What does Hashem’s back look like?

Our teffilin are all about our praise for Hashem, but Hashem’s teffilin are all about his praise for the people of Israel.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Judaism London
London
טוויטר

This must sound like an extraordinary question but in Parshat Ki Tisa we find Moshe having an encounter with the Almighty. Moshe asks to be given permission to see the presence of Hashem and Hashem replies ‘V’raita et achorai, u’fanai lo yera’u’ – you will see my back but my face will not be seen’. What did Hashem mean?


 

Many of our commentators say that actually the message here is that if you want to see the presence of Hashem in this world you need to look backwards to our history because with hindsight, one can certainly understand Hashem’s involvement and his place, directing everything that takes place in this world.

Rashi however, prefers a different approach. He references the words of Chazal, who explain that at that moment, Hashem showed Moshe his ‘Kesher shel teffilin – the knot of the teffilin’. You see we put on our teffilin ‘shel rosh’ – the teffilin of the head and the teffilin ‘shel yad’ – the teffilin of the arm, every day.

If you were to have a look at somebody who is wearing teffilin from behind, you will see the knot of the teffilin in the nape of his neck. That is what Hashem showed Moshe. You see in the Gemara (masechet Brachot) Chazal tell us that a Hashem puts on teffilin every day.

Then they ask which verse is written in the teffilin of Hashem? The answer is the verse from Chronicles ‘u’mi ke’amcha Yisrael goi echad ba’aretz’ – ‘who is like the people of Israel, a unique nation in this world’. I find this to be incredible. In our teffilin we have written ‘Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad’ – Listen o Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one’. Our teffilin are all about our praise for Hashem, but Hashem’s teffilin are all about his praise for the people of Israel.

Now the Shut Tirosh v’Yitzhar explains beautifully, this particular encounter between Hashem and Moshe took place immediately after the sin of the golden calf. By showing Moshe his teffilin, Hashem was giving us reassurance. Despite the fact that so soon after receiving the Ten Commandments we rebelled against God and rejected his presence in this world, nonetheless, Hashem was continuing to sing the praises of our people.

Despite our actions, Hashem was guaranteeing that the Jewish people would survive. So Moshe ended up not seeing Hashem’s face, not even seeing his back – he saw his teffilin. Through the teffilin of Hashem, he was informed that regardless of circumstances in this world, Hashem will always remain true to His covenant with the founders of our faith and He will guarantee the survival of the Jewish people.




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