I'm trying to resolve what seems to be a conflict with two verses:

Exodus 33:20:

וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לִרְאֹ֣ת אֶת־פָּנָ֑י כִּ֛י לֹֽא־יִרְאַ֥נִי הָאָדָ֖ם וָחָֽי׃‏
And He said: ‘You can not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.’

Yet, another verse says:

Exodus 33:11:

וְדִבֶּ֨ר יְהוָ֤ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה֙ פָּנִ֣ים אֶל־פָּנִ֔ים כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר יְדַבֵּ֥ר אִ֖ישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵ֑הוּ וְשָׁב֙ אֶל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וּמְשָׁ֨רְת֜וֹ יְהוֹשֻׁ֤עַ בִּן־נוּן֙ נַ֔עַר לֹ֥א יָמִ֖ישׁ מִתּ֥וֹךְ הָאֹֽהֶל׃‏
And the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return into the camp; but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the Tent.

If G-d tells Moses that he is not allowed to see his face, as no man would be able to live, how was Moses then able to have a "face to face" conversation?

  • See too Duet 5:4
    – Double AA
    Dec 15, 2015 at 19:21
  • @DoubleAA True. There are several verses mentioning this concept. Mine is, probably, the verse closest to the 1st one I cited.
    – DanF
    Dec 15, 2015 at 19:30
  • 1
    You sort of answered it yourself when you call it a face-to-face conversation. It is a description of the type of conversation, not of what he saw.
    – HaLeiVi
    Dec 15, 2015 at 20:12
  • @HaLeiVi Normally, I would agree with you that this is a description or "expression". However, see Bamidbar (Num.) 12:6-8, which seems to indicate that the above should be translated literally.
    – DanF
    Dec 15, 2015 at 20:16
  • Why so you say that? There it uses term of Mareh and Temunah. This is Chazal call Espaclaria Hame'ira.
    – HaLeiVi
    Dec 15, 2015 at 21:10

1 Answer 1


The Rambam explains two very different implications of these two ideas.

Regarding Exodus 33:20, in Moreh Nevochim 1:54, the Rambam writes that Moshe had requested to grasp Hashem "as He is" - בקש השגת עצמו יתעלה, to which Hashem responded לא יראני האדם וחי - a man cannot see Me and live, meaning one cannot grasp Hashem's essence while he is a being in this world.

Regarding Exodus 33:11, in Moreh Nevochim 2:35, the Rambam alludes to the idea that Moshe's "face to face" relationship with Hashem was an expression of the singular and distinct level of prophecy which Moshe achieved. In the introduction to Sanhedrin, the Rambam explains several facets of this communication. He cites Exodus 33:11 as his source-text for that which Moshe was not thrust into a state of physical incapacity when he communicated with Hashem, as opposed to all other prophets who could not speak to Hashem while in control of their physical faculties.

So the two verses are about two different points - one is a description of Moshe's clarity of communication with Hashem, while the other is a statement that even Moshe, being a created being, could not grasp Hashem's "essence."

  • are you saying one can grasp God's essence after death?
    – ray
    Dec 16, 2015 at 19:41
  • @ray I think, Rashi or some other commentary says, "Yes". have to re-view it to verify. Ping me tomorrow, please if I don't get it to you earlier.
    – DanF
    Dec 16, 2015 at 20:43
  • @DanF don't think it's possible. God exists in a different way than created beings. even after death we are still created beings
    – ray
    Dec 16, 2015 at 20:52
  • @ray See Ohr Hachaim commentary, near the end. sefaria.org/… Perhaps, I'm misunderstanding what he says about understanding G-d after death.
    – DanF
    Dec 16, 2015 at 21:05
  • @DanF seems to say you will see more after death. but dont think it is possible to grasp God's essence by anyone. kind of like a character in a novel grasping the author
    – ray
    Dec 16, 2015 at 21:08

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