In this week's parsha, we get the famous story of Moses ascending Mt. Sinai carrying two stone tablets upon which the Holy One uses a finger (really! check out Ex. 31:18) to inscribe the Ten Commandments. Moses returns down the mountain only to find the people have built a golden calf. Enraged, and probably feeling betrayed, he smashes the tablets and returns up the mountain to plead forgiveness with the Holy One. While on the mountain a second time, Moses has a heart to heart with the Holy One.
The text of Exodus 34:6 reads:
וַיַּֽעֲבֹ֨ר יְהֹוָ֥ה | עַל־פָּנָיו
And God passed before his face...
As if the rabbis pressed pause on this scene and zoomed in close on their smartphones, they ask, what was it that Moses saw when the Holy One passed by? Was it a glowing aura? A long white beard? What's God's profile pic?
In one midrash, the rabbis conclude that Moses saw the back of God's head. Not only that, but he saw the knot of the tefillin shel rosh, the leather straps of God's tefillin. Wait, you might say, God prays? God wears tefillin? Isn't God the one we call Shomea Tefillah, the one who hears our prayers? And if the Shema, which asserts the oneness of the Divine, is written inside of our tefillin, then what is written in God's tefillin?
The Talmud teaches, "These tefillin [that belong to] the Master of the Universe, what is written in them? He said to him, And who is like you Israel? A singular nation on the earth (Divrei HaYamim 1, 17:21)...God said to Israel: You have made Me a singular entity in the world and I will make you a singular entity in the world. You have made Me a singular entity in the world as it says, Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God the Lord is One (Devarim 6:4). And I will make you a singular entity in the world, as it says, And who is like you Israel? A singular nation on the earth (Berakhot 6a)."
Just as the tefillin that human beings wear pray for Divine unity, so too the Holy One's tefillin prays for our earthly unity. Just as we long to feel connected to something beyond ourselves, the Source of All Life longs for us to feel connected to each other.
In the words of Marcia Falk,
"Hear, O Israel--
The divine abounds everywhere
and dwells in everything;
the many are One."
Ken Yehi Ratzon. May it be so.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.