Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 54 & 55
Chapter 2, verses 54 & 55
And when Moses said to his people, "O my people, indeed you have wronged yourselves by your taking of the calf. So repent to your Creator and kill yourselves. That is best for you in the sight of your Creator." Then He accepted your repentance; indeed, He is the All forgiving, the most merciful. (Chapter 2: Verse 54)
God accepts the repentance of a person who seeks forgiveness from sin and who is determined not to repeat the same mistake. Repentance is actually the basis of forgiveness. Allah could have seized and destroyed the Children of Israel as He did with the previous nations when they indulged in grave sins. But His mercy encompassed them and they were given another chance.
He said ' So repent to your Creator.' God’s names ‘al-Khaliq and 'al-Bari’ are usually translated into the same English name 'the Creator.' In the Arabic language, however, they carry two distinct meanings. Al-Khaliq is the one who creates from nothing, while al-Bari is the one who fashions and shapes in perfect proportions. Creating and proportioning are different as Allah highlights in the following verses:
Glorify the name of your Lord the Most High, who created in due proportion; He who determined and guided (87:1-3)
In the verse under discussion, God asked the Israelites to repent to Him 'Al-Bari,' the one who perfected their creation. The Israelites disbelieved in the one who perfected them, and they worshiped a gold calf. So the command came 'repent to your Creator and kill yourselves.' In essence, they were asked to return the life and creation they were given to the One who granted it to them in the first place. By repeatedly abusing the gift of life and wasting the grant of guidance, they lost the privilege of life.
After the command was issued, the Israelites lined up, and the ones who had not worshipped the calf were commissioned to kill the calf-worshippers. It was extremely difficult for them, as many were asked to kill their own relatives and friends. God sent down heavy fog all around them to make this terrible task easier. Prophets Moses and Aaron advised their people to weep and plead before God perhaps He will pardon them.
The verse continues: 'That is best for you in the sight of your Creator.' Death was prescribed in this situation as a way to wipe out their sin. God ordered this form of repentance as it expressed sincere remorse, and provided protection from punishment in the hereafter. Allah wants the best for his creation, and while this command was extreme in the sight of the Israelites, it did save them from punishment in hellfire. In the sight of God, being saved from hellfire and then being admitted into paradise is the true success. By obeying His command, the calf-worshipper brought back true piety to their soul that rebelled against God and earned it everlasting forgiveness and permanent life in paradise. God says: He accepted your repentance; indeed, He is the All forgiving, the most merciful.
Now we move to the next verse in 'The Cow.' God says:
And when you said, ‘Moses, we will not believe in you until we see Allah with our own eyes.’ So the thunder-bolt struck you dead while you were looking. (Chapter 2: Verse 55)
In the past few verses, detailing the actions of the Children of Israel, we are presented with valuable lessons. Allah is inviting us to study the actions of those who were granted scriptures and heavenly guidance. How did they act? What were the results of the choices they made? The answers to these questions apply to all humanity, and to all heavenly messages. With great gifts, comes great responsibility and accountability. Will we learn from these lessons? or are we bound to ignore them and fall into the same traps?
The current verse illustrates how the Israelites squandered one gift after another. They continued their quest for what is physical and tangible, and disregarded spirituality and faith even after being pardoned for worshipping the golden calf. They said: ‘Moses, we will not believe in you until we see Allah with our own eyes.’ This request shows true ignorance about the majesty and grandeur of Allah. He says:
Eyesight comprehends Him not, but He comprehends all eyesight. He is the All-Subtle, the All-Aware. (06:103)
Allah's being is beyond human comprehension. In fact there are many matters that are beyond our comprehension. Those who are focused on materialistic things….who only believe in what is physical and tangible have a very hard time understanding this issue. Allah brings it to our attention in the following verses:
On earth there are signs for those with sure faith––And within yourselves. Can you not perceive? (51:21,22)
God placed within each one of us the highest level of evidence of that which cannot be seen, touched or physically measured. It is the soul. Human bodies are objects that require the presence of a soul to bring them to life. Modern science and medicine understand that life and movement are not only the result of a proper physical form. Rather there is something else that is needed to produce life. The human soul cannot be seen, touched, measured, or felt. We know it is there by its effects. When the soul is taken, life ends and the body -regardless of its condition- becomes still.
If you cannot see or comprehend the soul that resides within your own body, then how do you demand to see God? If you cannot see the creation within you, how can you see the creator? Allah says:
They ask you about the Soul. Say, ‘The Soul is part of my Lord’s domain. You have only been given a little knowledge. (17:85)
Let's take a moment to examine the expression: ‘until we see Allah with our own eyes’. The verb ‘see’ can be used to refer to knowledge, rather than physical sight. For example:
Have you seen him who has taken his whims and desires to be his god? Will you then be his guardian? (25:43)
Meaning, did you know about? Or Are you aware? …In another example, when a teacher explains a mathematical concept to you, you might say 'I see', meaning 'I understand.' But when the verse added ‘with our own eyes,’ it negated the Israelites asking for true knowledge or awareness of Allah, rather, their request was for the physical observation of God. Again, this request shows the lack of faith, and a life totally based on materialism.
The Israelite's unjust demand to see God stems from their lack of understanding of all the evidence that was available to them regarding the Lord. Let's look at the facts they had at the time. God Almighty says:
When Moses came for the appointment, and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show Yourself to me: let me see You!’ He said, ‘You will never see Me, but look at that mountain: if it remains standing firm, you will see Me,’ and when his Lord revealed Himself to the mountain, He made it crumble: Moses fell down unconscious. When he recovered, he said, ‘Glory be to You! To You I turn in repentance! I am the first to believe!’ (07:143)
The issue of seeing God in this world has been absolutely settled: There is no way to see God while we exist in our current form. The human body is governed by certain laws in this world, and by a different set of laws in the hereafter. For example, in this world, the human body discharges waste and impurities, while in the hereafter the body will be pure producing no waste. We are now bound by age and time, but in the hereafter, youth will be forever. Thus, there is a clear difference between the two which brings us back to the verse. In this world, one cannot see God. But, in the hereafter, the greatest bounty granted to the believers is the ability to see Allah. He says:
On that Day there will be radiant faces, looking at their Lord (75:22-23)
How could this be, you may ask? Humans have invented tools such as the microscope to observe what we could not see with the naked eye. Similarly, nowadays, an eye specialist is able to treat the eyes of a patient so that he or she will not require the use of glasses or contacts again. If man was able to invent tools that made it possible to see what he could not see before, then imagine the power of God to transform our abilities in the hereafter so that we may enjoy our Lord's company.
God had proved this issue to Moses. The mountain, despite its size and strength, was unable to bear the light of God. Moses (peace be upon him) could not handle the sight of the mountain being affected by God's light. It was as if God wanted to explain to Moses that he was deprived of seeing the Lord out of mercy for him. After all, if the mountain crumbled at the sight of God’s light, then imagine what would have happened to Moses.