Ki Tisa: Don’t Lose Yourself

Plaut p. 593


Exodus 33:18-23

(18) He said, “Oh, let me behold Your Presence!” (19) And [God] answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name יהוה, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show,”  (20) continuing, “But you cannot see My face, for a human being may not see Me and live.” (21) And יהוה said, “See, there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the rock (22) and, 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. (23) Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”


שמות ל״ג:י״חכ״ג

(יח) וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַרְאֵ֥נִי נָ֖א אֶת־כְּבֹדֶֽךָ׃ (יט) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אֲנִ֨י אַעֲבִ֤יר כׇּל־טוּבִי֙ עַל־פָּנֶ֔יךָ וְקָרָ֧אתִֽי בְשֵׁ֛ם יְהֹוָ֖ה לְפָנֶ֑יךָ וְחַנֹּתִי֙ אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָחֹ֔ן וְרִחַמְתִּ֖י אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲרַחֵֽם׃ (כ) וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לִרְאֹ֣ת אֶת־פָּנָ֑י כִּ֛י לֹֽא־יִרְאַ֥נִי הָאָדָ֖ם וָחָֽי׃ (כא) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהֹוָ֔ה הִנֵּ֥ה מָק֖וֹם אִתִּ֑י וְנִצַּבְתָּ֖ עַל־הַצּֽוּר׃ (כב) וְהָיָה֙ בַּעֲבֹ֣ר כְּבֹדִ֔י וְשַׂמְתִּ֖יךָ בְּנִקְרַ֣ת הַצּ֑וּר וְשַׂכֹּתִ֥י כַפִּ֛י עָלֶ֖יךָ עַד־עׇבְרִֽי׃ (כג) וַהֲסִרֹתִי֙ אֶת־כַּפִּ֔י וְרָאִ֖יתָ אֶת־אֲחֹרָ֑י וּפָנַ֖י לֹ֥א יֵרָאֽוּ׃ {פ}


There’s an apocryphal story related by the therapist Salvador Minuchin about a meeting between two family therapists in which the one, who feels more comfortable when he’s close to people, would take a step closer to the other, who would withdraw two steps, to be followed by the first with three steps forward, to again be followed by the second’s retreat. By the end of their chat they had gone around the room three times. Reportedly, their chat was about appropriate distances among people.


What is the appropriate distance? We see here Moses trying to close the gap between himself and God, longing for closeness, longing for intimacy, for connection–something we all seek and desire. He says, “Let me behold your kavod” –translated as presence, glory, honor, back. And God agrees, saying “I will let all my tuvi, my goodness, my wholeness, my completeness, pass before you, and proclaim my name and show my grace and compassion, but you cannot see My face.”  God’s face? Moses didn’t ask to see God’s face–why does God respond that way? Because God understands what Moses doesn’t–that there are healthy, necessary limits to intimacy and closeness. That one shouldn’t lose one’s self in a relationship but rather find one’s own integrity, one’s own self. God reminds Moses–and us–that we are meant to be differentiated, complete, and individual selves.


These days you hear people describe themselves as empaths, people who somehow know what someone else is feeling or experiencing. And there are always those who seem to think that their lived experience should dictate what others think and feel–that they somehow know best. But Levinas reminds us that we cannot ever truly know another’s burdens–that there are limits to our knowledge of the other. And we certainly can’t change the people around us. But we can maintain our own selves, and in doing so truly see the people around us, see their tov, their goodness, acknowledge them, do what we can to support them. In this way, rather than chasing each other around the room, may we respond to one another with compassion and grace. Amen.