When Moses descended the mountain with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, why did beams of light appear on his face? From where did they come?
This week’s Torah portion is Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35) and in it we read about the sin of the Golden Calf. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and saw that the Jewish people fashioned an idol, the Golden Calf, he threw down the Tablets of the Ten Commandments that God had given him. He reasoned that the Jewish people, now steeped in idolatry, were unworthy of receiving the Ten Commandments.
We are also told that when he descended from the mountain, there were beams of light emanating from his face. Interestingly, Moses was unaware of the existence of these beams until the people asked him to cover his face.
Why did beams of light suddenly appear on Moses face? Where did they come from?
There are two opinions as to the origins of these beams of light. One says that Moses received these beams when he was hidden in the cleft of the rock and saw the “Glory of God.” According to the other, when Moses was writing the first Torah scroll in history, there was a drop of ink left over. God then took that ink and rubbed it on Moses’ head. The beams of glory that shone from Moses’ head were the result of that drop of ink.
The first explanation is nice and inspiring. But the second begs the following question: When you or I gather together raw materials for a project, say, to paint a fence, we can only approximate how much paint will be needed. We’ll never get exactly the amount of paint that we’ll need for our project. There will always be some paint left over. The same is true if we were purchasing bricks to build a wall, and so forth. But when God gathers together raw material for a project, He certainly knows EXACTLY how much is needed. When God provided Moses with the materials needed for him to write a Torah scroll, God certainly knew exactly how much ink would be needed. How could there have been any leftover ink?
Moses – the Humblest of Men
It is explained that indeed God knew exactly how much ink to provide for the project. There was no ink intended to be left over. However, as Moses was writing the Torah and came across the verse that was meant to say, “And Moses was the humblest man who ever lived,” in his utter humility, he could not bring himself to write it as instructed. Instead, he wrote the word “humble” in an incomplete manner, leaving out a letter that was not truly required. As such, there was an unexpected drop of ink left over. God used that leftover ink on Moses’s forehead, resulting in the beams of glory.
There are two lessons to be learned from this teaching. As it says in Ethics of the Fathers, “he who flees from honor will be pursued by honor.” Moses couldn’t bring himself to write that he was the humblest man to live, and as such, God found another way to bestow honor upon him.
Another Lesson: Use Your Brainpower!
Another lesson is that, well…the Torah doesn’t contain everything! It wasn’t fully written down! The Torah is lacking a letter, so to speak. This is intended to teach us that not everything is in the Torah. Not every question, problem or situation in life has an answer written in a book somewhere. God gave us brains and intelligence, and sometimes we have to think for ourselves to find the answer to questions and challenges, ethics and morals. And when we use the tools that He gave us properly, we, too, might just merit to have emit a type of beam.
For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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