Bar-Ilan University 's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Ki-Tissa 5765/ February 26, 2005

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar- Ilan University in Ramat Gan , Israel . A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar- Ilan University 's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University . Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,


Face to Face

Rabbi Ophir Cohen

Kefar Darom 



In this week’s Torah reading, there is a verse that characterizes the unique prophetic level of Moses, likening his communication with the Almighty to the way of speech between human beings:  “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another . . . and he would then return to the camp” (Ex. 33:11).  Maimonides defined the difference between the prophecy received by Moses and that received by the other prophets (Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah ch. 7) as follows:

All that we have said applies to the nature of prophetic revelation given all the early and late prophets, save for Moses.  All the prophets were shaken by awe and fright, but not our Teacher Moses, of whom it is written, “as one man speaks to another” (Ex. 33:11); that is, just as a person is not frightened to hear his fellow speak, thus Moses had the fortitude of mind to understand prophecy and stand unshaken

The Metaphor of Relation

The imagery given by the Torah is that of one man speaking to another.  According to Maimonides this meant speaking in a relaxed way, insofar as a person is not frightened hearing his neighbor speak.  Nevertheless, we have yet to understand whether Moses reached an exceedingly elevated position close to the Lord, or whether the Lord reduced Himself to the bounds of the human capacity to hear, as is described in the Midrash (Tanhuma Ki Tissa 27):  “‘The Lord would speak to Moses face to face,’ – we do not know whether the more lowly raised himself, or whether the High One lowered Himself.  Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said, it would seem that the One who is high as the world lowered Himself, as it is said that the Lord descended to the Tent.” Be that as it may, we see that the desirable manner for human beings to converse with one another is face to face, and from observing two people in communication we can see what sort of relations and degree of closeness there is between them.  This was the intention in drawing the conparison between human conversation and the extreme closeness between Moses and G-d.

Or Ha-Hayyim interprets the verse at hand as indicating that the Lord’s closeness to Moses depended on Moses’ preparedness for revelation:

“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face” – this means that in proportion to the preparation that Moses would make to meet the Diving Presence, so would he perceive the face of the Supreme; for as much as a person prepares himself for the impact of sanctity, so does he receive it.  The simile “as one man speaks to another,” is explained, accordingly, by the saying (Prov. 27:19), “As face answers to face in water, so does one man’s heart to another.”  This means that the human heart can read the mind, so to speak, of the facing person and know whether to respond with love or with hate, for as a person prepares his heart to love his friend, so too his friend’s heart will look on him lovingly; and that is what was said “as one person speaks to another”, that the second will not love the first if the first does not prepare his heart to be his friend; likewise, the Lord spoke face to face; thus a person can discern his standing with his Maker – if his heart longs for the Lord and wishes to serve Him, this is a sign that the Lord loves him.



From Divine to Human

In a more natural vein, Ramhal [R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto] (Da’at Tevunot 154) understood that even if a person does not intend to express his attitude towards another, his body language and facial expression convey this naturally:

It is quite natural that when a couple address each other lovingly they look into each other’s face, and that shows the closeness between them; and when two people become distant from one another, each turns the other way; for facing always indicates closeness and turning one’s back always indicates distance.

Closeness and conversation between people is most notable in the relations of man and wife, and similarly of rabbi and disciple, as we see in the gemara (Kiddushin 29b):

Rav Hisda used to sing the praises of Rav Hamnuna to Rav Huna, saying what a great man he was.  He said to him, “When he comes, send him to me.”  When he came, he observed that he did not cover his head with a scarf, and asked him, “Why do you not cover your head?”  He answered, “Because I am not married,” upon which Rav Huna turned his face away from him and said, “See!  You shall not see my face until you get married!”

Rav Huna was not willing to look Rav Hamnuna in the face, despite his great stature, because he had not married.  Why did he choose this response to show his dissatisfaction with the fact that Rav Hamnuna had not yet taken a wife?

Wives and Disciples

Rabbi Joseph Hayyim of Baghdad (Ben Yehoyadah, Kiddushin, loc. sit.) points out that there is a great lesson here regarding the way a man behaves towards his wife, and from that one may derive regarding the relationship between a rabbi and his disciple.  As long as a person has not acquired the proper relationship of speaking face to face with his wife, he is not deserving of such regard between rabbi and disciple.  This is what he wrote:

The best is face to face, …  Therefore when Rav Huna knew that he had not yet married, he wished to punish him in a way that would be measure for measure…  So that  you not receive abundance from me face to face, as a wife receives abundance from her husband; and as the impact of the husband on the wife should be face to face, so too the impact of the rabbi on his disciple…

Thus we see that the metaphor which the Torah uses to illustrate the level of prophecy achieved by the master prophet teaches us about the most desirable manner of communication between husband and wife, between rabbi and disciple, and between one person and another