“And now, if, I pray You, [that] I have found grace in Your eyes, cause me to know, I pray You, Your way, [in order to] know You; so that I find grace in Your eyes and consider that this nation is Your people’.” (Exodus 33:13)
Moses had spent quite some quality time with the Creator before he asked the question in this verse. This makes us reflect on Moses’ reason for asking to know how God relates with His creation in general and with the children of Israel in particular. Moses was aware that his knowledge of God was far greater than how much the Jewish people knew about Him. Hence Moses’ request was more about them than about himself.
This question comes immediately after the transgression the people committed with the making of the Golden Calf. This transgression revealed how little the people knew about their God, in spite of the extraordinary miracles and marvels that He made for them to witness and experience before and after the Exodus from Egypt.
Moses’ request was indeed in the name of the children of Israel, for the sake of them. This is one of the great qualities of the most important of all Jewish leaders, motivated by his profound and unwavering love for his people. Moses was their greatest defender before their enemies and before God, because he was fully aware that God is the defender of His people. In this sense, Moses was reflecting and fulfilling God’s will. He was also aware that the people needed to know God’s ways and attributes in order to emulate Him as He wants His people to live in this world.
“And He said, ‘My presence has gone [with you], and I have given rest to you’.” (33:14)
This answer encompasses more than what the question asked. Being in God’s presence is the most restful experience one may have, as the verse states. It reminds us of the Shabbat as the place of God’s rest from all the work He did in His creation. We must understand this not as a common stillness but as a unfathomable state of consciousness, only possible in an immaterial time and space. The good news about this answer is that this restfulness is available as long as we go in God’s ways, for in these He goes with us as He did with Moses.
“And he said to Him, ‘If Your presence is not with us, we will not go up from this [place].” (33:15)
Moses was also aware that living without God’s presence in and around us individually and collectively is living in futility. Life makes sense when we know Who gave it to us, and the purpose He reveals in order to live with what gives its meaning and purpose. This ultimately was Moses’ reason for asking God His “way” to be shown to us.
“And in what is it known that I have found grace in Your eyes, I and Your people, is it not in You going with us? And we have been distinguished, I and Your people, from all the people who are on the face of the earth’.” (33:16)
Moses remarked that the meaning and purpose of life is to live according to God’s way, which is what will distinguish him and his people from all the peoples of the world. Hence the need, not only to know this way, but also to make it the common bond between God and us. Then the answer is given, and the request fulfilled.
“And he said, ‘Please show me Your glory’. And He said, ‘All My goodness will pass before you, and will have proclaimed in the name of the Lord before you. And My grace is with the gracious, and My compassion with the compassionate’.” (33:19)
The question and the request have one single answer. God’s glory is revealed as God’s “all goodness”, for goodness is an all-encompassing and all-fulfilling divine principle destined to rule in God’s creation. Furthermore, God’s goodness proclaims His name before His creation and for His creation. This is what our Creator wants us to have and manifest as what makes us graceful and compassionate.
Moses’ request was in the name of the Jewish people to make us aware that God’s ways and attributes mentioned later (34:6-7) are meant to also be our ways to experience all aspects and facets of life in the material world, all as expressions of the goodness from which all these ways and attributes come.