A Tidbit of Torah – Parshat Sh’mot 5784

But [Moshe] said, “Please, O Lord, make someone else Your agent.”
Exodus 4:13

Moshe finds himself at the top of Horeb, drawn there by the mystery of the burning bush that was ablaze but not consumed by the flames. God speaks to Moshe as the same God who spoke with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and with whom there existed a covenantal agreement. God informs Moshe that the moment of Israel’s liberation from bondage is at hand, the first step in the fulfillment of the divine promise to the patriarchs. Moshe is commissioned by God to rally the demoralized Israelites and to represent them, and God, before Pharaoh demanding the release of the Israelites from servitude.

Moshe’s first response to his new status, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” God offers reassurance to the newly tasked prophet, promising that the divine presence will accompany Moshe throughout his mission. Moshe raises objection after objection: “I don’t even know what name for You to use with the Israelites”, “The Israelites won’t believe me”, and “I lack eloquence… I am slow of speech and slow of tongue”. God addresses each of Moshe’s concerns, providing signs to perform to provide proof to the Israelites and presenting Aaron as a mouthpiece.

Having exhausted all excuses, and despite having received divine reassurances, Moshe does not want to accept his task and makes a final desperate plea, “Please, O Lord, make someone else Your agent.” Ramban,1 the 13th century Spanish biblical commentator, suggests that Moshe believed that anyone else in the world was better suited for this mission. Moshe in this episode is not yet the great prophet, lawgiver, and man of God. Moshe is rooted in his daily routine, comfortable in his situation, unwilling to take up God’s charge, and convinced that anybody else would be a suitable representative of God and the Israelites. Moshe is also disconcertingly familiar.

All too often, when we are asked to step and shoulder a difficult task, we, like Moshe, find every excuse in the book, and if that tactic fails, we echo Moshe’s plaint, “Please, can’t you ask anyone else!” Conscripted into divine service, Moshe grows with his task, discovers facets of himself that lay dormant, and ultimately, fulfills his true potential. Moshe also learns that not “anybody” could achieve what he did, serving as both God’s messenger and the people’s defender.

While God’s call to us may not be as dramatic or as epic as Moshe’s it does demand of us that we see ourselves as the Holy One does fraught with the potential to be a transformative force by undertaking the tasks that are presented to us and thus become God’s partners in bringing holiness into our world.

Shabbat Shalom –
Rabbi David M. Eligberg

1 Ramban, Nachmanides, Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (1194–1270), was a leading medieval Jewish scholar in the Sefardic world. Ramban was raised, studied, and lived most of his life in Catalonia, Spain where he was a rabbi, biblical commentator, philosopher, physician, and kabbalist. Ramban had a significant role in the re-establishment of the Jerusalem’s Jewish community following its decimation by Crusaders in 1099.