Moses stayed on the holy mountain because he saw that God needed him. For forty days he listened to the voice of God and learned that God was boundless and not like man, never tiring, inexhaustible.
“If men strive and so hurt a woman with child so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow, he shall be surely punished . . . . And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand.”
And Moses pitied the desperateness of God, frantic with desire.
“. . . gold and silver and brass and blue and purple and scarlet and fine linen and goats’ hair and rams’ skins dyed red, and badgers’ skins and shittim wood, oil for the light spices for anointing oil and for sweet incense, onyx stones and stones to be set in the ephod, and in the breastplate. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them . . . ten curtains of fine twined linen . . . curtains of goats’ hair, the length of the curtain shall be thirty cubits . . . covering of rams’ skins dyed red and badgers’ skins . . . a veil of blue and purple and scarlet . . . pillars round the court shall be filleted with silver, their hooks of silver, sockets of brass . . .”
Moses began to dream again of sleep. The lep-lep sound of the water when the egret walked away, the sound of the water when it lifted its feet. But he heard, “Remember me. Remember me, Moses,” even in his sleep and grew frightened then that he would be on the mountain forever. That God’s desire was infinite and his speaking would never end.
“And thou shall make a candlestick of pure gold . . . six branches shall come out of the sides of it, three branches out of the candlestick out of the one side, three branches of the candlestick out of the other side . . . .”
Until finally he screamed, “No more!”
And God stopped.
He heard God catch his breath then slow himself until he finally saw the trees bending gently, the grass also bending to the left then to the right then to the left again in the breath of God.
And Moses said, “Show me your glory. I need to see you. I need to see your face.”
But God said, “If you see my face, you will die.”
“Show me anyway,” Moses answered.
God waited. Then said, “I will make all my glory pass before you. But I will cover you with my hand and then will take my hand away and you will see the back of my body but not my face, and in that way you will live.”
So God covered the eyes of Moses with his hand and passed by Moses in all of his glory. And when he had passed by, he lifted his hand and Moses opened his eyes and saw the back of God. He saw the back of God walking away, the deep blue velvet of his robe spangled with stars like gold dust, uncountable. And Moses saw that the mind of God was orderly and that in his wishes for the candlestick, the incense, the robes of finely woven linen, in his rules for divorce and ownership and property and times and seasons, he was trying to bring his people to holiness. And Moses no longer feared God.
In the morning he would go down from the mountain and write every word that God had said. And he would call God’s rulings and instructions, “The Law.”
But for now, he stared at the back of God and realized that what had seemed like the infinite neediness of God was its opposite. All night long he stared at the sky and saw that each star was an opening. And he heard God saying, “Come to me. I have given you infinite doors. Pick one and come to me. Enter into the fullness of my mercy.”
anselm kiefer painting by shutterbugalex is licensed under CC BY 2.0