses only sees God’s back, we only see the blessings of life as they are passing away. The challenge is to turn our faces toward them.
Missing the train
When life is good and we have no worries, we assume that is the way life is supposed to be. We “eat, drink and be merry.” It is only when things change—when we experience loss or disappointment—that we begin to see how lucky we have been.
We are like travelers who see the train as it is departing from the station. If only we had been wise enough to have gotten on when we had the chance. If we only we had turned our face toward the Light.
Can we ever catch the train? Yes. But we need to move quickly. And we cannot ride forever. We can make our ride count by sharing out seats with those we love.
Sharing Our Seats
Forgive me if you have heard this one before: A man named Schwartz comes to synagogue every Sabbath and sits with his friend Goldstein. Goldstein sings the songs and says the prayers. Schwartz just sits there.
People wonder why he goes at all. He doesn’t believe in God. He doesn’t seem to be listening. Why does he come?
Finally someone asks him. “Schwartz,“ he says, “we know your friend Goldstein comes to temple to pray. What are you doing here?” Schwartz replies, “Goldstein comes to talk to God. I come to talk to Goldstein.”
Faith is not only about finding God. It is about finding one another.
And when we find one another, we have to make our relationships count. We need to speak words of love. It’s the only way to avoid the pain of words left unsaid.
Rabbi Jack Riemer expresses this truth in a haunting story. It took place at a funeral he conducted. As friends and family began to leave the cemetery, the husband of the deceased remained by grave. He kept repeating to the rabbi that he loved his wife.
“I love my wife, ” he said. “I love my wife.”
The rabbi said, “I know.” They stood in silence. After a while, the rabbi returned to the man and said that the cemetery was closing, and it was time to go. The man answered, “I love my wife.” The rabbi said, “I understand. But it’s time to go. The cemetery is closing.”
The man replied, “You don’t understand. I love my wife. And once I almost told her…”
For this man the train was long gone. We still have the chance to jump on it. Let us make our ride count.
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