Why Moses’ Face Beamed Light

Rabi Moshe Ben-Chaim

And [God] said, “Do not come closer! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground!” And he said, “I am the God of your fathers: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.(Exod. 3:5,6). 

Chizkuni writes, 

The fact that Moses hid his face at this point was the reason that he merited that he eventually attained a spiritual level when his own face radiated spirituality to the degree that unless he was discussing Torah, the people could not bear looking at him (Exodus 34,30).

At Sinai, the people readily accepted the 10 Commandments as divine, as they witnessed the miracle of the voice emanating from fire. But how would they know that all future teachings Moses shared were not his own? Therefore, God made the miracle of Moses’ face shining light all his years, to endorse all Moses’ future teachings as divine in origin. Moses did not originate any teachings and then claim they came from God. For had he done so, God would not endorse such a liar with the miracle (his face shining). 

Now, what was the connection between Moses hiding his face and his face shining? Although his face shining had its own purpose, Chizkuni wishes to teach another lesson. Why did Moses hide his face? Certainly, he was not in any danger, and certainly there's nothing to be seen regarding our metaphysical God. 

Moses hiding his face demonstrated Moses’ care in not trying to understand more than he could. His humility restrained his mind from pondering areas outside of his capacity. This is demonstrated by him hiding his face. And this very humility is essential to be a teacher of God’s Torah. One must have a great reservation of transmitting anything more than what God says. Chizkuni links Moses’ original humility of hiding his face, with his role to teach God’s words. Humility is required to restrain one from adding to God’s words.