Moses’ Powerful Presence

Yael Eckstein  |  March 8, 2021

Two women embracing each other and smiling.

Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence … — Exodus 35:20

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. This week’s Torah portion is a double reading, Vayakhel-Pekudei, from Exodus 35:1–40:38. Vayakhel means “assembled,” and Pekudei means “counting.”

Have you ever met someone who had such a powerful presence that you felt different when you were around them? Perhaps you had a grandparent who made you feel loved and valued. Or maybe it was a mentor who inspired and motivated you. Sometimes even an encounter with a stranger who has inexplicable charisma can leave us wanting to be a better person.

There are some people whose presence is felt — and by being in their presence, we are profoundly impacted.

Recently, I bumped into a teacher who I had as child in summer camp. Her job was to teach us Bible lessons for one hour each day. She beamed when I told her how I had such wonderful memories of being her student and how I loved learning from her. As we said our goodbyes, I realized that I couldn’t think of anything specific that I learned in her class that summer. But what I did remember was her big smile, her loving nature, and her genuine excitement about learning Torah. And in the end, that is what made all the difference to me.

Moses’ Powerful Presence

This week’s Torah portion begins by telling us, “Moses assembled the whole Israelite community” (Exodus 35:1). After he finished teaching the people, Scripture tells us “the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence.”

But, if we already knew that the Israelites were in the presence of Moses, why do we need to know that they left from “Moses’ presence?” According to Jewish tradition, by emphasizing the coming and going before Moses’ presence, the Bible is teaching us that Moses’ presence had a huge impact on the people. They left Moses as different people than when they first came to him, uplifted and inspired.

There is a Jewish teaching that directs us to, “Greet every person with a pleasant expression.” Like Moses, we can, and should have powerful presence that leaves a positive impression. All it takes is a smile, a kind word, or sincerely asking someone how they are. Ultimately, our loving presence can affect others beyond our imagination.

Your Turn:

Who has had an impact on you simply by being in their presence? Share your answer below.