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Moshe

The Parsha sets the stage for Moshe with a quick review of how Yisrael came to be in Mitzrayim (Egypt, the tight place), how they became slaves and how Moshe was born, raised and ran to Midian. And then the action starts!

Torah talks about Moshe's father and mother -- and not by name. (Stay tuned for next week...) It is part of Torah's style -- obviously the mother and father of Moshe would be important and of interest -- but not at this point of the story. How he came to be adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh, why he ran to Midian and how he came to be tending sheep near the burning bush are the core items in the preparation for Moshe's charge.

Some of the details, wonderfully maintained and/or inserted into the text, include that Moshe (and Aaron and Miriam) had Levite parents on both sides. (Later we will learn that the Levite man took his aunt as his wife.) We do not hear much about Moshe until he is grown. Most of the details of his early life are midrash and agada and not in our written Torah. What determined the details that became legend and explanation and what became written?

And so we move to the detail of Moshe's temper. When he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew (his brethren, the text points out), he "looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand." (What an image -- can you see it happening?)

The very next day, when he is talking to two fighting slaves, he realizes from their comments that his "little deed" of the daybefore is, in fact, common knowledge. Ooops. The only emotion we hear about now is fear -- and fear is reasonable -- he is usurping Pharaoh's authority and killing his men and Torah tells us that Pharaoh considers this act (maybe there were multiple such acts?)
serious enough to seek to slay Moshe. And so Moshe flees to Midian, where his future family calls him an Egyptian. He probably spoke with an Egyptian accent and wore Egyptian clothes, not Hebrew, because of his position.

Moshe's father-in-law was Yitro, but in 2:18, he is called Re'u'el (shepherd of God?). Some critics seize on this name play (Yitro will be referred to with seven name variations) as an indication that Moshe was not real, but multiple names are common and also, heads of households were often called father even if they were really grandfathers or even uncles. These nuances would have been understood in the audiences that heard these accounts when they were oral, and so, they did not warrant explanation when Torah became written.

And so, Torah sets the stage. Moshe has taken the sheep "far away into the desert" and sees the bramble aflame and learns that God's Presence is there. YHVH calls to him and advises him that this is holy ground and he should take off his shoes. This pasuk is the reference used to forbid wearing shoes on the Temple mount, even after its destruction.

And then we see a give-and-take discussion between YHVH and Moshe. Moshe mounts objection after objection, citing his own ability to carry out the charge. God is patient, answering questions, assuring him that he will not be alone. This discussion probably went on over more than one session -- this is implied in 4:10 where Moshe says, "I am not eloquent, neither yesterday nor the day before, nor since you have spoken to your servant;" And the discussion continues.

And Moshe sees that YHVH is answering every objection, but he still does not want to go. Please, he says, send someone else. And YHVH finally loses his patience -- the amazing part is that it took this long. What a lesson here!

And so God, finally angered, now lectures Moshe on several details and tells him that Aaron will be with him. Wasn't God being with him enough? Are there times when that isn't enough for us, too?

So Moshe and Aaron go to Pharaoh and do as YHVH tells them -- they ask in God's Name that Israel be allowed to go up from Egypt for three days and worship YHVH, the God of Israel. And Pharaoh replies with "Who is YHVH that I should listen to His voice?" This is the first time that somebody actively questions who God is -- in most other accounts, the use of Elohim or YHVH appears to bring recognition, if not obedience. If Hollywood were writing this scene, there would have been bolts of lightning about now.

Instead, Moshe and Aaron try another explanation, which also doesn't work. Since Pharaoh does not recognize YHVH, he certainly sees no reason to let people leave their work to sacrifice anything, especially a sacred animal, to this unknown God. Pharaoh asks them why they want the people to hish'batem (see shabbat in there?). And so, Pharoah sets out to teach them a lesson and uses this as an excuse to make their work harder -- the same quota without prepared supplies.

And it looks like Pharaoh is upsetting Moshe' hold on the people -- the officers of Israel confront Moshe and Aaron as they come out of the meeting with Pharaoh with why is he making their lives harder. Can you hear that bit of dialogue -- Some God! Instead of our leaving this land as free men, we now have to work harder!

And, not surprisingly, Moshe takes this rejection personally and goes to God saying "Why didn't you deliver them???" How easy it is to give up on something and blame God when things don't work out quickly and easily. Of course, God knows that neither Yisrael nor Moshe are ready for the trek across the wilderness yet. These may be a stiff-necked people, but they give up on the big picture easily.

And so God answers Moshe that it will take a strong hand to get Pharaoh to let them go -- and then they will expelled with a strong hand (read: no turning back, folks....)

Does Moshe understand the message or is he feeling very dejected at this point? How would you feel?
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah