2 Jamuary 2019
Moses’ first revelation of God was at the burning bush when he heard his name and he replied, “Here I am, Hineni.” (3:4). These words express the power to say, to do and to be recognized as a character in a narrative. (Moses, 186) Now he will witness God’s revelation in the liberation of his people enslaved in Egypt. Moses identifies with God’s lament, “I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings.”(3:7) This too, will mark the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise made to the Patriarchs. (Gn. 28:14) Therefore, the call to Moses was twofold and God commissioned Moses, “I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt.” (3:10)
Moses is terrified for he is a fugitive in Egypt. He did know first-hand of the oppression of his people. What Moses needed to do now was to focus on ‘Who are you, my God’ rather than on ‘Who am I, my God.’(Powell, 366) It was God’s promise “I will be with you!” (3:12) that convinced and reassured Moses to place his trust in God and to go forth.
On seeing the misery of the Israelites, God entered history and directed Moses to tell the people that their deliverance is at hand, “Therefore, say to the Children of Israel: I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord, your God who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians.” (6:6-7)
These actions are all described in the first person for God is fully involved in the suffering of His people. These redemptive acts conclude with the most intimate and endearing promise, “And I shall be your God.” Benno Jacob sums up the ascending order of these four acts as representing the transition from Justice to Compassion leading to feelings of Closeness and climaxed by Love. (Leibowitz, 123) So central are these words of redemption that they are said at every Pesach Seder.
The Israelites had suffered on every level – physically, materially, psychologically and spiritually. In this whole process of liberation, there is always the struggle to allow a new mentality to emerge. The great danger in the overthrow of oppression is that it may leave a people empty of meaning. I am reminded of the work of Viktor Frankl. While in Auschwitz, he counselled his fellow prisoners many of whom were suicidal, stating that it is only by striving for meaning that keeps a person alive.
Knowing both the joys and trials of leading this people through the desert, Moses, as God’s chosen became a great leader, teacher and friend of God. He was known as the most humble person. (Num.12:3) Moses did learn from his communication with God and here in lies his greatness!
“The release of the Israelites from slavery was unprecedented, and the only explanation possible, repeated over a thousand times in folk recital and eventually set down in writing, was to give the credit to God…..His presence transfigured history and the eventual release from bondage became as an aspect of salvation in both the material sense and the spiritual sense. Israel experienced the events in what Heschel called a “state of radical amazement.” (Plaut, 442)
For Reflection and Discussion: Are we at times in ‘radical amazement’ of God in our lives?
Bibliography: N. Leibowitz, New Studies in Shemot Exodus (Haomanim Press, Jerusalem 1972) W. Plaut, The Torah (The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, N.Y. 1981), J. Powell, Seasons of the Heart (Tabor Publishing, Valencia, California, 1987) A. Zornberg, Moses, A Human Life (Yale University Press, U.K., 2016)
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