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.
3 thoughts on “Commentary on Exodus 6:29-7:13”
It is wonderful that you are delving into the Torah…in his wonderful book “God in Search of Man,” Abraham Joshua Heschel says, among many other precious insights:
“Religion is, indeed, little more than a desiccated remnant of a once living reality when reduce to terms and definitions, to codes and catechisms.” (page 8)
“Is not the meaning of liberty contingent upon its compatibility with righteousness? There is no freedom except the freedom bestowed upon us by God; there is no freedom without sanctity.” (page 170)
and maybe most significantly for you right now as you look into and listen to the words of the Torah, he says this about the Bible:
“Irrefutably, indestructibly, never wearied by time, the Bible wanders through the ages, giving itself with ease to all men, as if it belonged to every soul on earth. It speaks in every language and in every age. It benefits all the arts and does not compete with them. We all draw upon it, and it remains pure, inexhaustible and complete. In three thousand years it has not aged a day. It is a book that cannot not die.Oblivion shuns it pages. Its power is not subsiding. In fact, it is still at the very beginning of its career, the full meaning of its content having hardly touched the threshold of our minds; like an ocean at the bottom of which countless pearls lie, waiting to be discovered, its spirit is still to be unfolded. Though its words seem plain and its idiom translucent, unnoticed meanings, undreamed-of intimations break forth constantly. More than two thousand years of reading and research have not succeeded in exploring it full meaning. Today it is as if it had never been touched, never been seen, as if we had not even begun to read it.
Its spirit is too much for one generation to bear. Its words reveal more than we can absorb. All we usually accomplish is the attempt to appropriate a few single lines so that our spirit becomes synonymous with a passage.” (page 242)
I pray that you and your “partners” are blessed in your fellowship of study…
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thank you so much for this comment. that book is on my to-read list.
Heschel also has a terrific book on the Sabbath…