This Shabbat I am faced with a dilemma. Reform congregations will read from Exodus 13, hearing the laws of Pesach, while the Orthodox reading will be from Exodus 33:12. Which to choose? It helps that Exodus 33 contains my favourite piece of Torah.
Moses is up on Mount Sinai with God. After all he’s been through, he asks God for a bit of special treatment, perhaps a reward for pushing through all the challenges so far thrown at him. Moses asks to see all of God’s glory, to see the fullness of the Divine.
God’s answer, essentially, is “you can’t handle the truth”. Which I think might be the deepest truth Torah has to offer us. If even Moses can’t handle the totality that is the truth of God, I certainly haven’t got a hope. It asks us to accept that no one human can know all truth, and if we claim to know all that God is or all that God wants, we are deluded.
From the fifth century the Pesikta of Rav Kahana describes how humans may see a variety of God’s “faces”, but God is, of course, One and is greater than any one of the guises humans manage to fathom. The Pesikta goes on to say in the name of Rabbi Levi, that The Holy Blessed One appeared to the Israelites as a statue with faces on every side: “so that though a thousand men might be looking at the statue, they would be led to believe that it was looking at each one of them”.
If we forget that alone we don’t have the whole picture, and that we can learn a little more when those around us share their viewpoint too, we are missing out on coming closer to the wholeness of truth.