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Parashat Ki Tisa

This week’s parsha is a thriller. We read about the golden calf, Moshe "seeing" Hashem, and the giving of the Torah once again. One interesting event that we learn about is Moshe returning from Har Sinai the second time. The Torah tells us that Moshe returned on Yom Kippur. Hashem, in His Torah, records what occurred when Moshe reentered Bnei Yisroel's camp: "Moshe did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant when He had spoken to Him. Aaron and all the children of Israel saw and behold! The skin of Moshe’s face had become radiant, and they feared to approach him." Evidently, Moshe, upon talking to Hashem on Har Sinai, had had "a change of face". Literally! Moshe's face was "lit up". This seems odd to us, for none of us has ever seen a person with a lit up face before! I do not want to say that the Torah is talking in metaphysical and not literal terms. However, I think we can understand how Moshe’s face was lit up. Evidently, something monumental must have caused this change. If before Moshe went up on the mountain, his face was normal, and upon descending, it was "lit up" we can assume it was something that happened when Moshe was on the mountain. What happened while Moshe was up on the mountain? We know that Moshe was conversing and learning with Hashem. The Torah records no other activity that Moshe was involved in. We can therefore assume that it was the interaction with Hashem that caused Moshe’s face to "light up". How does conversing with Hashem accomplish this? I think it is very rational. When one is going through an emotional experience, unless he is overly controlling his expressions, it shows on his face. If one wins the lottery, he is happy, and it is clear to all. If one, unfortunately, loses a relative, he is sad, and it is clear to all. When one comes to an understanding of a great Dvar Torah, one solves a complex problem he had, or breaks a question in the gemara, it provides a happiness that is almost indescribable with the written word. Imagine Moshe talking to Hashem Himself. The understanding he must have come to, the problems he must have solved, could only cause one thing, the ultimate happiness, and then his face "lit up". He was glowing! The glow was on such an extreme level, that he had to wear a covering.

Why were the people scared when they saw Moshe? What was so scary about seeing his face light up? When a person faces a reality that he must change from his accustomed way he gets scared. This is a fact of life. When a patient is told that his heart condition is so bad, that he must exercise and diet to a level he has never experienced before, he gets scared. Humans fear change. The same principal is true in spiritual life as well. If one were to lead his life not on the path of Torah, and then come to the realization that it makes no sense to run one’s life not along the lines of Halacha, he will at first be fearful. We can see this phenomenon day in and day out with all the ba'alei teshuva of this generation. Each one will tell you the fear he felt at changing his life around. Change scares us. The same occurrence happened with Bnei Yisroel. Moshe had received the Torah. It changed him physically. He had talked to God Himself. There was no denying that what Moshe had heard was the truth and the reality. All of Bnei Yisroel realized they too had to change. They had to connect to this reality. Moshe’s face didn’t scare them, the idea of having to change scared them.

Let's review. We learned that Moshe’s face was "lit up" due to the emotions of happiness he felt from the Torah he was taught. Upon seeing him, the people were scared. We explained that the fear was the realization of having to change, of having to live up to the requirements of the Torah which is the ultimate reality. We can now understand that in our own lives we must realize that Torah provides a happiness that is unmatched. At the same time though, upon exposure to Torah we experience fear; the fear of having to change. We must internalize that although change is scary, the reward, if nothing less than happiness (and there is much, much more) makes it worth it.