I came across a few passages during last night’s Torah study that fascinated or disturbed me enough that I actually had thoughts about them in the middle of the night. Can’t say that’s ever happened to me before – and I was thrilled. When I am most engaged with whatever work I’m doing, I’ll usually wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning with ideas. Clearly, something about Torah captured my attention in a serious way.
There is so much in this parsha to wade through. But there were a small handful of verses at the beginning that left me with far more questions than answers.
The entire concept of chavruta is new to me. Chavruta – learning in a small group, of two or three people, and the text. (For whatever it’s worth, going verse-by-verse as we did was a great reminder that I need to read everything more slowly, and that there are no “throw-away” sentences. Everything matters.)
In my chavurta, I asked, why does G-d instruct someone else to talk to Pharoah? Why doesn’t G-d do it personally? It can’t be that G-d is incapable of doing it; it’s already been established that G-d is the Creator of Creators, who made this and all other universes. G-d is not incapable of anything. But this understanding doesn’t really address the issue of why G-d appears to need prophets.
My study-mates raised a fantastic counter-point: G-d doesn’t need prophets, G-d chooses to use prophets. G-d’s need versus G-d’s choice is a big difference. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t fully answer my question, which simply morphs into why G-d chooses to use prophets?
I’m not sure exactly what is meant by “impeded speech.” I’ve heard it implies Moses has a stutter. Maybe that’s too literal – I’m not sure. I just know that Moses has some difficulty talking. And yet he is the one who is to take G-d’s aural-verbal commands directly to Pharoah.
Pharoah: God-King of the Egyptians, God-King of the singular, hegemonic superpower of the ancient world, a man of virtually limitless Earthly power in his day.
And Moses, of impeded speech, is being directed to command Pharoah!
We spent a lot of time discussing G-d’s determination to harden Pharoah’s heart, which happens later in the parsha, and it’s a challenging passage for sure. But this one verse stopped me entirely.
I place you in the role of G-d to Pharoah.
This is a mind-blowing instruction. Not only is Moses is now formally deputized to be G-d’s personal representative, Moses also gets to have a prophet – which, as far as I can tell, is a tool open only to G-d. I’m still unclear as to why Moses needs a prophet. Is it because of his impeded speech? But that seems like a superficial reason. It seems to me that Moses gets a prophet as a way to elevate Moses’ own holiness. Maybe Moses was selected precisely because of his impeded speech.
In our larger group discussion, a really smart point came up. At this point in our collective story, Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for many many years. The collective self-worth of the group, must have been nearly nil. Now a message comes; and the message isn’t just “you’re special,” the message is, “G-d picks you to represent G-d on Earth, and here is a leader who gets a prophet like G-d gets a prophet.” This is an attention-getter.
Our group observed that this parsha is about laying the groundwork for a mass movement. One English translation uses Israelites, another translation uses the word “armies,” (Exodus 7:5). There is a substantial difference here, in my opinion. “Israelities” implies loose collection of people, possibly gathered or not. “Armies” leaves no such wiggle room. “Armies” implies an advanced logistical effort that won’t be put down quietly.
That aside, isn’t the first and most real prerequisite for a movement, mental?
The Israelites have to be exposed to who they really are – not slaves, but sacred. And they have to believe they are sacred – without necessarily knowing how that ultimate transformation will occur. The belief that it can and will occur is the essential change. What way better to facilitate that change than by G-d investing personal and direct authority into selected human leadership?
G-d chooses Moses as a vessel, and Moses is instructed to make Aaron a vessel. Isn’t that a message or a challenge to me, personally? I can never be like G-d but I can raise my consciousness to a level like the prophets. Not them, exactly, but possibly like them. Even if all I see are my own flaws and weaknesses, and I don’t feel like I am holy, I am still capable of elevating myself.
What a message for anyone, at any time.
The next question is “how do I do that.”
And that’s why we keep reading.