18 Then Moses
said, “Now show me ____(“Your Glory,” presumed to mean ”Your ______Essence”).”
wants more still; Moses wants to know G-d’s Essence.
19 And the Lord _____ (said), “I will cause all ____ (“My Goodness”)
to pass in front of ______ you,
and I will proclaim My name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on ______ whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom
I will have compassion.
G-d makes a counterproposal. Note that G-d’s “Goodness” is
not the same as His Essence.
20 But,” he _____(said(, “you cannot see ___ ( My “
face” Essence), for no man may
see Me ______and live.”
will not show Moses his Essence.
21 Then the Lord _____ (said), “There is a ____ (“
place” rank, as in a position in the
______hierarchy of the Intelligences
and spheres) near Me where you may stand on a rock.
offers to elevate Moses’ mind to a higher level, to the Tenth Intelligence.
22 When ____ (”My Glory,” still read as “My Essence”) passes by, I will put you in a cleft ______in the rock and cover you with My hand until _____(“I have passed by”).
this heightened position of transcendent intellect at the Tenth Intelligence,
Moses still cannot see G-d’s Essence.
23 Then I will
remove My hand and you will see _____(My ”
back” wake, as in that which ______follows after G-d);
but ___ (My “ face” Essence) must not be
now understands the order of the intelligences and spheres and the intricate
nature of the workings of the universe as set in motion by G-d. Moses’ mind is
enlightened with knowledge of how the universe works. In this manner Moses can
indeed see G-d’s “goodness” as well as His “wake,” in that he can see the
ripple effect/logical entailments that necessarily follow from G-d’s essence.
_______ (“Face”), Maimonides discredits the literal meaning and offers
multiple substitutes from multiple texts. Guide
to the Perplexed Part 1, Chapter 37 Maimonides shows uses of the term to
refer to life, G-d’s anger, status [see ____], and presence -- as when G-d and Moses
speak “face to face,” meaning ‘in each other’s presence without
an intermediary,’ and “G-d’s voice” as ‘protection and providence.’ In the
context of Exodus 33 Moses asks for _______ repeatedly
even when it has just been granted, suggesting multiple meanings at work. Further, G-d’s
willingness to grant _______
seems to decrease with each use, hence the idea of the ‘negotiation.’ Given
this idea of increasingly large requests, all in the same vein, Maimonides
selects three related meanings for the same term “Face”: “Providence” is used in
verse 14, “Presence” in verse 15, and “Essence” or “true nature” from verse 20
onward. This progression demonstrates the differences in their potency, and
gives an otherwise repetitive conversation a logical progression.
(“Back”) is similarly reimagined in Guide
to the Perplexed Part 1, Chapter 38 as what is
behind G-d not physically but ontologically, meaning the basic metaphysical
workings of the universe. Maimonides presents an image that just as man’s back
follows after him when he walks, so do nature and science –the ways of the
universe-- follow G-d as He emanates. It is presented as a sort of cause and
As for the term ____ (“Place”), in Guide
Part 1, Chapter 8, Maimonides deconstructs this seemingly corporeal
designation by establishing the idiom that “A certain man has a certain place
with regard to a certain manner” or “He occupied the place of his ancestors in
wisdom or piety,” by which “place” is understood not as a geographical
designation but as an assignment of rank or position. In the case of Exodus 33
Maimonides interprets Moses’ new “place” as a new spiritual rung in the
hierarchy of the intelligences and spheres. Here it refers to the Tenth
Regarding ____ (“Pass”), Part 1,
Chapter 21 of the Guide uses Biblical sources such as Jeremiah to
present instances in which passing by is not literal, as when drunkenness is
described as “when a man whom wine has caused to overpass,” or instances in
which voices, words, or time and other such noncorporeal things are said to
“pass.” To Maimonides, to “pass” can simply refer to accomplishment or
entailment without admission of physical repositioning or mutability. Here it
simply refers to the starting and finishing of the process of Moses’
1, Chapter 65 of the Guide tackles the issue of ___ (“say”) and its various forms, citing
verses such as “Then I said in my heart” (Eccles. 2:15) and showing how “He
tried to kill David” (II Samuel 21:16) is sometimes translated as “He said to have
slain David,” equating the two actions linguistically. This in context shows
that “say” is not only synonymous with “speak” but also can be used in much the
same manner as “think,” “wish,” or even “want.” It is an intellectual act
rather than a physical one. It is by this paradigm that, when discussing G-d,
“said” can be understood as “emanated,” and even “commanded” can be understood
as “entailed.” This is further corroborated in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 7:6,
wherein it is further reinforced that prophecy is a mental discipline of
varying strengths, with Moses alone mentally equipped to commune consciously
and without an intermediary. Here
“speech” is G-d’s emanation to Moses, manifested in thought.
glory”) is addressed in Maimonides’
Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 1: 10, where it is explained as Moses wanting to
know that which separates G-d from the rest of His creation; This supports the
interpretation “your essence.” That the nature of G-d’s Intellect is
unfathomable to the human is further supported by Hilchot Teshuvah 5:5, which says
of reconciling foreknowledge and free will that “human knowledge cannot
comprehend this concept in its entirety for just as it is beyond the potential
of man to comprehend and conceive the essential nature of the Creator, as
Exodus 33:20 states, “No man will perceive Me and live,” so, too, is it beyond
man’s potential to conceive the Creator’s knowledge.”
term __________ _______ (“know you by name”) as
used in verse 17 is defined in Guide
3: 51, among other places, as the protection granted by G-d to those with
proper apprehension of Him.
a clever thinker such as Maimonides should be able to linguistically work
around a seemingly contradictory motif, even something so teeming with physical
terminology as Exodus 33, is itself unremarkable. But what is fascinating is
the way Maimonides does this, and the fact that he actually takes it one step
further. Maimonides does present a case for noncorporeality, but he also displays
a coherent and consistent narrative that actually embraces his metaphysics
rather than simply being compatible. His argument is thorough, providing
alternative (and perhaps more likely) explanations for every seemingly physical
designation, and his exegesis provides a compelling story.
thought process is deep, as shown by his ability to completely disregard the
spatiotemporal and think strictly conceptually. Something as seemingly physical
as “face” becomes “essence” or nature, as presented to (or hidden from) others,
a completely noncorporeal concept with just a slight flourish of human
metaphor. The idea of “back” as “wake” is especially brilliant, demonstrating
both an understanding of logical entailment and also a powerful creativity. In
this manner Guide to the Perplexed exceeds its own mission statement,
and functions as a both logical and creative work without parallel. Maimonides’
commitment and devotion to showing the Tanakh to be in accordance with the
science of his age are inspired, earning him the status his name carries even
V) Works Consulted
JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. 2nd ed. Print.
Maimonides, Moses. The Guide of the Perplexed.
Volume 1. Print