06 Mar 2015

Ki Tisa 5775: The Art of Being G-d

“My music is the spiritual expression of what I am — my faith, my knowledge, my being…— John Coltrane

We are barely a fortnight out of our Egyptian bondage when we experience our first major fall-out with G-d. Moses leaves us for forty days and nights only to be thrown out of G-d’s mountain-top ‘office’ and told to return to his people as they have made a serious transgression.

‘Get out! Get down! For your nation that you took out of Egypt have become corrupt.’  (32:7)

They created a supplemental god out of gold and they bowed to it[1], offered sacrifices to it[2], and danced around it[3]. In their first instance of weakness, the people fell back upon what they knew — idol worship. The response is harsh[4], but they are given a chance by G-d to grow from their failure[5]. Much of the allowance is negotiated by Moshe, yet, he does not simply leave it at forgiveness. He asks G-d for a manner in which He can be known. The people failed because they had no physical connection to G-d, and to a nation that was wrought in pagan Egypt; the idols and imagery of worship were ubiquitous. It was not an easy jump from a plethora of godly forms and symbols to a completely intangible G-d. As long as there was a physical connection through Moshe, they managed. However, with that gone, it was back to the need for physical imagery. Moshe, therefore, in his negotiations for the future, and knowing that to have direct physical experience with G-d was out of the question, asked for the next best thing: to know G-d through His ‘ways’.

Moshe said to G-d…’Please show me Your ways so that I might know you’…and [G-d] said: ‘I shall pass all of My good before you…’ (33:13,19)

 How was G-d answering Moshe’s question? Rambam writes[6] that all this ‘good’ that G-d was speaking of was His masterpiece — the universe that He had created. Like any artist whose identity can be, in a certain and meaningful way, ascertained through his or her creative output, G-d was to be discovered in the same manner. Artists, as opposed to technicians and mechanics[7], do not simply develop products that are utilitarian, but products that, while perhaps serving a useful purpose, are also elements of self-expression and self-sharing with the world. The universe, G-d’s opus, was G-d’s response to Moshe’s request of ‘Show me Your ways’.

[G-ds] statement of all my goodhinted to the entirety of creation. For about creation it is written: And G-d saw all that He made and it was exceedingly good. [Moshe] was shown each detail, its meaning and their interrelationships. He perceived G-ds running of it all generally and specifically. (Moreh Nebukhim)

The matrix of creation in all of its interrelated detail is the way that the shapeless, spiritual G-d expresses His identity to Moshe and ultimately, to all who wish to know Him.

From this we learn an essential lesson about G-d and the world. The world is not a place that was arbitrarily put together by G-d in order to incubate human life, nor is it merely a stage in which G-d interacts with humanity. Rather, the world is the personal expression of G-d. Not only is every leaf and rock expressive of the nature of His being, every natural and scientific law reveals to us another element of the nature of Being, and in each discovery we uncover more about the Power of Existence that is behind it all and that runs through it. The more of its details and their interrelationships that we know, the more we come to know Him. Perashat Ki Tisa teaches that if we are to look for G-d, we look at His creation. Through the artwork, we come to know the artist.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] 32:8

[2] ibid.

[3] 32:19

[4] 32:10

[5] 32:14

[6] Moreh Nebukhim, I:54

[7] That is not to say that technicians and mechanics cannot be artists in what they do, but that technical and mechanical work is not focused on expression, but function and utility.