The Divine Knot: Finding Strength in Life’s Challenges

February 28, 2024

In a profound moment, after Moses persuades God to forgive the Israelites for the sin of the Golden Calf he asks for the ultimate revelation:

This request, met with the divine response that no person can see God and live, leads to a unique compromise. God agrees to show Moses His “back,” a phrase that has puzzled scholars for centuries. The sages interpret this to mean that God showed Moses the knot of His phylacteries, a symbol rich with meaning.

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz offers an insightful explanation of this enigmatic passage. The sages suggest that Moses’ request was born out of a desire to understand the inner workings of the world, particularly the system of reward and punishment. Why do good people suffer while the wicked flourish? Moses sought clarity on this age-old question, hoping to glimpse the “face” of God, or in other words, to gain a complete understanding of the divine plan.

God’s refusal is not a denial but a lesson in perspective. To illustrate, Rabbi Horowitz draws an analogy to GPS technology. Just as a driver can zoom in and out on a map to see either the fine details of a street or the broader layout of a city, our understanding of life’s events can be limited by our focus. We are often “zoomed in,” caught up in the immediacy of our situations, unable to see the “big picture” that only God, with His infinite wisdom, can perceive.

God responds that it is impossible for a human to understand God’s ways. Yet, God grants Moses—and, by extension, all of humanity—the ability to see in retrospect, to understand the “back” of events after they have unfolded.

Throughout our lives, we encounter difficulties that may seem insurmountable or unfair. Questions like why some are born into hardship while others face loss or disability are common, yet often unanswerable in the moment. However, as time passes, we may gain insight into how these challenges have shaped us, made us resilient, and prepared us to inspire others.

Rabbi Horowitz explains that this retrospective understanding is reflected in the comparison of the sages to the knot of the phylacteries. In a knot, two individual strands come together, and though parts of the strands are sometimes hidden, by being bound together they emerge stronger and more united. This metaphor beautifully illustrates the complexities of life’s challenges and the ultimate strength derived from facing and overcoming them. Though the reasons for these challenges are often hidden from us, and getting through them can be quite tough, often in hindsight we see how they improve us and make us stronger.

The lesson of the knot, as shown to Moses, serves as a powerful reminder that while we may not always understand the reasons behind our struggles, they can lead to greater strength and unity. Just as the strands of a knot are intertwined, so too are the events of our lives, leading to a tapestry of experiences that, when viewed from a distance, reveal a design far greater than the sum of its parts.

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Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

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