The Gift of RetrospectFebruary 13, 2014 - 5:00 am
“But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”—Exodus 33:20
The Torah portion for this week is Ki Tisa, which means “when you raise up,” from Exodus 30:11—34:35, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 18:20–39.
When people go through difficult times or see others experiencing tough situations, the question inevitably comes up, “Why do the good suffer while the evil prosper?” Not so for Moses. In this week’s Torah portion, Moses asked God, “Now show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). The Sages explain that Moses wanted God to reveal His ways.
However, Moses didn’t ask this question because he saw good people suffering. Moses asked this question just after the children of Israel had been forgiven for their sin of making and worshiping the golden calf. Moses was astounded at the depth of God’s kindness and mercy in spite of Israel’s blatant sin. He wanted to understand God’s reasoning behind His actions.
God responded to Moses’ request by explaining, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). In other words, God was telling Moses that human beings are not capable of understanding His mysterious ways while living. After death, when a person’s soul leaves the body, then it is possible to understand life. At that point God will reveal His master plan and everything will come together like a beautifully woven tapestry. However, from our limited perspective on earth, all we see is the underside of a yet unfinished masterpiece. We see loose threads and an unintelligible image. It’s simply impossible to fathom or understand.
God told Moses that He would pass before him, but said He would cover Moses so that he would not see. “Then, I will remove my hand and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen.” Moses experienced a glimpse of God’s back, even though he was not privy to see His face.
The Sages explain the esoteric passage this way: While we are not capable of understanding God’s plan for our lives in the moment – when we are face-to-face with our situations – sometimes we are able to understand things afterward in hindsight. God has given us the gift of retrospect and the ability to see His hand in our lives when looking back on our experiences. This is truly a gift because when we see how God has worked in the past in our lives and has positioned our steps precisely for our highest good, it gives us strength to walk forward in faith, no matter how frightening the present may seem.
Take a moment to utilize this gift of retrospective vision. Look for the ways the “bad” times in your life have turned out for the good. Can you identify times in your life when God obviously intervened to help you out?
We need to hold on to these moments and remember them often. They are a glimpse of God and a taste of eternity that will sustain us in the here and now.