Questioning faith in the parsha
The question of God’s presence
When, following the golden calf scene, God refuses to dwell in the midst of the Israelite people lest he is moved by anger to destroy them (Exodus 33: 5), this would seem to imply at least a momentary cancellation of the project of the mishkan, where Aaron was to be clothed in God’s glory and splendour, kavod and tifaret. At the same time, God commands the people to leave off their finery. Is it far-fetched to see in this finery, besides a hint of the gold from which the calf was shaped, an echo of tifaret, splendour or adornment, translated into the High Priest’s gorgeous vestments in the Tent of Meeting?
Another Tent of Meeting presents itself, away from the encampment, where the man Moses, without mediation and without tabernacle or cherubim, knows the Lord. No wonder his face shines. It shines with the brilliance not of gold but of the divine presence, kavod.
So, rather than being in competition with each other, Moses and Aaron complement each other, as we had already seen before Pharaoh: one speaks to people, the other speaks with God.
Aaron was brought near to God by Moses, just as Aaron in turn may help to bring the people to God. But until God’s glory touches each person directly, God dwells out of reach.
His absence can be likened to a messenger without a message. Then the message arrives: “the Lord, the Lord” (Exodus 34:6).
Not only then does Moses stop God from destroying Israel; he also brings God back into the people’s midst, and into their daily lives. God “goes with us” and the mishkan is built.