Updated: Feb 27, 2022
KI TISA (30:11- 34:35)
This week’s portion cover’s the Israelite’s building of the golden calf, Moses smashing the tablets, Moses leading the mass murder of 3000 people (hmmm), the new tablets, and then the part that sort of stuck with me (this year at least)- Moses’s radiant face.
“So Moses came down from Mt Sinai, and as Moses came down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the pact, Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant, since he had spoken with Him.
Aaron and all the Israelites saw that the skin of Moses’ face was radiant, and they shrank from coming near him” –Ex 34:29-30
The first thing that popped in my head as I was reading this this year was how I think everyone tells trans people after they transition “Oh you look so radiant” – “I can see you look so happy”, and things like that. I guess they are commenting on the peace we have now in our skin, although honestly, I think it’s a bit of projection, because although alone by myself I am happy with my transition, out in society I now feel self-conscious in a completely new way. Before coming out I just felt like an alien in my body, out of place inside my skin, never knowing quite how to make this body work. Now I feel like an intruder in society, an interloper- where even if my body is finally, imperfectly, gloriously, my own, I’m constantly reminded that my transness is a barrier between me and everyone else.
In the parshah Moses puts a veil over his face at this point. Now, I’m not comparing myself with Moses at all, AT ALL, but I think, when we get closer to who we are, and I think that’s what G-d is, we become, naturally more radiant.
And then, of course, theres that word- the Hebrew word for ‘radiant’ that is used. And I knew about this from travelling to Italy, and seeing the statues of Moses. But I know that that word, from this passage, has some, uh, tricky translation issues, as Rabbi Shana Chandler Leon points out:
“ After the debacle of the Molten Calf and the shattering of the first set of tablets, Moses stays in deep communion with God for 40 days and nights. When he descends with the second tablets, “lo yada ki karan or panav b’dabro ito — he did not know that the skin of his face was radiant/had become horned for having spoken with God” (Exodus 34:29).
The word karan is the crux of the matter. In the Tanakh, it variously refers to either horns or shining rays, though the Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, clearly chose “horns” to describe the change in Moses’ face. In truth, keren is more correctly a “horn” and karan means more accurately “emitting light.” But the two are very close and often interchanged.” (from
Of course the horrible history of antisemitism connected to the mistranslation here can not be ignored. But there’s something else too. Sometimes, maybe, rays of light might look like horns to those who can’t see clearly. And also, Rabbi Chandler Leon continues
“…the Divine blessing exacted an enormous price — Moses could not relate to other people as an ordinary man ever again. And therein lies one of the most indelible lessons of this parashah. For people touched by an encounter with God, relating to the world in usual ways is no longer an option.”
For trans people I think this rings true in parallel. Our amazing blessing, the gift of transition- of living by way of CHOICE- came, necessarily I think- though a great degree of self discovery- and that exacts a price. We can’t talk to just anyone about it. We can’t always be fully ourselves in public (even though that’s exactly what people think is happening now). We have to wear a veil, sometimes, to hide the brightness, because it seems like maybe the world just isn’t ready for it yet.