ויאמר הראני נא את כבדך. ויאמר לא תוכל לראת את פני כי לא יראני האדם וחי
And Moshe said, “Oh, let me see Your Presence!”
(HaShem responded) But you cannot see My face, for a human being may not see Me and live.”
Moshe Rabbeinu requested that he be allowed the opportunity to see the honor of HaShem. HaShem Yisborach responded that you will not be able to see my face, because no human can see me and remain alive.
A dear friend of mine, R’ Bentzion, showed me a vort from the Kol Aryeh, in the name of his rebbe the Chasam Sofer zy”a which explains this possuk. Moshe Rabbeinu requested of HaShem that he gain the ability to understand Hashem’s ways in their entirety as they are happening. If something would occur that seems to be harsh, Moshe would want to be able to see the truth in what is happening without having the questions. HaShem responded that וראית את אחורי- after the fact, you can come to this knowledge, but פני לא יראו- you will not be privy to understanding HaShem’s design on the world.
Rashi explained that this was demonstrated to Moshe by HaShem showing him the knot of His tefillin, as if to say, “only post-facto can you see me”. The Kol Aryeh beautifully explains the tefillin reference as follows: The foundation of the tefillin is the chapter of שמע ישראל. The name HaShem refers to the divine character trait of mercy, whereas the name Elokeinu refers to strict judgement. Even though at times we see the midas hadin, and at other times we experience the midas harachamim, our emunah is that all that HaShem does is for the good. Therefore, we finish by saying ה' אלוקנו- ה' אחד both are one and the same because ultimately all is good. Furthermore, the two straps of the tefillin shel rosh that protrude- one off the right and the other off the left, symbolize these two manners of HaShem’s interaction with the world. These two sides then become enjoined in a knot as one. So HaShem showed Moshe the knot for him to see that while he would not know before-hand the exact design of what, where, and when, he would at least know that even when it seems to be din, there is rachamim tied in there as well.
The following mashul has been shared many times to explain exactly this point: A wealthy man once traveled to view a famous embroidered tapestry. He was told that the piece was an exquisite blend of creativity, symmetry, and color. To his consternation, however, the artist showed him what appeared to be a tangle of loose, disorganized threads with no discernible pattern. Bitterly disappointed, the magnate said to the artist, "Why do people call this a great piece of art? Where is the artistry? I cannot see it." He continued, “One string seems short and the other long, this one here is dark and grim while the other one appears so bright; none of this makes sense at all.”
Smiling, the artist replied, "Allow me to turn the tapestry over. You are looking at it from the back." The artist reversed his creation and laid it out properly for his guest to view. What he beheld was indeed a breathtaking masterpiece, glorious in every way.
L’asid lavo, the same will be with all of our questions. Those nagging thoughts of tzaadik v’ra lo or rasha v’tov lo. This one had a short string, i.e. he was nifter young lo aleinu, while the other string was much longer. For the next person, things seem so bright while for someone else it is all bleak and dim. But in the end, we too will all get to view the tapestry from the front and understand with clarity HaShem’s masterplan.
But why did HaShem not want Moshe Rabbeinu to have this knowledge?
Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l commented on this possuk that according to the Rambam (based on the gemara in Yevamos) that all the nevi’im saw HaShem through many different curtains, however Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest of all nevi’im saw Hashem through only one curtain. Moshe’s request was, “HaShem, please remove that one curtain; that’s all I ask.” So why did HaShem refuse? Chazal tell us that Moshe reached the highest level possible for a human being; he attained forty nine out of fifty levels of binah. Rav Chaim explains that the fiftieth level eluded him because the mitzvah of having emunah presumes that there are things that are beyond our understanding. If man would have the ability to see HaShem without any curtains, there would be no more room for emunah because it is right there, out in the open. Therefore, Moshe’s request was rejected.
Good Shabbos, מרדכי אפפעל