Can Anyone See God?

                               Can Anyone See God?                                   By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

The answer comes from the Torah: “Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 of the elders of Israel ascended (Mt Sinai). They saw the God of Israel, under whose feet was a Ma’a'seh (an event or experience) like a pedestal of sapphire, like an essence of sky for purity. God did not lay a hand on the leaders of Israel. They envisioned God, and they ate and drank.  (Exodus 24:9-11)

1- A vision is not reserved only for a prophet (Moses and Miriam) or a priest (Aaron, Nadab and Abihu). Of the elders of Israel, 70 were granted or merited (the best leaders of the elders) this blessing. The elders were spiritual leaders: men like Moses, or women like Miriam, the prophet (Exodus 15:20)

2- After this Divine experience they did not become remote ascetics or sacred gurus. They simply continued, in a much more spiritual way, their worldly tasks (eating and drinking).

3- Moses, who pleads to see YHVH face to face is told, “You cannot see my face, for no mortal can see me and live.” (Exodus33:18-20) Torah teaches us that no finite creature can, at least in this lifetime, fully and totally unite with the Infinite Creator of  the universe.

4- The 74 envision Elohay Yisrael not YHVH the God of Israel’s covenant. Elohim is the generic Semitic term for divinities (Elohah in Aramaic and Allah in Arabic). Spiritual experiences are always nutritious; but nutrition comes in thousands of different foods. So in every culture and nation, not only Israel, there are people who can have valid spiritual experiences. YHVH calls the 74 up (24:1) Mount Sinai. They all experience a vision of Elohim yet only Moses will receive the Ten Commandments. See #5

5- Sometimes the Divine experience does not lead one to greater levels of love, mercy and humility. Sometimes it leads to arrogance and fanaticism. Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron who had this spiritual experience, decide to offer strange fire before YHVH and die (Numbers 3:2 & 26:60). Moses himself gets angry with Israel, calls them bad names and hits the rock. He is banned from entering the Holy Land. Today, many cult leaders and political zealots claim God told them that holy ends justify evil means. Others claim the God within is the only standard to follow. Spirituality should lead one to community service, not to holy self righteousness or self centered self fulfillment.

What does our Torah teach us about a Divine vision?

6- God stands (is based) on a Ma’aseh, an activity, event, action, or experience. A Divine vision grows out of an experience or an event that is perceived to be awesome and holy. It occurs partly  in space/time and partly in the mind of the experienced one.

7- A pedestal or a brick is human made. A sapphire (Sapir is the word in our verse) jewel is God- nature made. You can experience Divinity in nature, or in human activity. personally or in history, by yourself or in a group.

8- In Hebrew Sapir is the same root as the verb to enumerate and to relate a story. Safer is a book. Sippur is a story. Sofer is a scribe. Mispar is a number. God can also be experienced  through math, books, or life’s narratives, when one feels overwhelming awe through them.  Sefer Yetsirah, the most important of the early Kabbalah books, already points this out.

9- The heavens/sky is conventionally the abode of the Divine. But this verse teaches us that purity is present as part of God’s basic essence or basic structure i.e. as bone is for flesh. Mitsvot (for Jews) are a basic  essence/structure  of spirituality.