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Did Moshe Have Horns?


וְרָא֤וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת־פְּנֵ֣י משֶׁ֔ה כִּ֣י קָרַ֔ן ע֖וֹר פְּנֵ֣י משֶׁ֑ה וְהֵשִׁ֨יב משֶׁ֤ה אֶת־הַמַּסְוֶה֙ עַל־פָּנָ֔יו עַד־בֹּא֖וֹ לְדַבֵּ֥ר אִתּֽוֹ:


Then the children of Israel would see Moses' face, that the skin of Moses' face had become radiant, and [then] Moses would replace the covering over his face until he would come [again] to speak with Him.


Towards the end of this week’s Parsha, after the sin of the golden calf (egel hazahav), Moshe comes down from Har Sinai with the second set of tablets, containing the 10 Commandments. This took place on Yom Kippur, according to Rashi.


Moshe did not realize at first that his face was “radiant” or glowing beams of light after his unique 1 on 1 encounter with God. Rashi explains that the light came off of Moshe’s face like the shape of horns, since they were so strong and concentrated. This is why the Torah uses the words קרן, which can be translated as either ray, horn or foundation.


In Hebrew, there are many words that have multiple meanings, and you just need to read the word in context to understand which meaning is relevant. For example, the word חתן can mean both son-in-law and groom. At a wedding, 2 different people can refer to the same person as their חתן, the bride and her father, yet they have very different relationships with the young man. By knowing the context in which the word is being used, it is pretty easy to understand what is meant by that word.


So when the discussion is about light or radiance, it is obvious that the word קרן refers to ray and not horn, despite the mis-translations of some later-day Christian scholars. It’s only natural that Moshe’s face was glowing after an incredible personal spiritual experience with God.


Bnei Yisrael were scared to come too close to Moshe. Rashi explains that this was not only because of the rays of light emanating from him but also out of guilt for their recent sin of the Golden Calf. They felt that they were not worthy to approach Moshe. So at first, only the נְּשִׂאִים the leaders of the tribes approached Moshe, together with Aharon. Afterwards, the rest of the people followed (an important lesson in leadership), and Moshe taught them all sections of Torah. From here, Rashi explains that first Moshe would teach a perek of Torah or a halachah to Aharon and the Kohanim, then to the leaders of the tribes, and finally to all the people. This gave the leaders an extra opportunity to learn, as they heard the same lesson twice (and Aharon 3 times), emphasizing the importance of reviewing the Torah that we learned (chazara), and reviewing it again!


Finally, when Moshe was finished addressing the people, or alternatively after he would be finished speaking with God, he would put a mask over his face, to hide the rays of light, only to be removed when speaking 1 on 1 with God or when addressing the people. In conclusion, no Moshe did not have horns, and Jews today do not have horns, regardless of what Michelangelo would have you believe!

Shabbat Shalom and may the rays of the Torah shine on you!

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