By Rav Jesse Horn
According to the Rambam (Hilchot Yisodei HaTorah 1:10) Moshe’s request of Hashem to “Show me your honor (way)” (Shemot 33:18) captures his heartfelt request to understand Hashem in an unparalleled manner, to see Him more objectively and not be limited by man’s lenses.
However, more interesting than the Raaved’s (quoted by the Kesef Mishneh, ibid.) alternative explanation that Moshe requests Hashem remain with them during the journey to Israel is his reason for rejecting the Rambam’s. The Raaved argues that such a request is unbefitting of Moshe, for Moshe would have never been so selfish as to desire such a profound comprehension of Hashem. The Raaved buttresses his position with a Midrash stating that the celestial angels wanted to expel Moshe from the heavens because of the incredible insight he had already achieved. That being the case, it is incomprehensible that Moshe could have selfishly requested more.
The Raaved’s attack and moreover his perspective seems very difficult to understand. Is it bad to desire a greater understanding of Hashem? It is unprecedented to criticize one who wants to accomplish more Mitzvot, learn more Torah or reach higher levels in Avodat Hashem. Why then, does the Raaved think it is undesirable and critique-worthy to request a greater comprehension of Hashem?
Perhaps the answer for the Raaved depends upon why the Torah values knowledge of the Divine. One possibility is that philosophical truth has intrinsic value. Knowledge of Hashem is noble because it has inherent meaning. Alternatively, Hashem’s knowledge is meaningful because Hashem declared it so. In other words, we only value knowledge of Hashem because it is a fulfillment of Hashem’s command.
According to the first model, it would be inconceivable to selfishly ask for too much. Because the value is intrinsic there can be no such thing as ‘too much’ and the Rambam’s view applauds Moshe for such a request. The Raaved, by contrast, may accept the second approach arguing that we value that knowledge of Hashem only because Hashem instructed to us value it. It follows that requesting an understanding of Hashem that by definition was never intended for man is not obeying His command and is therefore inappropriate and selfish. Hashem commanded man to understand Him as best as a man could. A request for more is not what Hashem wants; rather it is selfish and therefore cannot be the correct understanding of Moshe’s request.
As seen on Arutz 7.