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Posted on October 29, 2002 By Rabbi Dr. Azriel Rosenfeld | Series: | Level:

G-d prays, as it says “I will make them happy in the house of My prayer” (Isaiah 56:7): Not “their prayer”, but “My prayer”. He prays “May it be My will that My mercy overcome My anger and prevail over My other attributes, so that I can act toward My children with My attribute of mercy and go beyond the letter of the law for them”.

R.Yishmael b.Elisha (the High Priest) once entered the innermost part of the Temple to offer incense and saw the Divine Presence sitting on an exalted throne. G-d said to him “My son Yishmael, bless Me!” He replied “May it be Your will that Your mercy overcome Your anger and prevail over Your other attributes, and that You act toward Your children with Your attribute of mercy and go beyond the letter of the law for them”, and G-d nodded his head. This teaches us that an ordinary person’s blessing should not be taken lightly (1). Indeed, two great men were blessed by two ordinary men and the blessings were fulfilled; David was blessed by Aravnah (2), as it says “May your G-d favor you” (2 Sam.24:23), and Daniel was blessed by Darius, as it says “May the G-d to Whom you always pray deliver you” (Daniel 6:17).

One should not try to placate a person when he is angry, as it says “My Presence will go, and I will accommodate you” (Ex.33:14): Wait until My “face of anger” has passed (3). G-d is angry for an instant every day, as it says: “The Almighty is angered every day” (Psalms 7:12); an instant is 1/58888th of an hour. Only Balaam was able to detect that instant, as it says “He knows the mind of the High One” (Num.24:16): He couldn’t have known what was in G-d’s mind if he didn’t even know what was in his own animal’s mind (see Num. Ch.22); rather, it must mean that he knew how to detect the moment when G-d was angry. When the prophet said “My people, remember what the King of Moav advised… so you may know G-d’s righteousness” (Micah 6:5) (4), he meant that G-d was very generous to us: If he had allowed himself to get angry in Balaam’s time, no trace of Israel would have remained (5); and when Balaam said to Balak “How can I curse when G-d does not curse, or enrage when G-d is not angry” (Num.23:8), he meant that G-d was not angry during all of those days.

G-d is angry only for as long as it takes to say the word “rega” (“moment”), as it says “A moment for His anger, a lifetime for His favor” (Psalms 30:6), and it says “Hide for a moment until the anger has passed” (Isaiah 26:20). When the sun shines, and all the kings of the world put on their crowns and bow to the sun, G-d immediately becomes angry.

One self-reproach is better than many whippings, as it says “I will return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now” (Hosea 2:4). Indeed, it is better than a hundred whippings, as it says “A rebuke is more effective for an understanding person than a hundred blows for a fool” (Prov.17:10).

Moses was granted three requests by G-d: That the Divine presence should rest on Israel, as it says “By your going with us” (Ex.33:16) (See note (3)); that it should not rest on the idolators, as it says “I and Your people will be distinguished” (ibid.); and that G-d should tell him how He assigns rewards and punishments, as it says “Please let me know Your ways” (ibid. 13). Things go well for some righteous people and badly for others, well for some wicked people and badly for others. This cannot mean that things go well for the children of the righteous even if they are wicked, and badly for the children of the wicked even if they are righteous; “The sins of the parents are remembered for the children” (Ex.34:7) only if the children continue the parents’ deeds, but otherwise “Children are not killed because of their parents” (Deut.24:16). Rather, it means that things necessarily go well only for a perfectly righteous person, and badly only for a perfectly wicked person. According to R.Meir, Moses was granted only two of his requests, but not the third, as it says “I will be gracious to those I am gracious to” (Ex.33:19) even if they are not worthy, “and merciful to those I am merciful to” (ibid.) even if they are not worthy.

When G-d wanted to show Himself, Moses didn’t want to look (see Ex.3: 3-6), and when Moses wanted to see, G-d wouldn’t let him, as it says “A man cannot see My face” (Ex.33:20). However, for ” And Moses hid his face…” (Ex.3:6) his reward was a shining face (see Ex. 34:29-30); for “…because he was afraid” his reward was “They were afraid to approach him”; and for “…to look” his reward was “He could see G-d’s image” (Num.12:8) (6). “You will see My back” (Ex.33:22) teaches us that G-d showed Moses the knot of the tefillin at the back of His neck (7).

G-d never retracts any good statement even if he makes it conditionally. He said to Moses “Leave me alone, and I will destroy them and make you into a greater nation” (Deut.9:14) (8), and even though Moses prayed for mercy and the threat was cancelled, the blessing was fulfilled in his children, as it says “The sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezer… and Rechaviah was the chief son of Eliezer… and the sons of Rechaviah multiplied greatly” (1 Chron.23:15-17) — to more than 600,000, as it says “The children of Israel… multiplied” (Ex.1:7) (9).


(1) If a human can successfully bless G-d, then the blessing of a person of lesser stature can be effective for a person of greater stature.

(2) Aravnah was a Jebusite leader who accepted upon himself the seven commandments of the children of Noah, and owned a threshing floor on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. King David purchased the threshing floor from him, and eventually built the Temple on that site.

(3) As a consequence of the sin of the golden calf, G-d informed Moses that He, Himself, will not accompany the Jewish people in their travels towards the Land of Israel, but rather an angel will be sent in His place (Ex 33:2). In response to Moses’ supplications, G-d had mercy and agreed that “My presence will go…” The word for “presence” is “Ponai”, which also means ” my face,” and therefore, the Midrash goes beyond the literal meaning of the verse, and interprets the verse on a different level to mean that G-d is informing Moses to wait until His “face of anger” (about the Golden Calf) has passed, and then He will have mercy.

(4) The King of Moab hired Balaam to curse the Jewish people (See Numbers, Ch 22)

(5) That is, Balaam would have been able to curse them.

(6) Moses’ first reaction to sighting the burning bush is described in the following verse: “And Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look.” According to this opinion in the Talmud, Moses was rewarded for all three aspects of his initial response. However, according to the opinion cited in the previous paragraph, his response had negative consequences, that is, because Moses didn’t want to look at the burning bush, G-d did not want to show him His face later in history.

(7) Maimonides in his “Mishne Torah” (Yesodei HaTorah 1:10) explains that when Moses asked to see G-d’s face, he wanted to be mentally aware of G-d as separate to all other existence, just as the image of another person’s face in one’s mind, would identify that person as distinct and separate from other people. However, G-d could only show Moses his “back,” which was like seeing the back of a person, and being aware that his body is separate from other human bodies, but not being fully aware of what separates him from other people, because his face, that which distinguishes him fully from other people, has not been seen.

(8) This statement was made in response to the sin of the Golden Calf.

(9) That is, the word “Rav” (“multiply) was used to describe the reproduction of the Israelites in Egypt, which resulted in a nation of 600,000 men. However, in reference to the children of Moshe, it says that they multiplied exceedingly, which is interpreted to mean that they produced more than 600,000.

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