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Moses' Horns

I am taking an art appreciation class and we recently studied Michelangelo's statue of Moses, which is adorned with horns. This has anti-Semitic overtones and I am wondering where this idea got started?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

This comes from a mistranslation of the Torah. The verse (Exodus 34:29) says that when Moses descended from the mountain with the two tablets in his hands, his face was radiant from speaking with God. The Hebrew word for radiant is "keren," which is also the Hebrew word for "horn." Hence the mistranslation.

The deeper meaning behind why Moses' face became radiant has to do with the power of Torah. The verse says that "Torah is light" (Proverbs 6:23). Just as a light illuminates a dark path and allows one to stay on course, Torah gives a person the wisdom to make proper decisions.

The Midrash says that Adam, the first man, had skin which was made completely out of light. This means that Adam was so pure he had no difficulty discerning between truth and falsehood. However, after eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, his skin became opaque like the skin we have today. In other words, he lost his purity and with it the ability to easily discern between truth and falsehood.

Torah has the power to restore the original purity of Adam to mankind, as can be seen from the verse describing the great light radiating from Moses. So too, we all have the opportunity through Torah study to attain great heights of spiritual and moral development.

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