When Moshe came down from Mount Sinai, the second time, his face was shining. The Torah describes this as ‘karan ohr panev’. ‘ His face was radiating light’. Although Moshe himself was unaware of this , the shine was so striking that the Jewish people were afraid to approach him.
What was the reason for this shining countenance?
The Talmud teaches that after he finished writing the Sefer Torah on Mount Sinai he had a small amount of ink left on his quill. He passed the quill across his forehead and the ink left a mark which caused the powerful shine.
Why was there leftover ink?
The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh explains, that in Parshas Korach, Moshe is described as ‘very humble’. The word humble should be written as עניו but the letter yud is missing from the word ענו, ‘humble’. Moshe, in his humility, had a difficult time writing this verse so he wrote it in a minimalistic fashion, without the Yud. This allowed for a tiny amount of leftover ink on the quill.
Or, The book of Vayikra begins with the word ‘Vayikra’ and is written with a small aleph. The Midrash explains that Moshe preferred it be written without an aleph at all, using the same written form as for Bilam’s prophecy, “Vayikar” or G-d happened upon Bilaam”.The word ‘Vayikar’ would imply that G-d’s encounter with him was random and informal, thereby minimising it’s importance.
G-d insisted on the aleph, indicating a deep intimacy between Moshe and G-d. As a compromise the aleph was written, but as a small character.
The Ba’al HaTurim on our parsha suggests that the extra lick of ink which was not needed due to the reduced size of the aleph was the source of Moshe’s inky quill after finishing his scribing.
Either way, Moshe’s awesome, shining face was due to his humility.
In the run up to the first Agudas Yisrael convention in 1923 there was much speculation as to whether the Chofetz Chaim would make the journey. When it became known that he was on a train en route from Radin, crowds gathered at each station along the way in order to see him.
At a certain station Rav Meir Don Poltzki, Author of Kli Chemda got onto the train and was given the honor of sitting next to the Chofetz Chaim. He tried without initial success to convince him to let the people see him at each station but the Chofetz Chaim said he was concerned that the honor people would give him would detract from his eternal reward in the World to Come. The Kli Chemda countered by asking the Chofetz Chaim if he would be prepared to risk some of his Olam HaBa for the sake of strengthening the moral of the Jewish people during difficult times? This convinced the Chofetz Chaim and he indeed went to the window at the next stop and waved to the crowds. Returning to his seat, he remarked that that he wouldn’t do that again as it really wasn’t for him.
A secular journalist for the Forward, covering that Agudah convention, wrote in glowing, poetic terms about the visage of the Chofetz Chaim.
Although a little man in stature, his towering presence left a deep impression on everyone who had come to Vienna, including the secular Jews who had predicted that he would never attend. The militantly socialist Yiddish daily, The Forward, reported the Chofetz Chaim’s attendance with uncharacteristic respect, describing him as “a venerable … man,” adding:
When you first see the tiny ninety-year-old [sic] man he makes a strange impression—you feel a shudder of awe and love, an enormous boundless respect. When you look more closely you see the face of an angel, a servant of God—the Divine Presence rests on that face and you must close your eyes because of the brilliance that shines from the small, gray, wise eyes. When he stands at the rostrum to speak … everyone stands to listen to him. His voice is soft but clear. He calls Jews to unity, to peace, to goodness, to piety, to love, and to action. His small, bent frame shakes as he speaks. His small white beard glows like freshly fallen snow, and from his eyes glows an entire world of wisdom and goodness. … This is how I imagine Hillel the Elder must have appeared.
Apparently we can all attain something of the countenance of Moshe Rabeinu.
(Written from memory by Dr. Ben Bradly from the Dvar Torah of Rav Yaacov Haber given in Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel)