There are movie stars who transmit this feeling that they’re really nice people. Sadly, that often means that they’re just good actors. Chris Pratt from “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies and the reboot of the “Jurassic Park” series is one such person, but in his case, I think that he’s truly a nice guy. He was on Stephen Colbert’s show recently and discussed his spiritual anchors. Chris discussed how he was on a “Daniel Diet,” based on our book of Daniel. Of course, the biblical Daniel (Chapter 1, Verses 8-14) was eating fruits and veggies to keep kosher in the royal palace of Bavel, not to lose weight. But it’s still pretty cool. He’s also become a blue-ribbon winning shepherd. That’s also pretty biblical.
However, it was his discussion about remaining normal in spite of fame, which gave me the best vibe. He said, “If the spotlight that’s shining on you is brighter than the light that comes from within you, it’ll kill you,” He was paraphrasing evangelist Christine Caine, who ended the quote more elegantly, “It will destroy you.” But you get the point. I think that this week’s Torah reading hints at a similar idea about inner glow.
A few weeks back, we read the following about Moshe after receiving the second set of tablets: As Moshe descended the mountain, he did not realize that the skin on his face had become luminous, when God spoke to him. When Aharon and all of Israel saw that the skin on Moshe’s face was shining with a brilliant light, they were afraid to come close (Shmot 34:29-30).
The Hebrew for this “glow” is “karen ohr,” but “keren,” can also mean a “horn.” So, the Greek and Latin translations have Moshe sprouting horns. This has led to the funny protrusions on the head of Michelangelo’s Moses and many non-Jews scanning our heads for horns. However, when I think about Jews with horns, I think of Herb Alpert.
Moshe’s reaction to this phenomenon is actually quite cool. He placed a hood or mask (“masve” ) over his face to not alarm the others. But where did this glow come from?
Rav Amnon Bazak of Yeshivat Har Etziyon helps us answer this question with another question. How very Jewish! Rav Bazak wants to know why this “glow” didn’t appear after his first descent from Mount Sinai? He posits that Moshe required an “upgrade” in his stature, so that the Jews would have more awe of him and, of course, his mission. This is reasonable, because of the panic which resulted from Moshe’s absence the first time around.
I love the question, but I’d like to propose a different answer. The Ohev Yisrael (the original Reb Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt, 1748-1825) emphasizes the fact that Moshe was totally unaware of the “glow” in order to begin a discussion of Moshe’s humility. This is, of course, the dominant character trait of our greatest teacher (Bamidbar 12:3). Moshe, indeed, got an upgrade during the subsequent ascents to the peak of Mount Sinai, but it wasn’t specifically to enhance his reputation within the nation. Moshe displayed the selflessness which must be the hallmark of Jewish leadership. He eschewed his own honor and glory for the sake of his beloved people; specifically, when God offered him the opportunity to replace Avraham Avinu as the progenitor of God’s people.
This “glow” wasn’t superimposed upon Moshe by God. The luminosity emanated from within Moshe. The more Moshe sublimated his honor to that of the nation, the more his inner glow became visible. The “keren” wasn’t an external spotlight; it radiated from deep inside.
Now we must return to this week’s parsha. The end of our Torah reading and, indeed, the book of Shmot is fascinating. Moshe seems to be everywhere at once. The account of the completion of the Mishkan presents every detail, and each of these is recorded as being according to Moshe’s instructions. The phrase, “As God commanded Moshe ...” appears 17 times in the last two chapters of the book. Then we’re told (twice) that Moshe erected the Mishkan. Plus, Moshe seems to be the person referred to in all the verses as doing all the construction work personally, as Rashi states this explicitly (39:33). Wow!
The Midrash goes even further. “They did not know how to join the pieces. They brought all the pieces to Moshe. He saw them, the Holy Spirit came upon him, and he raised it all,” (Shmot Rabbah). Double wow! These skilled, experienced artisans had no clue, but Moshe did. Rashi says that the pieces were too heavy, but when Moshe exerted effort, the boards flew up by themselves.
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, z”tl makes a very insightful observation on this perplexity. The great rosh yeshiva suggests: Moshe was the only one who could try to raise the walls, exerting himself to his utmost ability and then leaving the rest of the work to God. This suggests that Moshe’s uniqueness lay not in his broad perspective and overall view, but rather in his ability to invest himself completely in his task. He did not give up; he tried his very best, and God helped him.
Rav Lichtenstein continues to explain that we should do no less in the construction of our own personal, internal Mishkan. We must follow the example of Moshe, our teacher. Everyone must strive to their utmost, and then rely on God to bless these efforts with success. We can’t expect the total success of Moshe, but we must strive with our last ounce of courage to do our personal best. Then, we can feel a sense of accomplishment knowing that we have followed Moshe’s inspiring example.
Moshe knew he succeeded because the Mishkan filled with God’s glory (kavod ). I’m not sure we’ll get such clear results. But, we should be constantly examining ourselves for that inner glow which grows from our personal effort. Learn from Moshe Rabbeinu: Don’t look for the spotlight; search for the glow.
By Rabbi David Walk
Rabbi David Walk, who has recently made aliyah, was a teacher at the Bi-Cultural Day school as well as Congregation Agudath Sholom’s education director. He continues to be a tireless teacher and educator. For over 30 years, he has taught students from third grade and up and conducted many classes for teens and adults. Prior to joining CAS, he served as director and teacher at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat, Israel.