Even Moshe Wore a Mask - Parshat Ki Tisa
1א

(כט) וַיְהִ֗י בְּרֶ֤דֶת מֹשֶׁה֙ מֵהַ֣ר סִינַ֔י וּשְׁנֵ֨י לֻחֹ֤ת הָֽעֵדֻת֙ בְּיַד־מֹשֶׁ֔ה בְּרִדְתּ֖וֹ מִן־הָהָ֑ר וּמֹשֶׁ֣ה לֹֽא־יָדַ֗ע כִּ֥י קָרַ֛ן ע֥וֹר פָּנָ֖יו בְּדַבְּר֥וֹ אִתּֽוֹ׃ (ל) וַיַּ֨רְא אַהֲרֹ֜ן וְכָל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת־מֹשֶׁ֔ה וְהִנֵּ֥ה קָרַ֖ן ע֣וֹר פָּנָ֑יו וַיִּֽירְא֖וּ מִגֶּ֥שֶׁת אֵלָֽיו׃

(לא) וַיִּקְרָ֤א אֲלֵהֶם֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַיָּשֻׁ֧בוּ אֵלָ֛יו אַהֲרֹ֥ן וְכָל־הַנְּשִׂאִ֖ים בָּעֵדָ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֲלֵהֶֽם׃ (לב) וְאַחֲרֵי־כֵ֥ן נִגְּשׁ֖וּ כָּל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיְצַוֵּ֕ם אֵת֩ כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֧ר יְהוָ֛ה אִתּ֖וֹ בְּהַ֥ר סִינָֽי׃ (לג) וַיְכַ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֔ה מִדַּבֵּ֖ר אִתָּ֑ם וַיִּתֵּ֥ן עַל־פָּנָ֖יו מַסְוֶֽה׃ (לד) וּבְבֹ֨א מֹשֶׁ֜ה לִפְנֵ֤י יְהוָה֙ לְדַבֵּ֣ר אִתּ֔וֹ יָסִ֥יר אֶת־הַמַּסְוֶ֖ה עַד־צֵאת֑וֹ וְיָצָ֗א וְדִבֶּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֵ֖ת אֲשֶׁ֥ר יְצֻוֶּֽה׃ (לה) וְרָא֤וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת־פְּנֵ֣י מֹשֶׁ֔ה כִּ֣י קָרַ֔ן ע֖וֹר פְּנֵ֣י מֹשֶׁ֑ה וְהֵשִׁ֨יב מֹשֶׁ֤ה אֶת־הַמַּסְוֶה֙ עַל־פָּנָ֔יו עַד־בֹּא֖וֹ לְדַבֵּ֥ר אִתּֽוֹ׃ (ס)

(29) So Moses came down from Mount Sinai. And as Moses came down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Pact, Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant, since he had spoken with God. (30) Aaron and all the Israelites saw that the skin of Moses’ face was radiant; and they were afraid to come near him.

(31) But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the chieftains in the assembly returned to him, and Moses spoke to them. (32) Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he instructed them concerning all that the Eternal had spoken to him on Mount Sinai. (33) And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a mask over his face. (34) Whenever Moses went in before the Eternal, to speak with God, he would remove the mask until he came out; and when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, (35) the Israelites would see how radiant the skin of Moses’ face was. Moses would then return the mask back over his face until he went in to speak with God.

2ב

(ז) וּמֹשֶׁה֩ יִקַּ֨ח אֶת־הָאֹ֜הֶל וְנָֽטָה־ל֣וֹ ׀ מִח֣וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֗ה הַרְחֵק֙ מִן־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וְקָ֥רָא ל֖וֹ אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וְהָיָה֙ כָּל־מְבַקֵּ֣שׁ יְהוָ֔ה יֵצֵא֙ אֶל־אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד אֲשֶׁ֖ר מִח֥וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶֽה׃ (ח) וְהָיָ֗ה כְּצֵ֤את מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־הָאֹ֔הֶל יָק֙וּמוּ֙ כָּל־הָעָ֔ם וְנִ֨צְּב֔וּ אִ֖ישׁ פֶּ֣תַח אָהֳל֑וֹ וְהִבִּ֙יטוּ֙ אַחֲרֵ֣י מֹשֶׁ֔ה עַד־בֹּא֖וֹ הָאֹֽהֱלָה׃ (ט) וְהָיָ֗ה כְּבֹ֤א מֹשֶׁה֙ הָאֹ֔הֱלָה יֵרֵד֙ עַמּ֣וּד הֶֽעָנָ֔ן וְעָמַ֖ד פֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֑הֶל וְדִבֶּ֖ר עִם־מֹשֶֽׁה׃ (י) וְרָאָ֤ה כָל־הָעָם֙ אֶת־עַמּ֣וּד הֶֽעָנָ֔ן עֹמֵ֖ד פֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֑הֶל וְקָ֤ם כָּל־הָעָם֙ וְהִֽשְׁתַּחֲוּ֔וּ אִ֖ישׁ פֶּ֥תַח אָהֳלֽוֹ׃ (יא) וְדִבֶּ֨ר יְהוָ֤ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה֙ פָּנִ֣ים אֶל־פָּנִ֔ים כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר יְדַבֵּ֥ר אִ֖ישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵ֑הוּ וְשָׁב֙ אֶל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וּמְשָׁ֨רְת֜וֹ יְהוֹשֻׁ֤עַ בִּן־נוּן֙ נַ֔עַר לֹ֥א יָמִ֖ישׁ מִתּ֥וֹךְ הָאֹֽהֶל׃ (ס)

(7) Now Moses would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. It was called the Tent of Meeting, and whoever sought the Eternal would go out to the Tent of Meeting that was outside the camp. (8) Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise and stand, each at the entrance of their tent, and gaze after Moses until he had entered the Tent. (9) And when Moses entered the Tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the Tent, while God spoke with Moses. (10) When all the people saw the pillar of cloud poised at the entrance of the Tent, all the people would rise and bow low, each at the entrance of his tent. (11) The Eternal would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to his fellow. And he would then return to the camp; but his attendant, Joshua son of Nun, a youth, would not stir out of the Tent.

3ג

(כ) וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לִרְאֹ֣ת אֶת־פָּנָ֑י כִּ֛י לֹֽא־יִרְאַ֥נִי הָאָדָ֖ם וָחָֽי׃ (כא) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה הִנֵּ֥ה מָק֖וֹם אִתִּ֑י וְנִצַּבְתָּ֖ עַל־הַצּֽוּר׃ (כב) וְהָיָה֙ בַּעֲבֹ֣ר כְּבֹדִ֔י וְשַׂמְתִּ֖יךָ בְּנִקְרַ֣ת הַצּ֑וּר וְשַׂכֹּתִ֥י כַפִּ֛י עָלֶ֖יךָ עַד־עָבְרִֽי׃ (כג) וַהֲסִרֹתִי֙ אֶת־כַּפִּ֔י וְרָאִ֖יתָ אֶת־אֲחֹרָ֑י וּפָנַ֖י לֹ֥א יֵרָאֽוּ׃ (ס)

(20) But,” said the Eternal, “you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live.” (21) And the Eternal said, “See, there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the rock (22) and, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by. (23) Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”

4ד

וייראו מגשת אליו.

בֹּא וּרְאֵה כַּמָּה גָדוֹל כֹּחָהּ שֶׁל עֲבֵרָה שֶׁעַד שֶׁלֹּא פָשְׁטוּ יְדֵיהֶם בַּעֲבֵרָה מַהוּ אוֹמֵר? וּמַרְאֵה כְּבוֹד ה' כְּאֵשׁ אֹכֶלֶת בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל (שמות כ"ד) – וְלֹא יְרֵאִים וְלֹא מִזְדַּעְזְעִים, וּמִשֶּׁעָשׂוּ אֶת הָעֵגֶל אַף מִקַּרְנֵי הוֹדוֹ שֶׁל מֹשֶׁה הָיוּ מַרְתִּיעִים וּמִזְדַּעְזְעִים (ספרי):

and they were afraid to come near him -

Come and see how great is the power of sin! For before they stretched forth their hand to sin what does Scripture say? (Exodus 24:17) “And the sight of the glory of the Eternal was like devouring fire on the top of the mountain, in the eyes of the children of Israel”, — and yet they were not afraid and did not tremble! But after they made the golden calf they recoiled and trembled even at the sight of the rays of glory of Moses!

5ה

וענין המסוה שנתן על פניו ולא רצה שיהיו מסתכלים על פניו תמיד. הוא כדי שיהי׳ יוכל להיות דבק במחשבתו באלקות ולא יתבלבל ע״י כך.

The idea of the mask that he put on his face was that he did not want people to be staring at his face all the time. And that is so that he could keep his thoughts on God and not be distracted by this attention.

6ו

רלב׳׳ג על שמות לד:ל

וזה אמנם היה בשנתן על פניו מסוה, רוצה לומר ששׂם השתדלותו להפריד זה ההתבודדות באופן שיוכל לדבר דבריו עם ישראל...

הנה לא הסכמנו לבאר ענין המסוה כפשוטו

Ralbag on Exodus 34:30

When it says he put the mask on his face, that means that he was putting effort into separating himself from his state of meditation, so that he could speak with the Children of Israel...

(Indeed, we cannot read the idea of the mask literally.)