The Midrash writes that because Moshe was afraid to look at G-d's presence in the burning bush, וַיַּסְתֵּ֤ר מֹשֶׁה֙ פָּנָ֔יו כִּ֣י יָרֵ֔א מֵהַבִּ֖יט אֶל האלקים (3:6), he was rewarded with being zocheh to וּתְמֻנַ֥ת ה׳ יַבִּ֑יט (BaMidbar 12:8).
R' Izelele m'Volozhin asks why Moshe not wanting to look at Hashem's presence is such a big deal and worthy of reward. It is basic yiras shalayim to be afraid, to be in awe of G-d, when one is standing directly in His presence.
In order to understand what our pasuk means we need to review some definitions. Back in parshas Lech Lech (12:8)Hashem told Avraham to look at the stars, as his descendants will be as numerous as they are. וַיּוֹצֵ֨א אֹת֜וֹ הַח֗וּצָה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַבֶּט־נָ֣א הַשָּׁמַ֗יְמָה וּסְפֹר֙ הַכּ֣וֹכָבִ֔ים Rashi there quotes a Midrash: דבר אחר: הוציאו מחללו של עולם והגביהו למעלה מן הככבים, וזהו לשון הבטה – מלמעלה למטה. The word הַבֶּט, says Rashi, always means looking down from on high. Hashem raised Avraham above the heavens so that he was looking down on the entire universe of stars.
We once discussed this point in the context of the story at the end of Chukas of the snake that Moshe put on a staff so that anyone who looked at it would be healed from the bite of poisonous snakes. It seems strange and almost smacks of avodah zarah to have people look toward an image for a cure -- what's going on?
Look carefully at what Moshe told the people: וְהִבִּ֛יט אֶל־נְחַ֥שׁ הַנְּחֹ֖שֶׁת וָחָֽי (baMidnbar 21:9) The whole point is not to look up to avodah zarah, but on the contrary, to look down on it. The word הַבֶּט, again, always means looking down from on high. We are better than the avodah zarah and stand higher than it.
Hashem in our parsha appeared to Moshe in a low bush because עמו אנכי בּצרה, the Shechina suffers along with us. If Klal Yisrael are downtrodden slaves, the Shechina itself is kavyachol low and humbled as well. Bnei Yisrael cried out to Hashem in pain from their work and their suffering, but what they failed to see and cry over was the pain of the Shechina that was suffering along with them.
The gadlus of Moshe was that he could not bear to see the Shechina so low, so reduced, while he remained standing. כִּ֣י יָרֵ֔א **מֵהַבִּ֖יט** אֶל האלקים . He could not stand to be on a higher plane looking down, הַבֶּט, on G-d's presence.
As we explained once before, when Hashem said וּתְמֻנַ֥ת ה׳ יַבִּ֑יט, Hashem was telling Aharon and Miriam that they do not compare to Moshe. When they see an ordinary Jew, someone who of course is on a lower madreiga than they are, they see all that person's faults and shortcomings. When Moshe, who stood head and shoulders above everyone else in ruchniyus, sees an ordinary Jew, especially a Jew who is in trouble and in pain, he sees תְמֻנַ֥ת ה׳ יַבִּ֑יט, he sees the presence of the Shechina below him and cannot bear its suffering.
What our Midrash is telling us is that those same antenna of Moshe that were attuned to the suffering of the Shechina here at the burning bush were also attuned to the suffering of the Shechina within each Jew, and that is what made him the greatest of our prophets.
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