"When he took the three disciples to the mountainside to pray, his countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame. Two men appeared: Moses and Elijah came; they were at his side. The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die."
These words, taken from Sufjan Stevens' "The Transfiguration" in his album Seven Swans, beautifully depict an event which occurred nearly 2000 years ago. Kefa, Ya'akov, and Yochanan accompanied Mashiach alone as he led them up a high mountain to pray, some say Mount Hermon in the North. Seven years ago, I had the privilege of ascending Hermon. It was cold and green; the air was wet and fog covered hidden peaks. Those events which took place so long ago are easily imaged in a place like this.
As his three students slept, Yeshua prayed. As he prayed the appearance of his face began to change and the fabric of his clothing shone like woven light. Two men were seen illuminated with him, Moshe Rabeinu and Elijah the prophet. As the song above records, they were speaking about his death which was nearing. In the Greek rendering of our Besarot the word chosen to describe the departure of the Mashiach is "exodus."
The placement of this word is both intentional and well considered. It encourages the reader to find meaning in the context of the story. The presence of Moses on a mountain and even Elijah the prophet, who is present at every Seder, when coupled with the word "exodus," instantly transports the reader back to our nation's flight from Egypt and the subsequent revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai.
Only after they had become completely alert, risen from their sleep, did they see the transfigured Mashiach and his two companions. As the two visitors were leaving, Kefa spoke, "Master, it would be good for us to remain here. Allow us to put up three sukkot (shelters)-- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."
Before this experience was committed to writing it was preserved as an oral legend. A scribal note in the text adds what must have been part of that original account. "He [Kefa] did not know what he was saying." Some take this comment to mean that Kefa must have been still half asleep and speaking nonsense. I disagree. The text itself says that all three had become "completely" awake. I would suggest that what Kefa did not realize was the magnitude of his statement. Rather than being inconsequential, Kefa's words were profound.
Just before their ascending the mountain, Mashiach made the statement that some who were with him would not taste death before they saw the Kingdom of G-d. On the last day of Sukkot we say, "Next year in Jerusalem in the sukkah made with the skin of leviathan." This is the sukkah made by Mashiach in which the righteous will dine during the messianic age. Upon the mountain top the students of Mashiach witnessed the Kingdom of Heaven breaking through into this world.
Furthermore in the mentioning of sukkot, Kefa returns the reader once more to our wilderness journey. The sons of Israel lived in sukkot booths throughout their wandering. The Talmud records a debate between the sages as to the nature of these sukkot. Some said these sukkot were natural structures similar to those built during our holiday. Others maintained that the protective sukkot spoken of in the Torah were created from a supernatural cloud, the very presence of Hashem himself. Our text supports this idea. While Kefa spoke, a cloud appeared and enveloped all of them. As they entered the cloud the students became afraid. A voice like that from Sinai spoke from the midst of the cloud saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him."
When the voice had finished speaking Kefa, Ya'akov, and Yochanan were found alone with Mashiach once more.
During this season may we all strive to heed the voice of our King and meditate on his words, walking out our exodus through his own.