Friday, February 1, 2019

Parshat Mishpatim, "Seeing God"

Mishpatim – “Seeing God”:  Before Moses ascends Mount Sinai to receive the stone tablets, we read of a wondrous, surprising event: “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascended; and they saw the God of Israel: under His feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity.  Yet He did not raise His hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they beheld God, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:9-11). How are we to understand these verses? In what sense did Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the elders “see” God?

In his Aramaic translation of the Bible, Onkelos (2nd cent.) renders the words “and they saw the God of Israel” as “and they saw the glory of the God of Israel”. The word “glory” (Aramaic: yekar) does not appear in the original text and is not necessary for its translation. Rather, it appears to have been added by the translator on the assumption that one cannot actually “see” God in the usual sense of the word.

Others understand this to be a reference to “the sight of the soul” that is, an understanding of God.  Rashi suggests Nadav and Abihu actually “peeked” and looked at God, but God didn’t punish them until later, thus explaining the “strange fire” incident. 

For us today, “seeing God” can mean other things – seeing God in a protest for justice, in a fundraiser for the synagogue, in our families, in our prayers.  Do you see God in those above examples?  In what ways?  Do you see God in other places in our Jewish community?  Do you not see God in some places that you would like to see God?  What does it mean to you to “see God”?

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