March 7, 2012
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #826, Ki Sisa, Moshiach & Geula, Parsha Thought


Moses’ return from his forty day stay on Mount Sinai to receive the Torah was fraught with great disappointment and grief. The Jewish people had degenerated into idol worship just forty days after they had heard G-d’s direct command to them to not have other gods. In dismay and shock, Moses shattered the tablets. He then ascended the mountain a second time to appease G-d’s anger. G-d acceded to his pleas and agreed to give the Jewish people another chance. Moses thus descends to hew the sapphire stone for G-d to engrave in it a second set of Ten Commandments and then ascends for a third time. At the end of a third period of forty days Moses descended with a second set of Tablets. That day was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

In this week’s parsha—which chronicles these events—we are told that when Moses descended from the mountain with the second set of tablets his face shone. The radiance that emanated from Moses’ face was undoubtedly a reflection of the Divine energy that entered into him and exuded this incredible radiance.

The question has been raised, if Moses’ stay on the mountain to receive the Torah was the source of his radiant face why didn’t his face shine the first time he descended from the mountain with the first set of tablets?


Rashi, whose commentary is geared to providing us with the simple and straightforward understanding of the text, says the following, most likely in response to this question:

“From where did Moses [now] merit these rays of splendor? Our Rabbis said: [Moses received it] from the cave, when the Holy One, blessed is He, placed His hand on his face, as it is said: ‘And I will cover you with My hand’ (Exod. 33:22).” This is a reference to G-d’s response to Moses’ request, “Show me Your glory.” G-d acceded to his request by covering Moses with His “hand.” This G-dly revelation is what caused Moses’ face to shine. This event occurred before he received the second set of tablets.


The Rebbe (Seifer HaSichos 5752, volume 2, p. 433) provides a deeper explanation. In simple terms the Rebbe explains that the second set of tablets was a product of the T’shuva (repentance or return) of the Jewish people. The power of their T’shuva initiative elicited a deeper and more esoteric level of Torah knowledge. This higher dimension of Torah knowledge that was revealed through Moses was thus the source of his radiance.


One of the Lithuanian sages of the twentieth century, Rabbi Yoseph B. Soloveitchik, approached this anomaly by distinguishing between the role of Moses the first time he descended with the second descent: The first time Moses descended from the mountain with the first tablets he descended as a “Rosh Yeshiva-the Head of a Talmudic Academy,” i.e. a Torah scholar whose mission it is to impart the knowledge of Torah to receptive students.

The second time Moses descended from the mountain he descended as a Rebbe; a Jewish leader who puts his own life on the line for the sake of his people.

Moses, the Torah tells us, asked G-d to erase him from the Torah if He did not forgive the Jewish people for their involvement in the construction of the golden calf. This self-sacrificing leadership generated the light that shone from Moses’ face!


There is yet another possible way of understanding why the Torah speaks of Moses’ face shining only after he descended the second time. Perhaps the first time it also shone but the people were unable to see the light because their involvement with the golden calf desensitized them and rendered them spiritually resistant to seeing such pristine light.

A story is told of the illustrious chassid, Reb Itche Masmid, who upon discovering that the Previous Rebbe’s speech was impaired and unintelligible due to serious illness, he remarked: “We have become so desensitized that we cannot understand the Rebbe…”


And yet another explanation based on the Chassidic work B’nei Yissaschar:

Moses—upon learning from G-d of the indiscretion of the Jewish nation in their construction of the golden calf—was told by G-d, “Descend!” Our Sages explain that G-d’s order for him to descend was not just a physical order. G-d was informing him that he, Moses, was now diminished because of their sin. G-d gave Moses his greatness only for the sake of the people he was to lead. If they were diminished so was Moses!

As a result of this diminution his face didn’t shine. However, when he brought down the second tablets that followed their T’shuva and their return to grace, the light was restored to Moses’ face as well.

B’nei Yissaschar explains that the Hebrew word for descend “reid” captures the essence of what occurred at that time. This word consists of the letters reish and daled: These two letters are quite similar in their shape but they are light years apart when they are connected to the letters aleph and ches. When we add a reish to these two letters, the word is acher, which reads and means “another,” as in the verse: “Do not have another-acher G-d.” When we add the daled to the same two letters it yields the word echad-one, as in the verse, “G-d is one-echad.” In those two verses, these two letters are actually enlarged to underscore the danger of substituting the daled for the reish or vice versa, with catastrophic results.

This is precisely what happened when they worshipped the golden calf. They took the daled of echad signifying G-d’s absolute unity and converted it into the reish which stands for the very opposite notion of idolatry. They perverted the daled and reish—“one” became “another.” Hence the word reid that connotes degradation consists of these two letters because it is precisely this perversion of these two letters which is the cause of degradation.

This, B’nei Yisachar says, is what the rabbis meant when they said “Descend from your greatness.” This has a dual meaning. First it means that Moses was diminished. Second, it also can be translated as “the greatness was degraded,” suggesting that the “great” or large letters of the reish and the daled that underscore the integrity of these two letters were compromised, diminished and perverted.

These two explanations are actually complementary: Moses was diminished because the people took the “great” letters of the world reid (the reish and the daled), and reduced and confused them. It thus resulted in Moses’ descent as well. His light could not be revealed.

The second set of tablets however remedied this and restored the daled and the reish to their rightful places and allowed Moses’ concealed light to be fully restored; nay, to even become more powerful than before, as the Rebbe explains, because of the power of T’shuva.


It is providential that this Torah portion, with the entire saga of Moses’ descent, occurs in the middle of the month of Adar. The word Adar consists of the two letters reish and daled with an aleph—that stands for G-d who is one—in front of those two letters.

It is no coincidence then that the two heroes of Purim are Esther and Mordechai. Esther derives from the word hester that means concealment and alludes to the hidden light that was caused by the spiritual degradation of the Jews at that time. They had experienced the same degeneration represented by the word reid-descend. Their descent was caused by their “bowing down to an icon,” reminiscent of the worshipping of the golden calf.

Mordechai, whose name contains the letters reish and daled in it, was able to reverse that process of degeneration and decline. This power he possessed is alluded to by the other letters of his name: The two letters reish and daled are prefaced by the letter mem, which stands for Moses and Moshiach. Mordechai, the Moses and Moshiach of his generation, was able to turn the reish of idolatry of the Jews at that time who bowed to the icon into a daled, an affirmation of G-d’s unity.

The other two letters of Mordechai, the chof and the yud, are an acronym for Knesses Yisroel—the Jewish nation. Mordechai was able to reveal the hidden light of Esther—who symbolizes the Jewish people—and reverse their downward spiral. In the words of the Megilla: The Jews had light, joy, happiness, and glory. All of the light that was concealed (Esther) was now fully revealed. The catalyst for this reversal was the T’shuva of Knesses Yisroel-the Jewish people who were inspired by Mordechai.


We are living in the days of Moshiach. Moshiach’s face is radiating G-dly light, but this light is unfortunately still in a state of Esther-concealment. Moshiach’s role as the one who ushers in the final Redemption has yet to materialize. The world is still shrouded in darkness even as we anticipate the Redemption every day. What can we do to see his radiant face and translate that light into the end of the darkness of exile?

From all of the above explanations as to why Moses’ face shone only after receiving the second tablets it is obvious that our ability to see Moshiach’s radiance is also connected to our efforts at T’shuva and self-refinement. We must strive to live an “Adar” life; a life in which our reish and daled are in the right place—preceded by the Aleph. It then becomes Adar, which is a composite of two words: Aleph Dar-the Aleph dwells, connoting that G-d who is the “Aleph” of the world feels comfortable dwelling in it. Knowing that this light is here ready to be revealed generates the joy, happiness and glory that follow the word light in the Megilla. And this joy of Adar that derives from the knowledge that G-d dwells comfortably in our midst will be the catalyst that will enable us to see the radiant face of Moshiach imminently!

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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