Commentary for Shemot

11 Jan

This week’s parshah contains the famous story of God calling to Moses at the burning bush. God calls out to Moses by repeating his name twice (Ex. 3:4). The only other person in the entire Torah to whom God calls out in this way is Jacob (Gen. 46:2). While both men respond to God’s calling by saying “here I am,” the similarities between the two episodes end there.

 

When God calls out to Jacob, it is in response to Jacob offering a sacrifice. After Jacob responds “here I am,” God goes on to tell Jacob that the sojourn his family is about to take down to Egypt will be the very trip which results in the hundreds of years of oppression that were foretold when God made the Covenant Between the Parts with Abraham in Gen. 15. Despite knowing that he is about to take actions that will lead his descendants into generations of slavery, Jacob marches on, confident that he is making the right choice because of the Divine promise that God will always remain with them and will eventually bring them back to inherit the Promised Land.

 

With Moses, on the other hand, God comes to him completely out of the blue as he is going about his day herding sheep. God tells Moses that he has been chosen to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land, but Moses balks and asks, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt (Ex. 3:11)?” When God promises Moses the same reassurance of Divine protection that was promised to Jacob, Moses still balks. Even when God lays out a step-by-step plan for how to liberate the Israelites, Moses still spends the first half of the next chapter questioning just about every part of God’s plan. After God performs not one but two miracles for Moses, Moses concedes that God’s plan will work, but immediately starts asking God to find someone else to do it in his place.

 

It is interesting to note that Jacob, when being asked to do something that will doom his family to generations of oppressions, goes along with God’s wishes with no complaint, only needing Divine reassurance that things will turn out well in the end, while Moses, being asked to end the slavery and oppression of his people and lead them into the Promised Land, repeatedly balks at the idea and tries to make excuses for why the plan won’t work, despite being shown a more detailed plan and more Divine power than Jacob was. This is because of the backgrounds of the two men. God had been an important part of Jacob’s life since he was a child. His parents raised him to believe in God and Jacob had spent his whole life developing his own intimate relationship with God. Moses, on the other hand, was at a point in his life where his relationship with God was just starting to form. Thus, even when he is being asked to do something that will cause suffering to his descendents, Jacob does not hesitate because he knows God will be with him and with his descendents, and will redeem them, while Moses, when asked to perform a task that, while challenging, will help hundreds of thousands of people, hesitates and tries to find reasons not to do so, despite having been assured Divine aid. As we seek to develop our relationship with God, it is important to remember that the first steps are always the hardest, but the more we press on down God’s path, the easier establishing that relationship becomes.

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