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Ki Tisah: Seeing with the Heart

And He said, “You will not be able to see My frontside, for no man can see me and live…and you will see My backside, but My frontside will not be seen.”[1]

God’s reply to Moses who asked to see God’s frontside can be explained by using three concepts in Chassidut: Evolution, which can also be described as Causation (hishtalshelut, הִשְׁתַּלְשְׁלוּת), Enclothement or Investment (hitlabshut, הִתְלַבְּשׁוּת) and Inspiration or Omnipresence (hashra’ah, הַשְׁרָאָה).

To see “God’s backside” means to perceive the order of causality in reality. This is sometimes called evolution (not to be confused with Darwin’s biological theory). All natural processes that depend on a cause-and-effect relationship stem from hishtalshelut. One thing emerges from another, like the links of a chain, in which the bottom of the top link is tied to the top of the next, lower link. All that one can see therefore with one or two steps up the chain, and so the origin remains invisible and cannot be seen. Thus, in hishtalshelut, the frontside (the origin or cause) cannot be seen from lower down the chain—from the backside.

Enclothement, or hitlabshut designates a different relationship, whereby the higher level if invested or engarbed in the lower level. This is the type of relationship shared by the soul and the body. The soul is enclothed or engarbed in the body, making it possible to actually see and experience the frontside (the soul) through the backside (the body). However, though he asked to see this, Moses did not merit seeing the frontside directly (except by way of negation, or apophatism).

And yet, there is a wondrous conversation between Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Moses appears in the Zohar.[2] Moses feels sorrow that he did not merit to see the face of God, but Rabbi Shimon Bar Yocahi says to him:

Although you cannot see with your eyes the people of the World to Come, and nor the angels, and all the more so not the Holy Blessed One and His Shechinah, nevertheless, in the mind’s eye in your heart, you can see everything; the people of the World to Come, the angels, and the Holy Blessed One and His Shechinah that surrounds you.

In other words, Moses really did merit the loftiest sight, in the mind’s eye in his heart. This is made possible because of God’s omnipresence, or hashra’ah, whereby the loftiest level dwells upon the lowest reality. Moses was not aware of this until Rabbi Shimon revealed it to him.

In the future, this is the level that will actually be revealed in our consciousness, as the prophet says, “For they will see eye to eye, when God returns Zion.”[3]

[1]. Exodus 33:20 and 23.

[2]. Zohar 2:116b. אָמַר לֵיהּ רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן, רעיא מהימנא עִם כָּל דָּא, דְּאַנְתְּ לָא יָכִיל לְאִסְתַּכְּלָא בִּבְנֵי עָלְמָא דְּאָתֵי בְּעַיְינִין, וְלָא בְּמַלְאֲכַיָּא, כָּל שֶׁכֵּן בְּקוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא וּבִשְׁכִינְתֵּיהּ, אֲבָל בְּעֵין הַשֵּׂכֶל דְּלִבָּךְ, אַתְּ חֲזִי בְּכֹלָּא בִּבְנֵי עָלְמָא דְּאָתֵי, וּבְמַלְאָכִין וּבְקוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא וּשְׁכִינְתֵּיהּ. דְּסַחֲרִין לָךְ.

[3]. Isaiah 52:8

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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