Why it is important to draw close, meet face-to-face with God


In this week’s Parsha, after the destruction of the first set of tablets, Moshe sets up a tent of Meeting where he can interact with God. The text tells us that when Moshe went into the tent, the Pillar of God would descend and stand at its entrance while God spoke with Moshe.

“Panim el Panim, ka-asher yidaber ish el ray-ay-uh”;

Face-to-face, as one person speaks to another.

The commentaries explain this type of exchange as one where God makes God’s presence known not through visions but rather in a more personal, “in your face” manner.

Yet, a few verses later, while Moshe is still talking with God, he is also searching out a means for strengthening this relationship between the people Israel and God. Moshe suggests that the people would be more confident in God if God’s presence could be seen or at least felt. God suggests to Moshe that since he has found favor in God’s presence, God will do as asked.

Then Moshe, striving to seize the opportunity before him, decides to push the point just a bit more. “God,” Moshe continues, “perhaps you would at least let me see your Presence?” And God responds, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you My Name, and I will show you what is of Me — My compassion and My grace. But, Moshe, you can not see My face for no person can see Me and still live.”

Turning Moshe’s own face into a crevice in the rock, God passes by.

Why was Moshe so insistent on seeing God? What more could he gain by “seeing” beyond what he already knew of God?

Several years ago in the New York Times there was an article entitled, “Real-space meetings fill in the cyberspace gaps.” The author Carey Goldberg explained that while we are now in the midst of “virtual this and virtual that,” there is nevertheless a great paradox happening. Hundreds of scientists and scholars concerned about this new means of communicating were brought together in Seattle for an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. What were they doing? Meeting in the flesh!

Moshe requested to see God because of his realistic comprehension of how difficult it was for him and even more so for the new Israelite nation to feel God’s power, to be excited by God, to see the possibilities. For all of our great advances in communication — the phone, FAX, e-mail, and the Internet — there still is a need to meet together with people, to have what some people call, “meatspace.”

What does it mean, then, to be Panim el Panim — face to face? It is to draw close enough not just by an exchange of ideas, but to draw close in shared presence.