drshahmsuccotThe Yalkut Shimoni records the following conversation between R. Yehoshua and “Adrinus Ceasar”, most probably the Emperor Hadrian.

Adrinus asks R. Yehoshua:
“Is there a master to the Universe?”
Rabbi Yehoshua’s response: “What? Is the world Hefker (without direction, chaotic)?”
Adrinus: “And who created Heavens and Earth?
R. Yehoshua: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, as it says, ‘In the Beginning G-d created Heaven and Earth.”
Adrinus: “Why, then, does He not reveal Himself twice a year so that people can see Him and His fear would be upon them?”
R. Yehoshua: “Because the world would not be able to withstand (the intensity of this vision) as it says, ‘Because no man has seen Me and lived..’”
Adrinus: “If you don’t show Him to me, I won’t believe you.”

At noon the next day, R. Yehoshua takes Adrinus outside and faces him towards the sun; andby staring into the sun, Adrinus would purportedly be able to see G-d.  Hadrian refuses, noting that it’s impossible to stare into the sun.

R. Yehoshua: ’The sun is but one minor fraction of all of the entities that serve G-d.  Let your ears hear what your mouth is saying…..” 

How, then, does the Emperor hope to actually view the Almighty Himself?
After all, G-d Himself declares to Moshe: “No Man has seen Me and lived!”

What’s fascinating about this midrash is not so much its rich dialogue, but the context in which it finds itself - in the same chapter of Yalkut Shimoni that records the dialogue between Moshe and G-d  after the sin of the Golden Calf in today's Torah reading.   

In the dialogue recorded in the Torah, Moshe requests from Hashem הראני נא את כבודך; “Show me your Glory”. 

G-d subsequently places him in the cleft of a cliff and passes by so that Moshe only sees G-d’s back. But the midrash, along with the parallel Gemara in Berachot – understands that Moshe did not literally ask to see G-d in the physical sense, but to understand him in the philosophical sense. The perennial question of Tzaddik v’Ra lo/Rasha V’tov lo – Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper- preoccupies Moshe.  In contrast to a literal vision of G-d, along the lines of Adrinus’ demand, our teacher Moshe is interested in truth.

In a follow- up to Moshe’s question and G-d’s response, G-d shows Moshe the treasure houses of all of the merit set aside for the righteous.

Moshe asks, “Master of the Universe, this treasure-house – to whom does it belong?”
“For those who do Tzedaka.”  

Now, this could refer to either those who directly contribute directly to charities or people who encourage and motivate others to give Tzedaka.  Alternatively, it could refer to those who pursue justice. 

“And to whom does this treasure-house belong?” 
“ To those who support and nurture orphans.”

To understand G-d is to appreciate the very real-world values and mitzvah performance that characterize an authentic Torah lifestyle. Unlike Emperor Hadrian, we Jews “see G-d” by understanding His ways, which we access through philosophical inquiry, Torah learning and mitzvah performance.

The Jewish approach to “seeing G-d” appears in another context that has immediate application to our Perasha.  During the times of the Bet Hamikdash, it is a special obligation for male Jews to perform עליה לרגל – to trek to Jerusalem for the three Torah pilgrimage festivals. The sacrifice offered on these occasions is called an עולת ראיה – literally, the burnt offering “of the seeing”.

The first Mishna in Tractate Hagiga , based on the pasuk that says יראה כל זכורך את פני ה' – says that in order to be obligated in the mitzvah of Olat Re’iya – one cannot even be blind in one eye.  Rashi explains that just as Hashem sees us with His “two eyes” we have to come to be seen with two working eyes.  The concept of “seeing” is so embedded in the terminology and concept of the pilgrimage festivals, that it has an impact on the halacha and disqualifies someone who is blind in one eye.

Now, what kind of seeing is going on here? Certainly, the intention is not that the Jew actually “sees” Hashem upon his arrival on the Temple Mount! The “seeing” referred to involves the trek to Jerusalem and service of G-d in the form of the Olat Re’iyah – the holiday sacrifice.  Far from focusing on a mystical vision of G-d Himself, the seeing of Hashem is identified with serving Him. 

A Postscript

There is a fascinating dispute between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai on the topic of the age at which one is obligated in the mitzvah of Aliyah L’regel, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. According to Bet Shammai, a child old enough to ride on his father’s shoulders is obligated מדין חינוך – as part of his education - towards mitzvah performance; in this case: to accompany his father to the Bet Hamikdash.  Bet Hillel disagrees: Only once a child is old enough to grasp on to his father’s hand and ascend the Temple Mount, is he obligated to be educated in the mitzvah.

Two observations:

Bet Hillel is laying the foundations for the Jewish perspective on education: Many authorities note that the mitzvah of chinuch – of educating  one’s child in a given mitzvah – involves giving that child the full mitzvah experience; i.e. exact same opportunity to do a mitzvah in a way that if he were to be an adult, he would fulfill the mitzvah. Translated: one must provide his son with a fully kosher set of the four species with which to perform the mitzvah on Sukkot, a Kosher tallet to don in Kahal.  In the context of the mishna in Hagiga, the mitzvah is for the male Jew to walk to the Mikdash; only if the child can himself go up by foot – by “regel” -- does the father have an obligation to educate him in this mitzvah.

But there’s another more profound lesson here about the Jewish view of education: Certainly, as we educate our children, we must, for a period of time, support them as they negotiate their entry into a full Torah life; we will sometimes have to “carry them on our shoulders” as does the father in Bet Shammai’s approach.   That said, the ultimate goal of Jewish education is to raise a child whose hand we may still hold: a child who is not only able to independently live according to the Torah, but a child who is independently motivated to do so.  A child who will ascend the Temple Mount on his own steam, both physically and spiritually.