My dear readers, we will definitely continue with our New Testament series – but I just could not miss this week’s Torah Portion, Ki Tissa, my favorite Parashah. There are many amazing stories here – Ki Tissa is one of the richest and most complex portions in the entire Torah; however, there is a particular startling story in this portion that has been speaking to my heart for a long time: for years I’ve been puzzled by this story; for years I’ve been sensing that God is revealing here a great mystery, not only about Israel, but about each one of us as well.
The 33rd chapter of Exodus describes events happening right after the terrible sin of Israel, right after the golden calf and the tablets broken by Moshe. At the end of the last chapter, we saw Moshe interceding for the people and being able to convince God to forgive Israel. Already, in the beginning of this chapter, Moshe receives God’s confirmation: yes, He allows Moshe to continue his mission of leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land, the Land flowing with milk and honey. However, in His words we can still hear the echo of His recent wrath. While commanding Moshe and Israel to depart for the Land, He says, “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people”.
Well, this seems to be an absolute and definitive statement, completely clear and expected, completely fair after the terrible sin the people of Israel had committed just before. This Torah portion, actually, is all about this, about God’s holiness and about how He and His presence cannot, by any means, dwell with a sinful man. I will not go up in your midst … How great must be the readers’ surprise, however, when literally several verses later we read, And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” .
How could it possibly be? We know that He is not a man that He should change his mind , so what can the explanation be for this seemingly contradictory and sudden change of His decision?
This is the profound mystery we find in this Torah Portion – and in this Book at all. All of a sudden, we realize that this is not only about God’s holiness, but also – about God’s mercy. Yes, His holiness is such that He cannot dwell and cannot go with sinful and sinning people, – yet, He chooses to dwell and walk with His people, for such is His mercy. Don’t you ever think of yourself as not deserving God’s fellowship? Don’t you ever wonder how can God still be patient with you and merciful to you – while you would give up on yourself a long ago? Just think of it – each one of us knows millions of reasons why the Lord could –and should – tell us: for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are … stiff-necked. Each one of us fully deserves these words, each one of us fully deserves God refusing to go with him – and each one of us is fully aware of that. Yet, more than anything in the world, each of us is longing to hear from Him something completely different: My Presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest – and the amazing thing is that this is, indeed, what He is saying to us! This is His astounding promise to each one of us, the incomprehensible mystery of His mercy: we are stiff-necked, we do not deserve His love and His mercy, – yet, He goes with us and gives us rest.
In most English translations, we find the same phrasing in both places: “I Myself will go”, “I Myself will not go”. But in Hebrew, it is a little bit different; it says: My face will go with you, and when we remember that prior to this, the Lord promised to send His Angel (Exodus 33:2, 23:20), then we come to the Angel of His Face — Malach Panav. Who is this Malach Panav? This name is met in full only in one place, Isaiah 63:9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old, but we see this special Angel, who speaks in the name of God in the first person, and who stands before people in the form of a man, and after these meetings, some people realize that they have seen God, yet their lives have been spared. So, we also see this special Angel in Genesis 18 appearing to Abraham, and when Someone wrestles with Jacob in the place where he subsequentely named Peniel, and in the meeting of Gideon with the Angel, and in the meeting with Manoa, Samson’s father, and in other places. Indubitably, we find him here, as well: The face or presence of God is going with Israel!
This is something we have to remember: there in the wilderness, this amazing promise of His mercy was given to Israel, in the first place. Unfortunately, too often not only our enemies, but our friends as well – sometimes, even we ourselves, – see our people as being completely left and abandoned by God, as walking alone through the vast wilderness of trials and sorrows – as the ones to whom God said: I will not go up in your midst… Indeed, these were His words to us; but it was also to us, that He said: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” – and this is the most important part! Ever since, His Presence has been going with Israel everywhere – and do you realize what it actually means? All these centuries, in all the pain and suffering we were going through – in pogroms, in ghetto, in concentration camps, – in all these horrible moments (or weeks, or months, or years) of complete loneliness and misery, when to everybody, including ourselves, we seemed to be utterly abandoned, – in reality, we were not alone, the Lord has been walking with us! In all their affliction, He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them.
Excerpts from my book about Hidden Messiah (“As Though Hiding His Face”) are included in this article, so if you like the article, you might enjoy also the book, you can get it from my page: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/
 Exo 33:3
 Exo 33:14
 1 Sam.15:29