"I Will Place You in a Cleft": Pesach 5764

by Phoenix Wisebone


     I had the honour of giving my first ever D'var Torah during Pesach this year. The piece that interests me in particular comes from Exodus 33, verses 18 to 23.

    Here Moses asks G-d "show me...thy glory...".


    G-d responds "Thou canst not see my face...and live...I will put thee in a cleft of the rock....until I have passed by...and thou shalt see my back."


   I had previously believed that G-d  told  Moses to hide, but no, that's not what it says.


    G-d says "I will  place  you in a cleft..."



THE CLEFT - a different "narrow place"


   Does G-d ever put us into narrow places?  It's a potentially troublesome idea, if narrow means "bad".


   Are narrow places ever "good"?


   I recently heard the Shoah survival story of Talmudic scholar David Weiss-Halevni...who hid in a cave, reciting Talmud pages to himself to maintain his sanity...That's one example of a "good" narrow place.


   The prohibition of chometz during pesach is another kind of narrow place...I sold my chometz for the first time this year...and as the days wore on I wondered "what was the point of that?  I don't feel anything different..."

    Once Pesach ended, however, I was filled with a sense of having been spiritually renewed somehow...

   Like Moses, was this an instance of "seeing G-d's back" after I'd come out of that narrow place of no chometz?


   The path through the Sea of Reeds was also a very narrow place - one that - without Divine instruction - would have seemed a preposterous route of escape.


   Getting to the Promised Land the long, hard way - surely this is another kind of narrow place, but one that seemed to be essential to reshaping the spiritual character of a Nation.


   I know for myself, when things are not going how I believed they would (should?) go, I rail against G-d for the "restrictions".

   Sometimes - if I'm willing - I can reflect and "see G-d's back".  And I'll admit, there are experiences that seem unredeemably narrow.


   I recall that Egypt was at one time a desirable place for the Israelites, because it meant escape from famine.  In time, it became a narrow place of oppression.  It goes to show that even a good thing can turn sour...sometimes one must leave the familiar in order to keep growing.



MOSES: a free man leading ex-slaves


    I also wondered about the idea that Moses needs to learn empathy. He did not know the slavery of those he is leading...He was never in "the Narrow Place".  Does this brief experience in the cleft - another version of narrowness - help him to acquire this empathy?


    In the story of Ki Thissa, he is enlisting a renewed relationship with HaShem after the disaster with the Golden Calf...Could it be that Moses needs to acquire greater patience and empathy (and maybe G-d needs to also?) as the journey to freedom continues?




MOSES AND HASHEM - an evolving relationship


   Moses request to see G-d's glory is certainly a progression from when he first encounters G-d's presence in the burning bush...in which case he covered his eyes.




MOSES vs. JOB - why the difference?


   Job asks an explanation of G-d : what was the purpose of his suffering. Job doesn't even get to see G-d's "back" (i.e. some spiritual rationale).    In fact, HaShem rebuffs Job, saying "did you create the universe?"


    Surely if anyone is in need of G-d's reassurance, it is someone such as he...


   By contrast, why does Moses - who has witnessed numerous miracles to this point - get to see so much more? Does it have to do with his position of leadership?


   I don't have an answer for this one, but I find the contrast intriguing.






   The question "does G-d ever put us in the narrow place" stayed with me for the days following my giving of my d'var, even though initially this question was one I posed to others.

   Some of the ideas here are ones that didn't come to me until days later

   I think it took the remaining days of Pesach - along with some to tie some of it together for me...


   I think that's my version of "seeing G-d's back".




Shalom and Brachot

Phoenix Wisebone



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