Last Sunday we celebrated Purim, and this week, we read the portion that describes how Moses hid his face with a mask. It is described as a veil, but we see how Moses’ proximity to the Almighty made his face shine with rays of light. This is why Michelangelo depicts Moshe with horns – as the Hebrew says karan or (rays of light) and the word karan is very similar to keren, ray.
Moses was perhaps the most modest person on earth. His face shone with a permanent reminder of his superior nature, his constant encounters with God. Can you imagine how embarrassed this must have made him feel in front of his siblings, let alone all other people, because it set him utterly apart?
This week’s Torah portion deals with the Golden Calf, where the people sinned by making a golden idol to worship. Seeing Moses’ shining face was a constant reminder of their sin.
Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, who lived just after the Shoah, used this week’s portion to explain when Jewish leaders need to use a mask and when we should show ourselves as we are.
The Torah portion says: “And the Lord said, ‘See, there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the rock and, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand…”. (Exodus 33:21-22). When we are doing God’s work, promoting the Torah and halacha, we should not mask our faces, and should station ourselves on firm rock. The rest of the time we need to display humility, like Moses, who veiled his face except when acting in his official capacity.
Zvi Solomons is rabbi of the Jewish Community of Berkshire in Reading. JCoB.org