Bible Commentator

Messengers of God: A Theological And Psychological Perspective

Moshe Reiss



Moses by Michelangelo

MOSES RABBENU (OUR TEACHER) - The Man From Sinai and The Servant of God
'He is on the track of Canaan all his life; it is incredible that he should see the land only when he is on the verge of death. This dying vision of it can only be intended to illustrate how incomplete a moment is human life, incomplete because a life like this could last forever and still be nothing but a moment. Moses fails to enter Canaan not because his life was too short but because it is a human life.' (Franz Kafka) 1

'Moses torments me like a ghost not laid to rest' (Sigmund Freud) 2  
'If I am Moses, then you [Jung] are Joshua and will take possession of the promised land of psychoanalysis, which I shall be able to glimpse only from afar (Sigmund Freud) 3

Moses can be seen as a Jewish Icon. In this chapter we ask three questions related to Moses’ self identity: First, Moses claims not to be a good speaker - is that true? Second Moses smashes the tablets made by the hand of God - How does he have the chutzpah to do that? Third why does Moses - our teacher and savior - the spiritual founder of the Jewish people who led people out of Egypt in the Exodus and led them to Mt. Sinai, through the desert to the promised land not accompany them into it?

Moses is our Rabbenu, our teacher, as compared to Abraham Avinu, our Father. Abraham the biological father 4 and the ‘Man of Faith’. Moses is our spiritual founder, 'The Servant of God' 5 and the 'Man of God' 6. He is also God's lawmaker. 7  God declares that he is the prophet to whom 'My household is entrusted' (Num. 12:8). Both Abraham and Moses are God-intoxicated men. One is willing to sacrifice his son who is his immortality and the basis of his `promise' from God. The other several times tells God he would rather die than become a new beginning.

Moses is the mediator between Jewish people and God. -'Do not let God speak to us or we shall die’ (Ex. 20:19). The people understand that speaking to God is chasing death. Only a man like Moses can speak to God. He can speak 'face to face' with God. Jacob also sees God `face to face’ (Gen. 32:31) and struggled, but his struggle is personal, Moses is for the Jewish people. Jacob saw God ‘face’ as an angel and in the face of his brother; his God was the imminent God. Moses saw God from the back  - the transcendent God. By speaking 'face to face' he assuages God's anger and saves the people from God. 'Since then there has never been such a prophet in Israel as Moses, the man whom God knew face to face... How mighty the hand and the great fear that Moses wielded in the eyes of all Israel' (Deut. 34:10,12). Moses not only 'speaks' face to face' to God but 'knew' God. Knowing in Hebrew has a level of intimacy different from speaking to God even 'face to face'.  The term 'knew' is first used in the Torah when Adam knew Eve and she became pregnant (Gen. 4:1). (Ex.) In the Koran Moses is called the 'confidant of God', a term intimating what know means in Hebrew. The Kabbalah calls him the 'Father of Wisdom'. Wisdom is used in the Kabbalah for secret knowledge of God.

Moses is the ‘Servant God'. Moses reputation both in biblical time and after is awesome. 'So Moses, the Servant of the Lord died ... on the mouth of the Lord' (Deut. 34:5). This has become known as the kiss of God. God alone buried him and knows where he is buried. Until two thousand and one hundred years after Moses' death no text tells us of a Jew named Moses. Moses is a warrior, a statesman, a prophet and a mystic – a remarkable personality.

The 'Servant of God' is what we have defined as Adam Two earlier. His mission is to serve the earth and the people created by God. Moses as we will see has, the power to be the Majestic Man, but chooses otherwise. There are several events in his life when he acts as an Adam One, but in the end he chooses 8 not to go to the promised land as the conqueror.

The first we hear of Moses is that a man of the tribe of Levi marries a woman of the same tribe. This may the only time that the Torah mention that both parents are of the same tribe. In this to emphasis that despite Moses growing up as an Egyptian he is a Hebrew? They have a son. 1From this it would appear that Moses is a firstborn, but he has an older brother Aaron and an older sister Miriam. Thus Moses appears to be an oldest and a youngest. The Midrash has a different explanation. In Egypt a prophecy was made by Bilaam, the evil prophet of the Book of Numbers that a Hebrew boy would be born who would overthrow the kingdom. Thus the edict to drown all male children, a rather irrational edict since the boys were the workers (as the Talmud notes). The Pentateuch  then tells us that man from the house of the tribe of Levi married a woman, the daughter of Levi (Ex. 2:1). We later discover that the man is Amram, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi. She, Yocheved is the daughter of Levi, thus Moses father married his Aunt, an illegal marriage per Leviticus. Prior to this Amram, the leader of the Hebrews, decided that since all boys were to be drowned, all the men should divorce their wives and give up sexual relations. His daughter, Miriam told her father that his decree was worse that Pharaoh’s, since Pharaoh wanted kill all the boys and he, her father agreed to eliminate even the girls. He accepted her statement and remarried  Yocheved. Thus despite it appearing that they (Amram and Yocheved) were just married and she gave birth to Moses, in fact they remarried. Moses had an older sister and bother (Aaron) from his parents previous marriage to each other. Thus Moses was saved from infanticide, first by the Pharaonic decree and then by the decree of his own father.
Egypt at the time had a Pharaoh who has ordered the death of all male Hebrews. 9  Knowing of this his mother, Yocheved puts him into a 'tavah’, an ark. The Hebrew term 'tavat' is only used one other time in the Pentateuch - the ark that Noah built. Noah built a 'tavat' that was for the world's salvation. Yocheved built this 'tavah' and the child was to become Jewish people's salvation.

Pharaoh's daughter, the Princess found the ark with the boy. She knew it was a Hebrew boy, probably due to the child's Semitic physiognomy. Egyptians were North African and had a different physiognomy. Another alternative was that knowing of her father's decree she assumed the child was a Hebrew. She decided to reject her father's genocidal proclamation and save the boy. She was a very courageous woman. She recognized an injustice and refused to allow it to pass. Miriam, Moses' older sister was waiting on the side and asked the Princess whether she needed a wet nurse to feed the child. She agreed probably because she would not trust an Egyptian wet nurse not to harm the child. She may not have wanted to bring the child she intended to adopt to her father until he was older and had a personality which a grandfather could appreciate. She, thus, hired Moses' mother, Yocheved and paid her to nurse her own child. Thus the Pharaoh who wanted to destroy Hebrew male children paid to have one saved and nursed. The Princess used one word `go' to Miriam and overthrows her father's six verse complaint against the Hebrews (1:8-14). Moses spend his first years (probably three) in his mother's house.

After Moses was weaned he went to Pharaoh's daughter's house to grow up. The Princess name unknown in the Torah was named BatYa (or BitYa) by Jewish Midrashim. BatYa in Hebrew means daughter of God. BatYa names him Moses. The Pentateuch says this means 'I drew him out of the water' (Ex. 2:10). The water was the Nile, the life of Egypt. Thus the Torah says she gave him life. She did, since all Jewish males were to die. But why would an Egyptian princess know or use Hebrew to name her adopted son? If she expected him to become a legitimate Egyptian Prince (which he does become) why give him a Hebrew name. Moses in Egyptian means god - Ramoses - the god Ra, Thatmoses - the god That, Ptahmose - the god Ptah; all are Egyptian gods and Pharaohs. BatYa gives him an empowering name. Thus Moses is a nameless child of two cultures. Moses biological mother Yocheved had a name for Moses, but it was not Moses. We do not know what she named him. Thus the most important Jewish figure in history has a Hebrew name that is unknown to us and we call him by an Egyptian name. 10 Since Moses knew both his biological parents and his adoptive mother, who saved his life, how did he relate to two mothers?

The next incident we are told about is when he is a young adult. The Torah tells us nothing about his upbringing in the Princess' Palace. We surmise that as a nursing child he learnt of the Jews and their enslavement. As an older child in the Palace of the Pharaoh of Egypt he learnt of Egyptian life and of its gods, its reverence for death and its enslavement policies.

One day Moses sees an Egyptian master beating a Hebrew (his first encounter with his brothers) and Moses kills the Egyptian. Moses knows of his people.  When, the next day, he sees two Hebrews fighting he attempted to protect the weaker one. The aggressor, according to Jewish Midrashim is named Dothan, says to Moses 'who appointed you Prince over us and Judge' (Ex.2:14), 11  This is Moses’ first rejection from his people. Dothan is asking who made a member of our people. Dothan's rejection of Moses as Prince of the Hebrews was his first, of many rejections by his own people.

As we shall later, the same Dothan rebelled against Moses in the desert. 12 It was he who told the Egyptians about the death of the Egyptian master. Moses is in danger in Egypt and leaves.

Why is a Prince of Egypt in danger for slaying an Egyptian? Because when Moses killed the Egyptian he was identifying himself as a Hebrew. His sole possibility as a Prince and as a potential future Pharaoh was his identifying himself as an Egyptian and the surrogate grandson of the living Pharaoh. Moses slaying of the Egyptian was not just an act of justice, but his identification as a Hebrew was in effect an act of rebellion, the earliest Mosaic idea to free his brethren. And perhaps he gave up his potential heir ship of the Pharaoh.

Moses went to Midian, there he saw seven young women being attacked at a well by several men. He fought them off. Thus for the third time he protected the weaker, namely the daughters of Yitro. Moses had a sense of justice in protecting the weaker. Perhaps he remembered that his adopted mother refused to allow the injustice of killing male Hebrews, despite it being promulgated by her own father. But he also has a sense of power as an Egyptian Prince. He is not afraid to be an aggressor. The daughters report to their father that `an Egyptian' rescued us. After being rejected by the Hebrew for being a Hebrew, Moses is accepted by the Midianites as an Egyptian. He is rewarded by Yitro with a wife, Yitro's daughter Zipporah.

Thus Moses, in the early part of his life, saves three different victims from an aggressor, once he protects a Hebrew from a gentile, once he protects a Hebrew from another Hebrew and the third time he protects a gentile from other gentiles. In all three cases Moses championed the just cause.


Moses and the Burning Bush

Moses and the Burning Bush by A. Friberg

Moses goes to Mt. Horeb which is another name for Mt. Sinai and sees a bush burning but not being consumed. God speaks from within the fire to Moses. He is told that he has a twofold mission. One to go to Pharaoh and secondly  to 'bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt' (Ex. 3:10). Moses’ asks who am I to undertake such a mission, I who have lived my young life as an Egyptian and most of my life as a Midianite? God responds I shall be with you; you are My chosen one.

Moses says when I tell the Israelites, the God of their fathers sent me the people will say 'What is His name' (Ex. 3:13)? Although quoting the people, Moses, in humility, is asking God his own question! Moses understands that he must convince the people of Israel that he has the authority to be the Jewish leader and equally important to address and convince the Pharaoh.

The Hebrews have been an enslaved people for many decades. How would they react to this stranger coming from a foreign country where he had lived for sixty years, 13 telling them he comes from God to take them to a desert mountain to pray to God?

God has already told him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob (Ex. 3:6). Moses is saying to God that is not sufficient to convince the Egyptians. The Hebrews themselves may have forgotten Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

God then says to Moses my name is `Eheh asher Eheh' and tell the children of Israel `Eheh' sent me [Moses] to you.' (Ex. 3:14). `Eheh' is the verb `to be' without a tense. Thus `Eheh asher Eheh' could mean `I am what I am', `I will be what I will be', and/or `I can be what I can be'; I am the timeless God who existed before time and will exist after time. God then tells Moses his name. 'I am YHVH', a variant of 'Eheh'.  ... I shall free you from the slavery of the Egyptians; I shall rescue you from slavery and I shall redeem you ... I shall take you as my people and I shall be your God. And you shall know that I am YHVH your God, who has freed you from the slavery of the Egyptians' (Ex. 6:6-7). Telling the people that `Eheh' sent me means `the timeless One' has send me. Moses is to telI the people that I, God will be with you forever.

God tells Moses that this knowledge given to him [Moses] is new upon the earth.  'To Abraham, Isaac and Jacob I appeared as El Shaddai, but I did not make my name YHVH known to them' (Ex. 6:3).14  To the Patriarchs God was their father, the father of the Jewish people.  To Moses he will be the God of the entire world. God will prove his prowess by the miracles He will perform against the Egyptians.

The name YHVH does appear before its appearance with Moses. God is telling Moses that my name was not known to them but you will know me. Know in Hebrew as noted earlier, is an intimate term. When Adam knew his wife Eve for the first time she conceived. (Gen. 4:1) Thus Moses will know God in a way that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not know him. It will be the merciful God, the God who will redeem the people from Egypt and fulfill God's promise to Patriarchs. The Patriarchs had heard God's promise but did not see them fulfilled.  This name of God represents mercy and not law and as we shall see Moses continually asks God's mercy of his sinning people. To know God in this way is new upon the earth.

Moses asks but suppose they do not believe me? (Ex. 3:1) God shows Moses three miracles to use to convince the people - his staff turning to a snake and then his hand turning white as with leprousy. Then God says if that is not enough take water out of river and it shall turn to blood.

Moses responds ‘Please God, I am not a man of words, neither from yesterday nor the day before . . . I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue’ (4:10). Both in Hebrew and in English these are eloquent ways of saying I am not a good speaker. God responds is it not I God, who can make you a good speaker? Moses is still fearful, and God gets angry with Moses. `Please my Lord replied Moses, send anyone You decide to send' (Ex. 4:13). Why is Moses still arguing with God when God says I will make you a good speaker? But is Moses a poor speaker? After the splitting of the sea Moses writes and sings a song of remarkable poetic impact (Ex.15:1-18). Later at the end of his life he again writes a piece of poetry whose first word is 'Hazinu' listen (Deut. 32:1-43). It is a magnificent philosophic statement about the consequence of rebelling against God. Moses writes the 'choose life' statement which has become part of the Yom Kippur liturgy (Deut. 30:19). In fact almost the  entire Book of Deuteronomy is a series of three speeches Moses writes and speaks. In addition to these magnificent speeches Moses speaks often to the people. Several times he intercedes successfully with God who wants to destroy the Jewish people and start over again with Moses. (Ex. 32:9,32; Num. 14:19-20; 21:4-6)

So why does he claim he does not speak well?

Moses knows he is more Egyptian and Midianite than Hebrew. He only lived with Yocheved, his biological and Hebrew mother for perhaps three years, he may not even remember the name she gave him. His adopted mother BatYa saved, protected and named him Moses. His first interaction with the Hebrews, which may have been an attempt at identification and leadership failed. Does he speak Hebrew or is he concerned about speaking Egyptian?

God's tells Moses that he must go back to the Pharaoh's house. Moses grew up in the palace of the Pharaoh of Egypt. There he was separated from his Hebrew brethren. The Pharaoh is a god-like figure in Egypt. The Pharaoh of his childhood, his surrogate grandfather had died and new Pharaoh is now King. BatYa was projecting her adopted son with a Prince-like name Moses, as a possible successor to the Pharaoh. This would conflict her with other of the Pharaoh's wives and other potential competitors. After Moses’ disappearance and BatYa’s father died, did she, as would be normal in the Egyptian hierarchy marry her brother, the new Pharaoh? Was this new Pharaoh  therefore Moses’ adoptive step-father?

Moses has lived sixty years in Midian under the tutelage of Yitro, his father-in-law. Why has he not gone back to Egypt for sixty years? Why has he not contacted his mother, father, brother, sister or adopted mother, in all these years. Growing up knowing he was a Hebrew, one of the oppressed people, yet he grew up as an Egyptian Prince, by a loving mother and perhaps a loving grandfather.

What kind of an identity did Moses have? Was Moses trying to find his own identity in his sixty years in Midian?

When he first met the Hebrews, after protecting one Hebrew, he was criticized, by another for interfering. Did Moses agonize over his last interchange with the Hebrew people when one asked him who appointed you prince and judge (Ex. 2:14)? Ironically it was the Egyptians who made him Prince. But the Hebrews rejected him. What kind of an identity did Moses have?  Did he feel more related to the Hebrews who rejected him or to the Egyptian who equally rejected him or to the Midianites who accepted him? Is his adopted mother still alive? What had she done when her son was sentenced to death? Did she fight for his life in her father's court?

In chapter 1 of the Book of Exodus we are told that a new Pharaoh became King of Egypt and decided to kill all Jewish males. And Pharaoh spoke to Hebrew mid wives (Shiprah and Puah) and told them to kill all Hebrew males (Num. 1:15-16). They later responded that the Hebrew wives give birth earlier than Egyptian women and by the time they arrive, the children are born and hidden. So then the Pharaoh told all his people to drown all Hebrew boys. Then follows the birth of Moses and his being saved by Princess Batya.

This raises two questions; why would a Pharaoh want to slaughter - especially males - his work force?  What happened to the genocidal policy, since, sixty years later, 600,000 males survived to leave in the Exodus? Some have claimed that the Pharaoh was 'Ra-Moses', thirteenth century BCE, the great builder. But that raises the same question of why would a Pharaoh concerned with great building plans kill his workforce? Fifty years before 'Ra-Moses' a Pharaoh named  'Ikhnaton' rebelled against the polytheistic gods of Egypt. He attempted to a create a monotheistic Sun worship religion on Egypt. This was against the priestly class and after a number of years the priestly classes overcame his religious belief and reverted to polytheism. The Hebrews may have been associated the 'Ikhnaton' religious revolution since it was consistent although different than Hebrew monotheistic belief.  When this rebellion against the Priestly classes failed the result may have been a policy of genocide (or infanticide) against the Hebrew. The Priestly classes established as their Pharaoh, the boy King and son-in-law of 'Ikhnaton'  Tut-an-khamen. He died young, perhaps killed by his successor 'Haremrab'. 'Haremrab' may have been the father of the Princess who saved Moses.  Perhaps she, a Princess, convinced her father, the Pharaoh, that the genocide against the Hebrew's was counter to their own Egyptian interest. 'Haremrab' was succeeded by 'Ra-Moses' the great builder. By the time Moses came back sixty years later, the oppression against slavery remained but the infanticide, part of the 'Tut-an khamen' rebellion against the 'Ikhnaton' ideal had stopped.  

Thus the infanticide may began under 'Tut-an khamen', as a reaction to 'Ikhnaton'.  Moses could have been saved under 'Haremrab's' daughter and the Pharaoh who oppressed the Hebrews when Moses came back could have been 'Ra-Moses'.

This new Pharaoh may well have been one who he or his mother BatYa conflicted with as a Pharaoh successor.  Will the Pharaoh recognize his childhood friend and if so consider him an enemy? Will he remember or care that he killed an Egyptian and that the Pharaoh's father had sentenced him to death?

Moses thinks his older brother Aaron, who has spent all his life among his brethren is a better choice to lead the people. Is the job itself more difficult than can be accomplished? Does Moses understand the enormity of the task? Or does Moses assume he is the wrong person for the job?

Moses is not so concerned that he cannot speak well as that the people and Pharaoh will not listen, in this as we will see he is right.

God accepts what Moses says and tells Moses to take Aaron as his speaker. '[Aaron] will speak to the people in your place; he will be your mouthpiece, and you will be as `god' 15 inspiring him' (Ex. 4:16). Aaron is known in Jewish lore as the man who makes peace in the house. Aaron is a natural leader and Moses' older brother. He has lived with the Hebrew people all the years Moses lived either at the palace or in Midian. We have seen in the Book of Genesis, sibling rivalry run amok;
Cain killed Abel, Esau thought to kill Jacob and Joseph’s brother’s considered killing him. Here in the family of Moses we find the first example of filial cooperation. When Moses replied to God ‘Send by whose hand You will send’ (4:13) Rashi suggests that ‘all this resistance was because he did not want to assume greatness over his brother, who was older than him’.
God then empowers Moses by calling him 'god'. Even after Moses has appeared before the Pharaoh and just before the ten Plagues Moses again tells God  he is a poor speaker. And God tells him again "I have made you a `god' 16 for Pharaoh' (Ex. 7:1). BatYa named him 'god' and know YHVH tells him he will be a god, to Aaron, to the Pharaoh and to the Jewish people. Being a 'god' will pervade Moses' life.

Moses goes to the Pharaoh and gives him God's message, that the Hebrews want to take a three day festival to pray and sacrifice to God. Pharaoh responds by saying "Who is the Lord, that I should heed Him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.' (Ex. 5:2). Moses' concern that Pharaoh would not recognize the Jewish God turns out to be correct. Pharaoh then makes the work of the Israelites more difficult. The Israeli masters then say to Moses "May the Lord look up and punish you' (Ex. 5:21). Moses is again rejected by the Hebrew people. Moses then asks God "Why did You select me?' (Ex.5:22).

Thus in the first instance the interface between Moses, the Pharaoh and the Jewish people (after being declared a god by God) is as Moses feared - he failed. Moses is telling God he is a 'Man of Faith', but Moses believes that this mission requires more than a 'Man of Faith’. It requires a 'Majestic Man', one who can stand up to the Pharaoh and be a leader of the Hebrews. Moses calls himself one of ‘uncircumcised lips’ twice (6:12,30), even after God said ‘I shall be your mouth’ (4:12). When Moses complained earlier to God about his being the wrong person for the mission God said I will make you a god to Aaron (4:16), now God responds to Moses ‘I will make you as a god to Pharaoh’ (7:1).

Does Moses realize, as will be apparent later, that miracles do not convince people to follow you or even God. Even the Jews who saw all of God's miracles - the plagues, the splitting of the sea, food and water in the desert continually rejected him. 17 It will take time for Moses to realize that only God's servant and lawmaker can be the Savior of the Jews and their first redeemer, only the 'Man of Faith'.

Zipporah is only mentioned three times in the Torah; once when Yitro, her father gives her to Moses as a wife, second in the incident to be discussed below and third when Yitro brings Zipporah and their children back to Moses after the exodus. Zipporah is thus the least known of the wives of the 'Men of Faith' - the Patriarchs. There are three sentences right after God gives Moses his life long mission and before Moses meets his brother Aaron to discuss their roles and begin the implementation of the exodus. Just before these three verses God says to Moses 'Israel is my first born. 18 I told you, let my son go and worship me; but since you refuse to let him go, then I shall put your first born to death' (Ex. 4:23). This referring to the last of the  plagues seems oddly out of place. The text then tells us:

"On the journey, at the place they lodged, God approached him and preferred that he should die. Then Zipporah took up a flint and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at his feet and said 'you are my bridegroom of blood'. So it withdrew from him; and she said 'a bridegroom of blood for  circumcisions' (Ex. 4:24-26).  Or (last verse) ‘a blood circumcised one are you in regard to me’ 19 Or (last verse) ‘You are a bridegroom of blood, because of the circumcision of his son’ 20 Is Moses a bridegroom of blood to God?

In verse one the him and he, although not named are considered by almost all commentators as Moses. Some however say it is the unnamed child of Zipporah. 21But for an unnamed child to be called him and he in verse one when the text is discussing Moses is out of context. So Moses is to be killed. Verse two in referring to her son is clear. Zipporah circumcises their son. Moses and Zipporah have two sons Gershon and Eliezer - the second son we are told is named to thank God for destroying Pharaoh, so Gershon would appear to be  the uncircumcised son. 22 Whether his feet , (or some translators say genitals,  is Moses or the son is unclear, but probably refers to Moses, who was in danger. It in verse three is God.

These three verses come just after Moses’ is given his mission to go back to Egypt and rescue the Hebrews. And immediately afterwards comes the Exodus. Why would Moses be threatened by God after being given his great mission? 23 Moshe, the first Jewish redeemer, stands in the center of an exile begun when Jacob comes to Egypt. Earlier Abraham received the covenant and the promise and circumcised his son Ishmael at thirteen years of age. The circumcision becomes the symbol of Abrahamic covenant with God. Abraham was told of the Egyptian exile. It ended when Joshua took the people across the Jordan River into the land God promised Abraham He would give them. Joshua then circumcises all the Hebrews (Jo. 5:2). Moses who redeemed the Hebrews from Egypt, must be connected to that history, but his son is not circumcised.

Zipporah saves Moses' life by circumcising their son. The two verses before these uses the term children of Israel for the first time “My first born Israel’ (4:22). This is the first time that the name ‘Israel’ is used as a nation and not as another name for Jacob. And God then states that if Pharaoh does not release the children of Israel God states that ‘I will kill your first born son’ (4:23).  Gershon, the first born son of the Hebrew/Egyptian Moses, if uncircumcised, would be considered Egyptian and therefore be killed as an Egyptian. 24  He is not born of a Jewish mother. The question of identity applies to Moshe, his wife and their child. This circumcision by Ziporrah is an act of conversion to the Hebrew faith. 25  Before the plague of the first born God tells the Hebrews to slaughter a lamb (the paschal lamb) put its blood on the doorposts of their houses to protect them from the angel of death. By taking the foreskin of her son and placing the blood of ‘his feet’,  Zipporah is making a sign of protection similar to the sign on the doorposts. ‘When I see the blood, I will pass over you’ (Ex. 12:13, 23) 26 The plural bloods (damim in Hebrew) is used to connect the blood of circumcision to the blood of the lamb. This mingling of blood, despite that blood is forbidden to eat and ritually impure, is required.

It is hard to understand why Moses' son would not be circumcised. Perhaps, even Moses, living for sixty years in Midian, had forgotten God's covenant when God did nothing to remind him, until the event at the burning bush. Thus perhaps the son was uncircumcised. If that is possible, it not surprising that the enslaved Hebrews would have forgotten the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Or more likely Moses adopted Yitro 27  and the Midianites custom of circumcising a male child at thirteen years of age. God was reminding Moses that Gershon belonged not to Yitro but to Moses the Hebrew and the children of Israel. There is also a Midrash that states that the Hebrews forgot the covenant of circumcision in Egypt and thus when Joshua reinstalled the rite when the Hebrews entered the promised land, it was not because, as usually stated because of the lack of circumcision in the desert, but an earlier forgetting. 28

The word ‘chatana’, in Arabic, means to circumcise. Zipporah is an Arabic speaker. Males at thirteen years of age were circumcised and then married. Thus the word Chatan in Arabic meant the `cut one'. One could not get married until one was circumcised. It may be that is why the word in Hebrew ‘chatan’ came to mean the `Groom' and marriage (and father-in-law). We have a play on the word ‘chatan’ meaning bridegroom in Hebrew and ‘chatana’ meaning circumcision in Arabic. In verse two the 'you are my bridegroom of blood' may be read as `You are mine, circumcised with blood'. 29 The ‘you’ could be Moses or the son. But Moses being married for some years to Zipporah is no longer her groom, she is her husband. It is more likely she is referring to her just circumcised son.  Another possible word play is that Yitro, Moses father-in-law in rarely mentioned without the adjective ‘Choten Moses’. The word ‘chatan’ and ‘choten’ are the same in the un-voweled text scroll.
Thus Zipporah could be ‘appropriating her father’s role as Priest in circumcising the child. 30

She then speaks again combining Chatan with the Hebrew word for circumcision - ‘laMulot’ not as noted above 'a bridegroom of blood for all circumcisions', but `circumcised with blood for all future circumcisions'. 31  It is interesting to note that the Arabic `chatana' means not only circumcision and marriage but is connected to faith in God. This recognizes that the circumcision is the faith ritual with God. This is equally true for Jews, but having lost the dual meaning of `chatana' they lost this double meaning.

Zipporah is the only woman noted in Jewish history to have circumcised a (her) son. She also incants ‘you are my bridegroom of  blood’ thus saving Moses life. You who were already my bridegroom are now my bridegroom of blood.  Umberto Cassuto stated ‘I am restoring you to life by means of our son’s blood’. Our son’s blood restored your life. 32 Later on blood will save the eldest child of each family from the angel of destruction. One can see this incantation as a metaphor for that future event. It is women who are the key to many events in Moses life; Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives; Yochevet, his mother; Miriam his sister, BatYa his surrogate mother, the Pharaoh’s daughter, now his wife.

At the burning bush Moses tells God he is not good at speaking (Ex. 4:10). After Zipporah circumcises Gershon and after Moses fails in his first appearance with Pharaoh Moses says to God twice, not I am a poor speaker, but `I am a man of uncircumcised lips' (Ex. 6:12,30). He uses this term `uncircumcised lips' twice only after this very odd incident with Zipporah. As we shall see the issue of not listening (connected to Pharaoh’s heart) to the words of God as expounded by Moses will come up again. The Hebrew word ‘milah’ meaning circumcision also means word. Thus the man with the uncircumcised son has uncircumcised lips because people will not listen to him. ‘Milah’ in Hebrew means both circumcision  and word; thus the man with uncircumcised foreskin is concerned that people will not listen to his words. His son is now circumcised and his identity partially re-established. His lips will become eloquent from the words of God. God circumcised Moses lips by making him a god to Pharaoh (6:30-7:1) and Zipporah circumcised their son.

 His son is now circumcised by his non-Jewish Midianite wife, saving his and his son's life. Moses major role is as a speaker to the Hebrews and to God as we will see. In his recognition of this and his continuing confusion as to his identity he uses the term `uncircumcised lips' related it to the major role in life. 33 Zipporah helped Moses achieve his identity. She reacted when he felt overwhelmed.  Is it conceivable that Zipporah circumcised Moses? We are not told specifically that Moses was circumcised. A Midrash says he was born circumcised - meaning he was born perfect. Another tells us that children in the womb learn all of the Torah. As they are about to leave the womb an angel flicks his fingers at the lip indenting the top lip. Since Moses is to become the Lawgiver of Judaism, perhaps the angel chose not to indent his lip and instead circumcised him. Does that strange idea come about because there was speculation that he was not circumcised until Zipporah did it?  

There is an interesting Oedipal issue raised here as well. There is a Midrash that Bilaam, Pharaoh wise man, forecast that a male Hebrew child would overthrew his Empire.  

The Midrash suggests that the Pharaoh, the adopted grandfather of Moses was in fact a good man but counseled an evil advisor, Bilaam  (Num. 22 &23) who hated the Jews. In one famous event the 'Pharaoh used to kiss and hug him, and Moses used to grab Pharaoh's crown and pit it in his own head. 'We fear this one who grabs your crown and puts it on his own head may be the one .. who will take your kingdom away from you. ... Why not test him? Place before him a vessel with a gold, piece and a burning coal in it. If he reaches for the gold, he has understanding, and you may slay him. But if he reaches for the coal, he has no understanding [for he is a child]. The items were brought at once. Then as Moses put forth his hand to grab the gold, Gabriel the Angel Gabriel came down and moved it to the side, so that Moses ... seized the coal' 34. He then placed it on his lips and became one of uncircumcised lips (Ex. 6:30). This attempted infanticide of the baby Moses ordered by his adoptive grandfather was his Oedipal scar as was the original Oedipal’s scared legs. Moses does as Oedipus did, killing his adoptive step-father in the death of the first born. 35  

We are told that Moses returned to Egypt he was eighty years old. He left Egypt, we are told as a young man and returned therefore sixty years later. Thus he lived in his father-in-law's home for sixty years. This is the most important man in his life and he is a Priest, a good man as we will see. He becomes Moses surrogate father. Thus two of the most important people in his life are BatYa, the Princess, his surrogate mother and Yitro, the Priest, his surrogate father. Perhaps that is where Moses learnt to be ‘the father of the nation’. It is only after living with Yitro for sixty years that he can meet God at the burning bush. He is also known as Reuel, meaning friend of God. 36  Yitro was a rich leader of his people as well as a righteous man. Moses was not only his shepherd, but probably the leader of his many shepherds. Midian was the place Moses learned about the desert and to lead a unruly people, such as the ones he encounters at the well.

After being given his mission from God he goes to Yitro and asks for permission to go to Egypt. Later on when they meet the Torah tells us Moses bowed down and kissed his father-in-law, Yitho (Ex. 18:7). Yitro is a father surrogate for Moses and he goes back to Egypt with his big brother Aaron. (We are not told whether Amram, Moses’ biological father or his biological mother Yochevet were still alive.) During that stay Yitro gave Moses administrative advice which Moses accepted. It became the legal system of justice of the Jews. While at this Yitro went back home to Midian. Later he, using the name Hobab, agrees to join the Jews and go to the promised land (Num. 10:29-32). 37 Moses then meets his older brother Aaron again. 38

God tells Moses that you are to be like a god for Pharaoh and Aaron is to be your prophet (Ex.7:1). Aaron is to be the man of action for Moses the spokesman of God. Aaron is the 'Majestic Man'. We see here that Moses did not want to be the aggressive one, but the 'Servant of God'.

The conflict is set between God and Pharaoh. Moses is to perform all the miracles God gave him the power to perform ‘but I myself will harden his heart’ (4:21). In the first audience with Pharaoh, he rejected the Hebrews going to worship, and in fact increased their tasks (5:6-7). God then reiterates to Moses and Aaron that Pharaoh will not listen as ‘I will harden Pharaoh’s heart’ (7:4). After Aaron’s staff turns into a snake and ate the snakes of the Pharaoh’s magicians the Pharaoh ‘heart was hardened’ (7:13).

For the first three plagues Aaron's uses Moses' staff to turn the waters to blood, to create the epidemic of frogs and then an explosion of  vermin. After the first of these plagues the text states unclearly that the ‘magicians of Egypt did the same and the Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened  (7:22).  This odd statement is repeated with the epidemic of frogs (8:3).When that plague is removed by Moses prayers, ‘the Pharaoh hardened his heart’ (8:11) When the explosion of vermin occurs the magicians accept the logic of ‘the finger of God’ (8:15). But the Pharaoh’s heart was again hardened (8:15).
For the fourth plague (flies) God directly acted without the actions of Aaron or Moses and exempted the Hebrews from the suffering. Pharaoh weakens, the plague is removed but again Pharaoh hardens his heart (8:28). The fifth plague against animals  also has God acting directly and only against the Egyptian animals not Jewish animals; again Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. In the sixth plague God tells Moses and Aaron to act directly - to take soot - 'and they took the soot from the kiln and stood in front on Pharaoh, and Moses threw it in the air and on man and beast it brought out boils' (Ex. 9:10). They acted precisely as God had spoken to then, for them both to take soot, but only Moses throws it. Moses is finally recognizing the power that God gave to 'god'. The magicians come back to state that they like other Egyptians are covered with boils. After this we have not the Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, but God hardened the heart of Pharaoh’ (9:12).  Finally in the seventh plague God says to Moses alone, 'stretch out your hand' (Ex. 9:22) and lightening and hail fell on the land. The Pharaoh’s own servants began ‘fearing the word of God’ (9:20) brought their animals indoors and were protected. Finally Pharaoh says “I have sinned this time, God is in the right and I am my people are in the wrong’ (9:28).  Moses responds ‘I know very well you still do not fear God’ (9:30). Indeed as the hail stopped Pharaoh ‘hardened his heart’ (9:35). God says ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants’ (10:1). And then Moses acting alone, in the eight plague stretched out his arm to cause the locusts. Even the servants of Pharaoh state ‘let the men go that they may serve their God YHVH, do you not understand that Egypt is ruined’ (10:7). Pharaoh says go, but who is to go? Moses responds ‘Young men and old men, . . . sons and daughters, our flocks and our herds’ (10:9). At this point it is clear that escape from Egypt is what is demanded. Pharaoh again refused despite all the powers Moses has demonstrated. His turn abouts, even after his people have surrendered is no longer reasonable even for an unreasonable dictator. The ninth plagues of darkness comes and Pharaoh begs forgiveness (10:16-17). But then God hardened Pharaoh’s heart again (10:20). So finally Moses acts against the Pharaoh. And then Pharaoh threatened Moses 'the next time you see my face you die' to which Moses responded 'You yourself have said it' (10:29) and without God’s words to him; ‘Thus spake the Lord’ defining the last plague, the death of the first born (11:4). God then says to Moses Pharaoh will not listen to you (11:9) because I have ‘hardened his heart’ (11:10).  But there will be one more plague, the death in the Sea. Again God hardened the heart of Pharaoh (14:8) to pursue the Hebrews. But Moses again without consulting YHVH says ‘fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of YHVH which He will work for you today’ (14:13).

How does one explain the hardening of the heart - nine times God says He will harden Pharaoh’s  heart and ten times Pharaoh hardened his own heart. During the first five plagues Pharaoh hardened his own heart, during the second five God hardened his heart. Moses as we have seen is god representing God. Pharaoh is a god himself. Because Pharaoh will not release God’s first born ‘Israel’ the conflict is between God and Pharaoh. It is the fight over God’s sovereignty versus Pharaoh’s. As Moshe Greenberg stated it ‘the core of his intransigence [is] the maintenance of his sovereignty . .that is what cannot coexist with God’s authority’. 39 This Pharaonic god was inaccessible, unchanging and invulnerable. He cannot see or hear - he is a stone idol-like god. He hides his orifices and bodily needs (Ex. 7:15) in the Nile. He wishes to be, as do many humans, a god. Aviva Zorenberg call it Pharaoh’s ‘catatonic silence’, and the Ramban Pharaoh’s ‘non-listening’. ‘Who is God that I should listen to Him, to set Israel free’ (Ex. 5:2). 40 The wisdom men of Egypt who knew not Joseph (1:8) also knew not YHVH (5:2). They believed that Moses had magic like theirs. Moses, the servant of God becomes god to fight Pharaoh as god. He will be destroyed. Moses is God’s servant. He can speak for God ‘And the Lord did according to the word of Moses (Ex. 8:9).As David Gunn stated it is a question of whose servitude Israel shall serve. 41 God may be as difficult a taskmaster as Pharaoh, but he offers free will and redemption as its counterpart. As Rabbi Isaac Hutner noted changing masters from Pharaoh to God is not sufficient to transform a relationship transfixed by hatred and fear into love; that requires freedom. 42 ‘So in fact he was afraid and reacted to fear by strengthening himself - that is the meaning of ‘Pharaoh’s heart was strengthened’ (Ex. 7:22). 43 His heart became heavy (Ex. 7:14) - he has closed up his heart, he refuses to set the people free. 44 He has become the sphinx of his own illusions. 45 His heavy and hardened heart is the expression of his frozen spiritual life. 46

The first three plagues were done by actions of Aaron and the next two by God with no action by Aaron. In the sixth plague that Moses acts, after being told by God that he and Aaron are to begin the act and Moses alone complete it. It is only in the seventh plague that Moses acts independently, strong enough to face Pharaoh himself, although at God's request. Just as we have seen that Moses was reluctant to agree with God on his mission, preferring that someone else undertake, so he is reluctant to act against the people of Egypt. He understands his importance to the Egyptians. ‘Moses himself was a man of exceeding importance in Egypt’ (11:3). The whole process was painful for Moses.

At the Sea of Reeds  the people cry out to Moses why did you take us out of Egypt to die. And Moses said fear not for God will deliver you. God then says to Moses 'Why are you crying to me.. . go forward.. You lift up your staff and stretch it over the sea and it will split' (Ex. 14:15-16). According to the text Moses did not cry out, the people did. Why is God angry with Moses - does God take Moses as Israel? Did God expect Moses to, on his own, to simply walk into the water or to stretch out his staff? Moses had finally at the eight and ninth plague acted alone. God did expect him to act as god as He had empowered him.

Moses stretches his staff and the Sea parts and after the Hebrews have passed he stretched his staff again and the water flowed back drowning the Egyptians. The narrator then tells us that the people of Israel saw these events and `the people feared God and put their faith in God and his servant Moses' (Ex. 14:31). This combining of `faith in God and his servant Moses' gives Moses a relation to God not seen elsewhere in the Bible. He is the premier `Servant of God'. Moses then composes and sings the Song of Moses. Miriam, the prophetess and sister of Aaron danced with the women. The reason Miriam is mentioned as the sister of Aaron is that she played the same role for women that Aaron played for the men, the prophet of her god-like brother.


Plagues by Phillip Ratner

The forty years exile in the desert whose purpose was to consolidate the Hebrew slaves into the Jewish people and take them to Mount Sinai to receive God's law and complete the second convenant. 47 This would create a people who would be a blessing for the world. But Moses understood that it would take years for this unruly, unspiritual people to grow and develop into the Jewish people. It took him years in the house of Yitro to develop and the Hebrews rejected him. Instead of taking the easy way to Canaan, Moses and God immediately took the long way, a way that would consume forty years.

That this would be a difficult task is clear from the beginning. Despite the enormity of the miracles of the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea, the people almost immediately complain about water (Marah), about food (the desert of Sin) and water again (Rephidim). Then Amalekite attacked the people of Israel and Moses again showed his power. When he raised his hands the army succeeded and when he tired they failed. So Aaron and Hur (the son of Miriam) helped Moses hold up his hands and the army defeated the Amalekites.

Sinai represents the high point of Moses’ life. Moses is the only person in the Bible to live in the presence of God for months.

The people arrive at Sinai - the Mountain of God. Moses goes up the mountain 48  and receives from God the mission of the Jewish people. 'You shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation' (Ex. 19:6). This is the election of the Jewish people given by God through Moses. God then says to Moses I will speak to you in the presence of the people and the people will 'believe you ever after' (Ex. 19:9). Moses comes down and informs the people.

The people are warned that anyone who comes up to the mountain except Moses, will die. The people need to sanctify themselves to come near the mountain. Moses goes up and down mountain - he is always in a state of sanctification. The theophany  begins with ‘peals of thunder and flashes of lightening, dense clouds on the mountain and very load trumpet blast and in camp all the people trembled  . .  smoke rose . . . and the whole mountain shook violently(19:18-19). God proclaims the Ten Commandments. They respond to the voice of God. They are terrified and say 'speak to us yourself and we will obey; but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die' (Ex. 20:16). Levinas said  'To love the Torah more than God [is] protection against the madness of a direct contact with the sacred'.49  Moses is asked and become God's mediator to the Jewish people. Moses is indeed 'the Man of God'. Moses speaking for God told the people ‘I carried you away on eagles’ wings and brought you to me’ (Ex. 19:4). He appears to the people as god-like. (Was Jesus intended by his immediate followers as an intermediary or a god. Is Messiah as an agent of God, an intermediary who because of some people’s confusion becomes for them a God. Do Jews for Jesus, many of whom are halakhically Jews think of him as a Messiah or a Son of God or god. Do Lubavitcher Chasidim who believe their Rebbe is the Messiah believe he is an agent of God - an intermediary of God. Is the Messianic King as Lubavitcher Chasidim call their Rebbe  - 'Our Father Our King' – an agent of God? Can some be confused between the role of God's agent and God himself? This may be what happened to Moses, Jesus and the Lubavitcher Rebbe! The position of Aaron and the priesthood is to represent a God who is not god, one from the earth and not from the heaven. Moses, Jesus and the Lubavitcher Rebbe did not have children or ones that mattered.) As Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said ‘Aaron is the vehicle of the people’s will and draws upon the powers of heaven. 50

God talks to the ‘House of Jacob and the children of Israel’ (Ex. 19:3). This term ‘House of Jacob’, a feminine phrase, only used here in the Pentateuch relates to God being betrothed to the ‘House of Jacob’, a concept used extensively in the prophets. The people responded favorably and ‘Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord (Ex. 19:8). Thus despite the oddity of Moses having to tell an omniscient God what had transpired, the purpose is Moses’ intermediary role vis a vis God. Moses went up and down the mountain several times, God spoke as a volcano and thunder or which a (quiet) voice (19:19).

It is odd that Moses in telling the people of the danger of Mt. Sinai and God  adds to God’s instructions of washing their clothing, not touching the mountain until the ram’s horn blows  ‘come not near a woman’ (Ex. 19:15). That God had given him the power is clear but why did Moses add  sexual abstinence.. Pederson suggests that ‘the profane is equivalent is what is normal’, 51  thus the requirement . This question will come up again.


Moses Smashing the Tables
Moses Smashing the Tables by Rembrandt

"When the people saw that Moses had not come down the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said to him, 'come make for us a god to go at our head; for that man who brought us here from Egypt - we do not know what has become of him'." (32:1) They sought a new Moses, a new god.

Moses their most powerful leader, more powerful than the Pharaoh - the god  of Egypt - has disappeared. They had not seen him for 47 days and did not know when he was scheduled to reappear. The people say make for us a god, but they really want another Moses, one who is a 'god of God'. It is God who made Moses a god. The people had more faith in Moses than in God. They believe in God, but more his `Servant Moses'. The idea of God, the creator of the world, an invisible God was too difficult to conceive. They need an intermediary, an intercessor to God. Even God says to Moses look what 'your people who you brought out of Egypt (Ex. 32:7) are doing. While Moses, of course, rejects the 'your people' and says to God that they are 'Your people, not mine’, the fact remains that God would say that means that He understands that in a sense they are Moses' people. And if Moses has disappeared what are these recently freed slaves and terrified people to think. We need another Moses.

Aaron understands the power his brother Moses has over the people. He understands they want a substitute Moses, - a leader not a God - but an intermediary between them and God. The difference between God and god - the latter a visible god as an agent of God will continue to be a problem for human beings. Despite Moses saying to the people ‘Aaron and Hur are with you’ (24:13), they were not Moses. 52 The people felt abandoned. They needed ‘a god to go before us . . .[like] the Moses the man who brought us here from Egypt’ (32:1). So Aaron failing as a substitute for Moses builds them a calf to act for his brother, not as a God. Was he simply appeasing the people; likely. After building the calf he makes his position clear. He builds an alter to God and says "Tomorrow will be a feast in YHVH's honor" (32:5). But some of the people misunderstood this distinction between God and the calf. In Egypt the Pharaoh - sometimes symbolized as a calf - was worshipped as god.

God was angry at those who saw the Calf as a God and not as a Moses substitute. This issue of confusing a transcendent God for an immanent substitute comes up again and again. 53 He says to Moses I will reject these people and make of you 'a great nation' the blessing he had given to Abraham. He is not rejecting Abraham, but taking a shoot of his branch - Moses - and creating a new people. God says I will kill the people and start over with you (Ex. 32:9-10).  Moses says 'You brought them out', implying not me but You, they are Your responsibility I do not wish to be a new beginning. What will the world say? You promised Abraham, Isaac and Israel forever. Moses used the name Israel, not Jacob, because the Hebrews had said 'this is your god, O Israel' (Ex. 32:4) and God repeated that to Moses (Ex. 32:8). In an extraordinary Midrash the Zohar has Moses say ‘For the sake of my own success, should I abandon the cause of Israel? Now all the nations will say that I have killed the Israelites, as Noah [killed the people of his generation]. . . It is better that I die and Israel not be destroyed. Noah’s obedience – he should have said no to God - is considered killing the world’s population!  “Noah becomes the paradigm, then, of an unimaginative literalism, which is harshly judged as murder’. 54 Does this imply that Abraham should have said no to God rather than consider murdering his own son?

Moses rejected the Oedipal concept of killing his children - the people of Israel. God gave god the right to start again, Moses refused. Moses asked God why are you so angry - did you not know how difficult my task would be? (32:11) God agreed and allowed Moses his request to continue his task.

Moses descends the mountain in anger as if he knew nothing about the golden calf. 55 But of course he not only knew, but had already had God forgive the people. As he descends the mountain he sees Joshua who says `the sound of war can be heard from the camp’ (Ex. 32:17). Moses responds with a word play. 'It is not the sound of victory, nor the sound of the vanquished, but the sound that I hear' (Ex. 32:18). The Hebrew word for voice or sound `anoth' is repeated three times. The first two appear with modifiers, victory and vanquished while the latter stands alone with no modifier to define it.  Moses apparently is criticizing Joshua for not knowing what  has transpired. The last 'anoth' has a slightly different punctuation 56 than the first two. The punctuation under this 'a' is different, the first are punctuated by a patach and shvah, while the third `anoth’ has only a patach and the 'n' has a point (dagesh, in Hebrew) which sometimes indicates that a letter is missing and sometimes changes the word to a more active and powerful stance. The word is spelled `ayin', `nun', `vav' and `taph'.

Several interpretations may be through as to the significance of this word play. The most straight forward is how the punctuation under the `ayin' and the `dagash' change the grammatical structure of the word sound (or voice). In the first two cases `sound’ is a noun being modified either by the word `victory’ or `vanquished’. In the third case the two punctuation changes enable the word `anoth’ to stand on its own as a noun signifying in and of itself transforming the meaning from `sound’ to a tortured `scream’. This is a stronger more active sound than the sound of either victory or vanquished. Thus Moshe not only heard the tortured scream but understood where it came from. It is the voice of a tortured people having lost their god-like leader and attempting to create an artificial one.

Another interpretation is `Anath', the name of a goddess represented by a calf. The point (dagash in the 'n') could represent that 'anoth' should be read as 'anath'. This would require leaving out the Hebrew letter `vav' which would be required to change `anoth' to `Anath'. The point in the nun could be to tell us of the goddess meaning of the word without changing the word play. Another interpretation is of a missing letter another `nun', and the word could be `ananoth', meaning a dark cloud. Thus comparing `anan' the cloud of God that protected the Jews to ananoth',  a dark cloud of anger. The last 'anoth' could means a special kind of sound, a singing sound. 57 Lastly `Anos' also means rape in Hebrew and it could signify that illicit sexual activities were taking place. The `t' in Hebrew is in some circumstances and pronunciations, sounded as an `s'.  The Calf-Dance 58 is erotic joy, a symbol of immediate gratification with no past or future.

Moses then descends the mountain blazing with anger, and he shatters (not just breaks) the Tablets. The Hebrew word for down the mountain is actually under the mountain. Moses coming from above the mountain with God goes under the mountain and sees the people engaged in sin. Only Moses, the Man of God could also be the Servant of the people wherever they are. Moses breaks the tablets which according to the Torah were written by the finger of God. This was an intentional act by Moses (Ex. 32:19), not an act of hurried anger. How could Moses shatter the tablets made by finger of God and symbolizing the connection between God, Moses and the Jewish people? We shall see the answer to this when Moshe comes back up the mountain to re-negotiate the covenant.

Moses considers his smashing of the tablets as the response to the people's breaking the covenant. He must teach the people a lesson. First he destroys and burns the Golden Calf. He then forces the people drink its ashes. Then the ‘people broke loose . . . for Aaron had let them get out of hand to the derision of the enemies’ (32:25-26) apparently after drinking the ashes. We are not told what precisely happened, it appears that another rebellion was at hand. The only event we are aware of is Moses’ criticism of Aaron ‘What have these people done to you’, Aaron responds they said ‘make us a god like Moses’ (32:21,23).  Gathering the Levites about him, his tribal brethren, (excluding Aaron), Moses has them kills ‘every man his brother, everyman his companion and every man his neighbor’ (32:27) - 3,000 idolaters. Was Moses reacting to his brother’s sin? Aaron cannot avoid having some guilt. Aaron guiltily changes his account of the events. Aaron, made the calf to be as 'your gods' (Ex. 32:4). In Aaron’s version of the event he tells Moses  that the people were 'set on evil'. He simply threw the gold into the fire and it came out a calf (Ex. 32:24). He did not make the calf. But the Torah clearly blames Aaron (Ex. 32:25,35). Aaron who can be construed as a 'Majestic Man' could not restrain the people, but the 'Man of Faith' restrained God. Aaron is ultimately forgiven because he was not an idolater, he understood he was building a Moses substitute, not a God. Thus Aaron is never punished for building the Golden Calf. In Deuteronomy, the repetition of the accounts in the desert, it is noted that God was inclined to destroy Aaron, but forgave him for Moses sake (Deut. 9:20).

God subsequently punishes the people, through a plague, despite his earlier forgiveness and Moses again stops God's anger pleading if you do not forgive them 'blot me out of the book You have written' (Ex. 32:33). He pleads their case as mere human beings who in a state of panic mistook me to be You. You gave me a mission to make these people into a holy people - it cannot be done instantly. They are simply ex-slaves - I need time to do the job You gave me. They do not yet understand that through the law - the Torah - they do not need a personal intermediary. When I give them the Torah, over time they will leave this desert and go to Mount Zion and become a blessing for the world.  But in the interim they still need me as their leader. This need for a leader, an intermediary who may become a god-like figure will raise its head again many times in Jewish history. But if they keep the Torah - the confusion will be limited. The High Priest - the Temple - and later liturgy will help. Some will always need an intermediary and some will not.  

While chapter 32 seems to end the golden calf incident with its sin, punishment and forgiveness it has not; the tablets, symbolizing the law and the covenant, have been smashed and nothing has replaced them. At the beginning of chapter 33 God says I shall send my angel in front of you, but 'I myself shall not be going with you, or I might annihilate you on the way, for you are an obstinate people (Ex. 33:3). But the angel is not sufficient for Moses. He remembers the angel with flaming sword protecting the Garden of Eden. He fears the threat of annihilation. He needs God's direct protection, God must protect his people. God's presence is necessary, not an angel of God. Moses moves the tent of meeting out of the camp. God returns as a cloud to the `Tent of Meeting'. There YHVH `talked face to face' to Moses (Ex. 33:11). Thus God responds to Moses request that his presence be known to the people.

Moses goes back up the mountain to re-negotiate the broken covenant. Moses said to God you have said that `I know you by name and [I] enjoy your favor' (Ex. 33:12 and 17). Moses connects himself with the people in very personal way `Make the people move on ' but You have not told me whom You are going to send with me' (Ex.33:12), but God did tell him, His angel. Moses then says 'If You do not come Yourself, do not make us move from here ... I and your people'. (Ex. 33:15-16). `Make the people move on' is not sufficient for Moses, he wants God to respond to God's people with His direct protection. God responds `I myself shall go with you and I shall give you rest' (Ex. 33:14). Yes, `but my people must enjoy your favor' (Ex. 33:16), as I enjoy Your favor. God responds, `Again I shall do what you have asked, because you enjoy my favor and because I know you by name' (Ex. 33:17). Thus Moses takes advantage of his position with God to seek God’s glory and he receives it, not for himself, but for his and God's people. Moses uses his personal position to protect his people. He is not only the servant of God, but the servant of his people.

As part of this renewal of the covenant Moses seeks and is granted a mystical union with God. Moses asks God to `show me your glory' (Ex. 33:18). Moses is seeking something never seen by man. Moses says this very apologetically, ‘I pray thee, if I found grace in Your eyes, show me now Your ways, that I may know You’ (33:13). The word ‘know’ has sexual and mystical connections  in Hebrew.  And God responds `I shall make all my goodness pass before you, and before you I shall pronounce the name YHVH; and I am gracious before whom I am gracious and I take pity on those whom I take pity. But my face you cannot see, for no man can see be and survive' (Ex. 33:19-20, underline added). Moses is connected to God himself. God retains the freedom to choose beyond that. This is symbolized by Moses hearing God pronounce His name - YHVH. Just as God knows his name, so Moses knows God's name. God says you will come closer than anyone else will ever come. `I shall put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with my hand until I have gone past. Then I shall take my hand away and you will see my back, but my face will not be seen' (Ex. 33:22-23). If God is to take Moses to a cleft in the rock where are they now? On the mountain or in the tent of meeting.  Even for Moses 'the Servant of God', God is imageless. No one can know God, perhaps suggesting that 'To know God is to be God'.

(A Midrash tells us of Moses' difficulty getting to see God 'face to face' to receive the Torah. When Moses arrived in heaven he met Kenuel, the Captain of the Angel's guard who said to Moses 'what business have you here, mortal'. Moses used the secret name of God to pass this first gate. Then Moses meets Hardaniel who breathes fire and Moses is terrified. But God intervenes. Then the angel Sandalfon another fiery angel who protects the gate to heaven stops Moses. God places Himself between Sandalfon and the gate allowing Moses to enter the Palace and the Throne of Glory. Then Moses is forced to debate the angels and Moses wins by stating that angels do not need the Torah only mortals do.  The Kotzker Rebbe (an early nineteenth Hasidic Rabbi) stated that if God wanted only automatic observance he would have left the Torah with the angels. But God did not want automatic observance but the effort, thought and intention that only human beings who have an inclination to sin and must overcome that inclination. Other Jewish Midrashim tell us that when Moses went up the mountain to get the Torah the angels, said why should we allow you to take the Torah. Moses had two arguments from the Ten Commandments. In the first verse God says I took you out of Egypt, Moses said to the angels where you in the land of Egypt? Secondly all the prohibitions in the commandments - not to kill, commit adultery, lie and be jealous, how can they apply to you - you have no inclination to sin as us mortal men do. We mortals inclined to sin need the Torah to help us survive.)

Moses in asking to see God's glory is asking for a mystical union with God. Moses has already received what no one has received - a god-like status, but he wants more. God who knew Moses by his name gives the mystical pronunciation of his name, a knowledge not known before. To know God by his name is the most, under Judaic tradition, one can achieve.  But my face you cannot see. Obviously this term face is different that seeing God 'face to face'. This is a level of understanding that even Moses cannot achieve.

Then Moses receives a private quiet theophany, as compared to the public theophany of chapters 19-20. In the first public theophany there is little that speaks of mercy, but a lot of fear and warning (Ex. 19:21-24) and a terrified people (Ex. 20:18-20). The theme of that theophany was one of fear of God. What the people remembered was I am `a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation' (Ex. 20:6). In this second theophany God speaks first of Mercy and compassion of being slow to anger and of forgiving fault and of `chesed' or mercy or grace. When God talks about punishment, Moses 'immediately  bowed' and said 'If indeed I do enjoy your favor, please my Lord, come with us, although they are an obstinate people; and forgive our faults and sins, and adopt us as your heritage' (Ex. 34:9). God then renews the covenant to 'your whole people' (Ex. 34:10). Again God connects Moses to the Jewish people. The fact that mercy (or grace) is now the key phrase rather than fear and the new covenant is based on God's mercy and grace shows the enormous impact of Moses not only on the people but on God. The new covenant begins with ‘Lord, Lord, you are a merciful and gracious God, suffering and abundant in goodness and truth’ (Ex. 34:6 and is known as the covenant of the thirteen (attributes of God). 59

Moses realized that just as the Jewish people could not tolerate God's speaking to them (Ex. 20:6) they could not tolerate his written word, without he, Moses as an intermediary. Under Jewish lore the world was originally intended to be made under the aspect of `din' or law. Under law and with no mercy man’s sin would destroy him. This is what the people heard in the first theophany and Moshe realized was represented in the first tablets. Thus he smashed them. Moshe had heard God tell him as he stood on the Mountain of Sinai with the golden calf being worshipped below that He would destroy these people and create a new people from him. 60 But Moses refused when he was with God on the Mountain of Sinai and numerous times as we have seen. Moses realized that man has an inclination to sin and must have choice or free will. Man, with his inclination to sin will often sin but he must have God's mercy or the world cannot survive. Moses negotiation with God was to add the aspect of mercy to the aspect of law. With law alone we have death, with mercy alone we have anarchy; what was necessary was a combination of law and mercy. This is what Moses accomplished. In the last commandment Moses created he decided to add six additional cities of refuge for the non-intentional killing of a fellow human being  (Deut. 4:41). These cities were also reserved as the place for the Levites. Thus not only would persons guilty of non-intentional killing have a place of refuge, but also people to teach them repentance.

God says to Moses  'make you two tablets like the first and I will write upon them' (Ex. 34:1). Who wrote on the second set of tablets God or Moses?  '[A]nd he wrote upon the Tablets' (Ex. 34:4).  61 Whether the 'he' is Moses or God is disputed among Jewish commentators. 62 From the text it could have been God or Moses. Given the mystical union, Moses was so close to God that Moses himself wrote the second set of tablets which, included the aspect of mercy. Under Jewish lore this is accomplished by including the oral law whose purpose was to be the intermediary between the people and God, when Moses was gone. Thus the Sages of the Talmud tell that the law is not in heaven, but on earth; that they the Sages have the right to interpret the Torah. This is inherent in the tablets Moses wrote, but not in God's tablets. This is what Moses realized when he saw the Golden Calf. Thus Moses’ second tablets allow for the creativity in the Torah and for ‘arguments for the sake of heaven’ to take place. The first Tablets are part of the God-centered Bible, while the second are part of the Human-centered Bible. Both Tablets lie in the holy Ark.

Moses using his enormous prestige with God re-establishes the covenant and God reiterates the importance of the law. God then tell Moses to write down the terms of the covenant that 'I have made with you and with Israel' and the new tablets. Moses goal of intercession, despite the golden calf has been accomplished.  

Moses came down from the Mountain his face was illuminated (34:29). His face reflects the glory of God. He is truly God's servant. The reflection is written in Hebrew as 'keren' meaning illumination, but strictly 'horns'. There are other Hebrew words that could have been used to represent Moses’ face being illuminated. Why ‘keren’, which can be translated as ‘horned light’?  ‘The people’s wish for a divine representation, concretely and visually present in the world below, has been actualized by Moses’. 63  Perhaps that is why the last verses in Exodus that Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting when the cloud was over it because the glory of God filled the tent. ‘At every stage of their journey, whenever the cloud rose from the dwelling, the Israelites would resume their march (Ex. 40:35-36). Was this to make certain the people and the reader should be aware that God is God and Moses is Moses?

When he came down the text states ‘Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Tablets of Testimony in Moses’ hand’ (34:29). Why is the name Moses repeated twice. His illuminated skin made him a different person. Just as Moses destroyed the calf with horns, he now takes on its godly attributes as a true 'Man of God'. 64 Just as the people could not hear directly from God, so Moses became their intermediary they could not look into his face and thus he wore a veil. The face of God was burned into his face.

Just before the incident with Miriam and Aaron, Moses has had problems with murmurers . This actually began early after the miraculous splitting of the sea they complained their was no water (15:23). Moses made the bitter water sweet. Then on fifteenth day after they left Egypt they hearkened after the ‘fleshpots’ (16:3) and then after the Egypt, the land of ‘milk and honey’ (Num. 16:13) and of ‘free fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic’ (Num. 11:5). The people wept at the diet. God was displeased but Moses went into despair. Why ‘do You burden me with these people . . as a nursing father carrying a suckling child . . . I am not able to bear this . . . kill me’ (Num. 11:10-15). Why is Moses in such despair against their childish complaints? Is being a ‘nursing father’, mothering these people too much for even Moses? Moses must have felt like a mother and father - let him be the father and God the mother. God says tell them I will give them ‘flesh to eat . . .until it comes out of your nostrils’ (11:18-19). Moses responds ‘all 600,000 men’ will get meat? God responds ‘is the arms of God to short’? Aside from the humor here, Moses has already seen God’s miraculous work, why does he question it? Perhaps after his mystical relationship with God he is confusing himself with God?    

This makes Egypt seem like a land of luxury for the Hebrews rather than a land of slavery. The ability not to make decisions, but to follow orders seemed more agreeable to those who grew up in slavery. This is why these could not accept freedom, but would die and only their children who grew up in the freedom of their own decision making would cross over to the promised land.

In the Book of Numbers we are told that Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses, in fact challenged his leadership. Miriam, we are told criticized his marrying a Kushite woman. Aaron criticized Moses by saying 'is Moses the only one through whom God has spoken' (Num. 12:2). Is there a connection between the two complaints? God responds about his servant Moses, he was the most ‘kanaw’ - integral or trusted - person in the world, to whom I speak face to face. ‘kanaw’ usually translated as humble but is used here as unparalleled loyalty to God, the man to whom God entrusted his people. 65

Some Jewish Midrashim state that the Kushite is Zipporah, not a new wife. Is this a conflict between Moses' biological family and his married family. Moses has three families; one - his biological family where his sister Miriam protected him and  his mother Yocheved nursed him and told him about the Jewish people, the promise, the slavery and the genocide. Second his adopted mother, the Princess who saved his life and raised him as a Prince and taught him about the Egyptian civilization, after his mother finished nursing him.  Third his married family with his surrogate father Yitro, the spiritual priest of Midian where he lived for sixty years with his wife, Zipporah, the daughter of Yitro.

Miriam first loses Moses, her younger brother to the Egyptians then to the Yitro. Jewish Midrashim suggesting the importance of Miriam to Moses' life tell us not only did she save him in the Nile River, but was involved in his conception. As we noted earlier Miriam convinced her father to remarry her mother after he chose not to have any more children and thus Moses was conceived. Thus Miriam not only saved Moses in the Nile but he was conceived because of her convincing her father to choose life.

Thus Miriam after losing her favorite brother to the Egyptian Princess, lost him again to his surrogate father Yitro, and to Zipporah. She realized he had already rejected his own children in favor of Joshua. She, who had made his conception possible by fighting their biological father, saving his life when he was a baby in the 'tavat', given him to their biological mother to nurse, is rebelling against Moses' rejection of all his biological family. But despite all this she has remained his closest female advisor (and in fact is called a prophetess). The ‘Kushite’ is most likely Zipporah  come back to Moses with their children 66 after the Exodus was completed in the desert of Sinai (Ex. 18:7). It is in a sense it a remarriage.  Miriam feels It as another personal rejection.    In a sense Miriam has more recently lost Moses to God and to Aaron. And during that phase, her son Hur was according to Jewish Midrashim killed as he tried to prevent the Golden Calf, which her brother Aaron then allowed.

Suddenly  Zipporah reappears.  Aaron, the big brother, may also have felt a loss and been helped with his feeling by Miriam, who is mentioned first in the affair. His intensity of feelings for his sister is apparent when it is he who requests of Moses to cure her.

There is a completely different interpretation of the Miriam incidence. Some Midrashim insist she was protecting Zipporah specifically and women in general. The word used in Hebrew ‘odot’, can mean because of, but can also mean on behalf of. 67 (Eilberg-Schwatrz). Moshe in his sense of holiness and sacredness, did not sleep with his wife after the Sinai theophany. He, in this version of the event, felt a need to be holy to speak to God at any moment. When God at beginning of the theophany said to Moses to tell the Jewish people to be holy. Moses himself adds to God's message about holiness 'do not touch a woman' (Ex. 19:10-15). Thus apparently Moses believed that women dissuade men from a holy endeavor. Moses was in a sense the man from heaven (an interesting analogy to the Gospel of St. John’s definition of Jesus).

Aaron's criticism may different, but it is related.  'Has [God] not spoken through us too' (Num. 12:2)? Aaron is criticizing Moses’ leadership. This incidence is written after the spirit of prophecy is given to seventy elders once and more often to Eldad and Medad (Num. 11:25-30).

God ‘suddenly’ (12:4) then speaks and punishes Miriam by making her leprous, `white as snow' (Num.12:10). The ‘suddenly’ is God recognized that Moses after his feelings of despair over the people complaints can little tolerate another intrapsychic  conflict with his sister and brother rejecting him. Her punishment for criticizing Moses' black wife is to suffer with whiteness, an interesting irony by God. White may not be better than black. Aaron's rebellion is natural knowing he is going to die and never reach the promised land. He may not know that Moses also will not reach the promised land. God also knows that Aaron had accepted the death of his two children. Miriam, however is raising a family issue and raises it as an ethnic issue. This God must punish as an example. As noted above, Aaron begs his brother Moses `my Lord' heal her. We see again the god-like power assumed for Moses. Moses asks God to forgive his sister. God tells of his contempt for her behavior - the family ethnic problem she raised - by saying I 'spit in her face' (Num. 12:14) - shaming her,  but for the sake of Moses, his servant, he forgives her after she is to spend seven days out of the camp. God is acting as a father as Moses had requested earlier (11:12), and perhaps as Moses would have acted had he been her father. Miriam deserved to be shamed for having shamed her brother..

Both Aaron (as the ancestor of priesthood) and Miriam (who married a man from Judah and thus represents monarchy and her children according to Midrashim are Hur who held up Moses’ arms and Bezalel, (the builder of the sanctuary) represent the people, while Moses represents God. When Miriam is out of the camp the people refuse to leave until her purification is complete (Num. 12:15).

God tells Moses to send twelve men, one from each tribe, to reconnoiter the promised land (Num. 13:1). They travel for forty days and come back telling the people that the fertility of the land is enormous, carrying back giant fruit. But ten of the twelve also say that fierce giants inhabit the land; and we are like grasshoppers compared to them.. Only Caleb and Joshua fear not and suggest an immediate invasion. The people cry to Moses saying why did you  take us out of Egypt to die in this desert. God gets angry at the people and says to Moses 'I shall make a new nation, greater and mightier than they are' from you (Num. 14:12). Moses says what will people say: that You were unable to deliver these people. You told me that You are slow to anger. You must forgive these people. God responds that he will forgive the people in general, but not those who left Egypt. They must die, except for Caleb and Joshua. And the ten others die instantly. This death penalty to those who escaped from Egypt will result in numerous rebellions before they die out. Moses restrained the wrath of God. The people could have asked Moses why did God suggest to us to send out men to reconnoiter the land if He did not want us to hear the truth?

The Book Deuteronomy tells a different story. The people asked for the reconnoitering and Moses thought it a good idea (Deut. 1:22-23). The first report according to Deuteronomy tells that `God has given us a fine country' (Deut.1:25). The people refuse to go and we are then told the report came back telling of giants in the land (Deut 1:28). 68 Moses tries to convince the people but `You refused to proceed there' (Deut. 1:26) despite telling how God protected you before and will again. You and I, all of us except for Caleb and Joshua, will therefore die in this desert.

This is clearly a different telling of this story. In the first case God requested the reconnoitering, in the second the people requested the reconnoitering. In the first story the people are told of the giants by ten of the twelve reporters and are frightened. In the second story the people immediately reject going to the promised land despite being told it is a `fine country'. Then we are told that Moses himself will die because he could not convince the people to reject the advice of ten of the reporters. This is opposed to the story in the  Book of Numbers that Moses will not go to the promised land because he struck the rock at Meribah twice instead of speaking to it.

How does one explain these two very different versions of the story? Most Jewish commentators suggest  a combining of both stories. First the people suggested reconnoitering and then God agreed (some say suggested reluctantly) and finally Moses had no choice but to agree. This simplistic explanation does in fact make some sense. The people since leaving Egypt continually complained. One would be led to believe that Egypt was a haven rather than a land of oppression for the Hebrews. We will discuss this further very shortly. Given this continual complaining it is logical for them to suggest checking this land described as of `milk and honey'. God who realized that choosing these slave like people was perhaps a mistake allowed them to make the fatal mistake and then He would eliminate them, and finally convince Moses to accept being a new beginning, a new people. So God allowed this mistake, but what He did not realize was that Moses would under no circumstances accept being a new beginning. And thus Moses, by his own choice had to die in the desert.

Almost immediately, the people decide to invade the promised land and are defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites.

Then Korah, a non-Aaronite Levite rebels against the favored priesthood of Aaron. Simultaneously two members of the tribe of Reubin, the first born, Dothan and Abiram and two hundred and fifty community leaders rebel. The first born had originally had the right of being spiritual leaders but lost it as the result of Reuben’s sin of sleeping with Bilah, his step mother. This is a combined rebellion of Levites and the First born against the leadership of Moses. They claim that Moses and Aaron take too much upon themselves, not recognizing that all the people are holy. Moses is the lawgiver. The rebels are saying that if all the people are holy they all are lawgivers. Each holy person can create his own law. They want freedom and not divine law. But law defined by all the holy people is anarchy. They do not ask for a change in leadership, but no leadership and no laws. 69 This comes immediately after chapter 15 which defines the law of sacrifice, the giving of the first fruits, Sabbath breaking and the law of tassels. The chapter ends with `This will remind you to do all more orders' (Num 15:40). They do not want all of God's orders.

All these are reacting to the death penalty given them by God to wander for forty years in the desert until they die. God again says to Moses I will destroy all this community. But Moses asks God for Justice and only the sinners and their families are swallowed up by God.

On the following day the people murmur against Moses and Aaron and blame them for the previous days destruction. The people accuse Moses of 'killing the people of the Lord' (Num. 17:6).  Again God says I will destroy these people, a plague begins and thousands die. But Moses again stopped God. God then gives Aaron and the Priests an act of expiation to be performed for all time. It is the sacrificial system to be performed by the Priests at the sanctuary and later the Temple and still later the Liturgy.

The people born in Egypt, not only rejected God many times, despite seeing first hand His miracles, but kept repeating a 'Better in Egypt' syndrome. Why was it that those who saw God's miracles and Sinai, kept wanting to return to Egypt - to enslavement? In Egypt the rainfall was natural and relies on the Nile. The land of Canaan - called by God - the Land of Milk and Honey was in fact a desert, the rainfall was dependent, not of the Nile, but on God. Perhaps God wanted the Hebrews to be dependent on Him?

At the beginning of the fortieth year Miriam dies. Within several months Aaron, the High priest dies. ‘God says to Moses ‘Do me a favor and tell Aaron about his death, for I am ashamed to tell him. 70 Moses takes his brother, with his High Priestly robes to the Mountain Hor, takes off the robes and dresses Aaron’s son Eleazar in them. Moses speaks to his brother Aaron as Aaron is about to die. 'You, my brother, have me to bury you, just as we buried our sister, Miriam. I who will die shortly will die alone. You, my brother, have had your son, to replace you. I have no one of my family to replace me.' 71

In the fortieth year, in Meribah, the people complain again about the lack of water. God tells Moses and Aaron to talk to the rock and it will release its water. Moses strikes the rock twice and it releases water. God then tells Moses and Aaron that because Moses struck the rock instead of talking to it both will die in the desert (Num. 20:8-13). But later in Deuteronomy Moses tells us three times that he could not lead them into the promised land due to the sins of the people (Deut. 1:37, 3:26, 4:21).  

When the people complained to Moses at the Sea of Reeds, Moses said to them have faith God will rescue us (Ex. 14:13). God then asks Moses 'why cry out to me?'(Ex. 14:15) Why is God complaining to Moses and not to the people? Did God expect Moses to simply act? Several times God wanted to destroy the people and Moses convinced Him not to. Why would God punish Moses for over reacting by striking the rock when He, God, over reacted several times wanting to destroy the people? So the question is why did Moses not lead the people into the promised land?

Moses had become a god-like figure for the Jewish people. He wanted his memorial to be that of the spiritual Servant of God, the writer of the Torah not a god-like figure. If he crossed over to the promised land and became the conquering hero as well as the spiritual man he would have become god-like. That is not what Moses wanted. By dying Moses allowed the people to live without him. Rashi suggests that Moses understood from the beginning that he could not bring the people into the promised land. At the Burning Bush, Moses said to God ‘Send by whose hand You will send’ (Ex. 4:13). Rashi comments on that ‘By the hand of someone else whom You will choose to send. I am not destined to bring them into the Land and to be their future redeemer’. Moses had a deep pessimism that ‘the children of Israel would not listen to me’ (Ex. 6 :12). 72

'So Moses, the Servant of the Lord died ... on the mouth of the Lord' (Deut. 34:5). This has become known as the kiss of God. 'And Moses was 120 years old when he died, his eyes were not dim nor his vigor impaired' (Deut. 34:7). Thus he did not die of old age, but prematurely. He had to die before going into the promised land. In the promised land the Hebrews required a conquering hero, not a man of Spirit. That conquering hero was Joshua, anointed by Moses for that task. `And God buried him' (Deut. 34:7), in an unknown grave.  Moses burial site as told in the Pentateuch is hidden forever, so that his grave  would not become a symbol and cult of ancestor worship or prayer. But despite this clarity in the text the Talmud does state that Moses did not die but went directly to heaven like Elijah. 73 Rashi, the great Jewish commentator adds to the sentence above that 'even after he died his eye was not dimmed nor his natural force abated' (Ex. 34:7) thus adding to what the Talmud suggested about his arriving in heaven alive.

This kiss of God is the mystical culmination of Moses' life. Maimonides describes that 'a perfect man is stricken with years and approaches death, this apprehension increases very powerfully, joy over this apprehension becomes stronger, until the soul is separated from the body at that moment in this state of pleasure. Moses died 'in the pleasure of this apprehension due to the intensity of passionate love'. 74

Not only for Moses, but because of him, his brother Aaron also gets the kiss of God (Num. 33:28) and for Jewish commentators his sister Miriam (Num. 20:1). The kiss is symbolized by 'there' in the texts for Moses and Miriam. She is not literally kissed because it would be disrespectful for God to kiss a woman 75 The family of Moses is defined as the ideal in the Bible. Moses, The Prophet has a sister, Miriam called a prophetess and his older brother is the first High Priest.

The Pentateuch  ends with 'Since then there has never been such a prophet in Israel as Moses, the man whom God knew face to face... How mighty the hand and the great fear that Moses wielded in the eyes of all Israel' (Deut. 34:10,12). Once again 76 God and Moses are intricately connected; the man who knew God and personally wielded God's power.

The 'Servant of God', is the only one to see and more importantly to know 'God face to face'. Know as we have noted before in Hebrew has a level of intimacy different than speaking to God face to face. Moses is the 'Spiritual Man of God'.  He is a unique human being. But despite this there is a promise, seen as a Messianic promise or precursor prophet to the Messiah in the statement that a 'prophet like yourself' will arise (Deut. 18:18). It is clear that only Moses or one like him who can represent redemption for the Jewish people.

Moses is the ultimate 'Man of Faith' who in fact rejects being the 'Majestic Man'. He intentionally argues with God until his brother Aaron, a 'Majestic Man' is chosen to help him. He picks Joshua as his successor another 'Majestic Man' and he chooses not to enter the promised land because he knows it will require a 'Majestic Man' to conquer the land. He wants to be known as the 'Man of Faith'.

The almost perfect spirituality of Moses can be seen from a number of fears of his becoming god-like. We have seen that the incidence of the 'Golden Calf' was an attempt to create another god-like Moses. The enormous fear of making Moses into a god, into a form of idolatry remained with the Jews for a long time. In some ways it is surprising that the God of the Jews is not known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. Without Moses the people of Abraham would not have survived. His importance as the leader of the Exodus is an incidence of such power that it is the most mentioned event in the Jewish book of liturgy - the Siddur. In the kiddush Friday eve, the opening of the Shabbat, the first paragraph quotes Gods statement about the creation of the world (Gen. 2:1-3). The second paragraph states that the Shabbat is to commemorate the creation of the world and to remember the Exodus. Moses name is not mentioned. His name is not mentioned in the Haggadah, the Jewish book commemorating the Exodus and read on Passover, the holiday commemorating the Exodus (except in a quote from the Pentateuch). The reason is continued fear that Moses would become god-like. In the Exodus the Jews followed Moses more than God.  

Moses cannot go to the promised land. If in addition to his being 'the Spiritual Man' of the Jews he were to become the conquering Hero as Joshua became, he would truly have become god-like. The Hebrews were taken out of Egypt where a god-like leader - the Pharaoh reigned. Moses wanted them to be responsible for their own lives and not follow a god-like leader. While it took the 'Servant of God' to lead them out of Egypt it required a leader who was a 'Majestic Man' to take them into the promised land. Only a leader like Moses, the 'Servant of God', could take them out of Egypt, teach them for forty years in the desert, give them a Torah to succeed himself. Then they would have a chance of surviving on their own.  Through their many rebellions in the desert Moses was teaching them that only by following a 'Servant of God' and his Torah could they succeed. While this problem of rebelling against God continues many times in Jewish history, Moses did make a people of them, took them to entrance of the promised land and gave them a successor - Joshua - who would conquered the land for them.

Moses speaks and writes the Book of Deuteronomy for those born in the desert - those  not from Egypt. He is creating Jewish history, Jewish religion and Jewish spirituality. Moses does not seek immortality; he will die but Jewish history will not die. He is part of this history, born in Egypt, the leader of Exodus from Egypt, he must die with his people. By leaving his book, the Torah, his legacy, his Tablets, his law - God's law - that law is the Jews salvation. 77 His book represents a people born in slavery and during forty years Moses unfettered the moral, mental and spiritual chains of oppression. His is the rebirth of the Jewish people.

The Torah, the book Moses wrote is called in the Bible 'Torat Moshe' or the Torah of Moses. 78 Currently the Torah is called in Hebrew 'Chamsha Chumisha Torah' which means the 'Five Five Torah'. It is usually translated as the 'Five Books of the Torah'. What is the double five in the Hebrew? The first word in Hebrew 'Chamsha' is spelt 'Chet', 'Mem, 'Shin' and 'Hah'. The last three letters spell the Hebrew name of Moses. Could this be an attempt to tell us that the Torah was written by Moses, but a fear that people would consider Moses god-like, as the author of the Torah, when Jews believe that God wrote the Torah? Thus the double five.

Moses is the ultimate 'spiritual man'. A Midrash emphasized this by stated that the Jews in Egypt and the desert were at almost the lowest possible level of impurity - 49 out of 50. Moses was at almost the highest possible level of purity - 49 out of 50. 50 would presumably be the perfect man. 79

Moses is the mediator between Jewish people and God. -'Do not let God speak to us or we shall die (Ex. 20:19, repeated in Deut. 5:25). By speaking 'face to face' assuages God's anger and save the people from God. He not only was concerned about being seen as god-like (remembering the Golden Calf), he wished to be remembered as 'the Servant of God'. If he was remembered as being god-like, how can any leader succeed him?

Only if Moses dies before he reaches the promised land can a successor lead after him. Moses children are lost to Jewish history - Aaron survive as the Priests. Moses children would be a level of succession that would have created a hereditary Monarchy. Moses is a singular person; no one can succeed or replace him. Joshua does not replace but succeeds when a conquering hero is required as opposed to a spiritual giant. Only if he is remembered as the 'Servant of God' can another succeed him.

He is often in Jewish tradition known as the 'Redeemer'. This symbolized two things. He did redeem the Jews from Egypt. But he is also seen as the model of the 'Redeemed Man', 80 a forerunner of the Davidic Messianic model. God will raise up a prophet like [Moses] (Deut. 5:15).  Moses was seen as a would be Messiah or related to the future Messiah. ‘As the first redeemer was, so shall the latter redeemer be’. 81 This text goes to describe events in Moses life that will be signs of the future Messiah. Other texts could also be mentioned. 82 The Essenes thought of ‘the prophet and the anointed ones of Aaron and Israel’, the later being the Messiah ben David. They may have considered their ‘Teacher of Righteousness’ as a new Moses. 83 The Samaritans considered that Moses would return as the future Messiah – the Tabah.

By Moses’ dying and writing his book he taught that salvation can only come through a spiritual life. His seeing the promised land was sufficient. Living a spiritual life was sufficient for Moses and thus should be for the Jewish people. His covenant is a spiritual one, not a physical one. His body was hidden by God to eliminate any physical remnants. He is as pure a spirit as any one can be. Without the spirituality of Moses the people of Abraham would have disappeared from history.

When God allowed the first Temple to be destroyed he sought a man like Moses to lead his people. 'I have been looking for a man among them to build a barricade and oppose Me in the breach, to defend the country and prevent Me from destroying it; but I have found no one. Hence I have vented my rage on them; I have put an end to them in the fire of my rage. I have made their conduct recoil on their own heads' (Ez.22:30-31). Only Moses had the power to assuage the fire of God's rage.

Moses Last Day
Last Days of Moses by Phillip Ratner


1 Kafka, Franz, Diaries 1914-1923, ed. Max Brod, Translated by Martin Greenberg and Hannah Arendt (Schocken, N.Y., 1965), Pg. 195-196.

2 Castigan, G., Sigmund Freud, A short Biography, (Collier Books, NY, 1968) Pg. 275.

3 Mcguire, William, ed. The Freud-Jung Letters, Trans. by Ralph Mannheim and R.F.C. Hull, (Bollingen Series XCIV, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1974) Pg. 196. Jung was the only colleague of Freud who was not Jewish. Freud suggested that only if psychoanalysis was not considered a Jewish science would it succeed. Freud published 'Moses and Monotheism' at the end of his life. It was, perhaps his most controversial book. He suggesting that Moses was an Egyptian, who followed a radical Egyptian religion. This Moses was then was killed by the Jews in the desert. A second Moses appears to the Jews from Midian to lead them in the desert. Susan Handelman, among others, has suggested that Freud's having the Jews kill Moses has to do with his own issue of sons killing fathers (Handelman, Susan, A., The Slaying of Moses, (SUNY, Albany, 1982,) Chapter 4. Dan Motet suggests that the second Moses from Midian in 'Moses and Monotheism' was Freud's killing the Egyptian and replaces him with himself (Motet, Dan, Moses and Freud, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington, 1976).Freud was not writing history but a mythic understanding of the development of civilization (Paul, Robert, Moses and Civilization (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1996). Myths (like Midrash) are not about historical truth but about belief systems.
Despite Freud's slaying of his 'Egyptian' Moses and replacing him with 'himself' as Motet claimed, Freud had respect for his religion, Judaism. As noted by Moshe Ater in his 'The Man Freud & Monotheism (Mangus Press, Jerusalem, 1992) Pg. 239, Freud stated 'the religion of Moses led to this [the possession in common of certain intellectual and emotional wealth] result because (1) it allowed the people to take share in the grandeur of a new idea of God, (2) it asserted that this people had been chosen by this great God and were destined to receive evidences of his special favour and (3) it forced upon the people an advance in intellectuality which, important enough in itself, opened the way, in addition, to the appreciation of intellectual work and the further renunciation of instinct.' Quoted from The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Standard Edition, 23 volumes, London, volume 23, Pg. 123. Egyptian religions were 'simply abominable' (Ater Pg. 243), Teutonic religion was 'barbarous (Ater Pg. 244), Islam 'an abbreviated repetition of the Jewish one" (Ater Pg. 244) and Christianity 'burst the framework of Judaism ... renounced a number of characteristics on monotheism ... [was] superstitious, magical and mystical' (Ater Pg. 244). As Ater notes 'it is remarkable how much Freud's 'frame of mind' remained Jewish even in this kind of analytical, negative work'. (Pg. 245.)

4 In one of Moses' reproaches to God who several times tells him He will kill the Jews and begin again with Moses, Moses calls himself a 'nursing father' who suckled the nation (Num. 11:12).

5 In the Pentateuch the references are Ex. 14:13; Num. 12:6-7; Deut. 18:15-18; 33:4; 34:5. In the remainder of the Tnakh - 31 times. Joshua - 1:1,2,7,13,15;8:31,33; 9:24;
11:12,15;12:6,6;13:8; 14:7;18:7;22:2,4,5; 2Kings - 18:12;21:8; Malachi - 4:4; Psalms - 90:1;105:26; and Nechemiah - 1:7,8;9:14;10:29.

6 Deuteronomy 33:1, Joshua 14:6, Ezra 3:2, Psalms 90:1 and 1 Chronicles 23:14, 2 Chronicles 30:10. Maimonides is his commentary of Psalm 90 notes that Moses is 'The Man of God'.

7 In the Bible excluding the Pentateuch, he is called 'lawmaker' or related to the law 41 times. Joshua - 8:31,32,35;11:15,20,23;14:2,5,6,10;17:4;20:2;21:2, 8;22:4;23:6. Judges - 4:11. 1 Kings - 2:3;8:9,53,56. 2 Kings - 14:6;18:6;28:35. Daniel - 9:11,13. Ezra - 3:2;6:18;7:6. Nechemiah - 8:1,14;13:1. 1 Chronicles - 15:5;22:3. 2 Chronicles -8:13;23:18;25:4;30:16;33:8;34:14;35:6,12.

8 This assertion seemingly contradictory to the text will be discussed later.

9 Since it would be more sensible to simply take all the female children and use them as servants, concubines or kill them, why kill the male children – the future workers? The Talmud suggests that had the Pharaoh been smart he would have kidnapped the females.

10 The Midrash Rabbah Levitacus lists ten names for Moses, but none are attributed to his mother or father. (Soncino Press, London, 1961) pg. 6.

11 Is Dothan, is in fact a Jewish ‘prince’ appointed by the Egyptians to control his own people?

12 The name `Dothan' also appeared as the city where Joseph found his brothers and they attempted to kill him and then sold him and he ended up in Egypt. That word coming from Da’at implies `justice' and Joseph's brothers are calling him to their form of justice. This Dothan is equally calling Moses to his form of `justice' for killing the Egyptian. As we will note later on in the rebellion of Dothan (and Korah) their form of `justice' excludes divine law.

13 Moses was eighty years old when he went to speak to Pharaoh (Ex. 7:7). He left we are told when he grew up (Ex. 2:11). Thus he spent perhaps sixty years in Midian.

14 Jewish tradition states that incidents in the Bible are not necessarily in chronological order. Thus the section in 6:2-13 is likely to be part of the Burning Bush episode.

15 Underline added.

16 Underline added.

17 Can one claim that while in Judaism miracles do not make a theological statement, and in fact are often ignored while in Christianity, Jesus being a miracle worker is a major part of power. His resurrection on Easter Sunday is a major faith issue for Christians while Moses death and burial are a secret.

18 This is the first mention of Israel as a nation in the Bible. The rest of humanity are God's other children. First born sons, as noted in Genesis, are certainly not the best.

19 Kosmala, H., The Bloody Husband, VT 12, 1962, pg. 26.

20 Dumbrell, pg. 290.

21 The ambiguity may protect this child as the uncircumcised  firstborn of Egypt are to be killed and only circumcised Hebrews protected. Would this child be considered a Hebrew?  Propp, W.H., That Bloody Bridegroom, V.T., 43, 1993, pg. 511.

22 Exodus 4:20 just before this incident refers to Moses’ children, plural. But the name given to Eliezer refers to events later on during the exodus. It is thus unclear which child is in danger.

23 Some say the placing is in error and this belongs earlier in the story about Moses’ life in Midian.

24 There is a Midrash that suggest that Yitro was a descendant of Abraham and Keturah, Kugel, Tradition, pg. 534.

25 The two verses 4:22-23 do not belong here. They belong at the description of the mission (3:24) or when Moses meets Aaron (4:27). They are here to connect the circumcision of Moses’ s son with God’s first born and Pharaoh’s first born.

26 Kosmala, The Bloody Husband

27 Yitro is noted as a priest. In ancient custom and Jewish law the first born belongs to the Priest. Thus the child Gershom, the first born belonged to Yitro.

28 Zorenberg, Exodus, pg. 194.

29 Daiches, David, Moses, The Man and His Vision, (Praeger Publishers, N.Y., 1975) Pg.55.

30 Propp, pg. 509, ft. 54.

31 There are two other incidents when marriage and circumcision are connected. The people of Shechem must be circumcised to ‘chatan’ Dinah (Gen. 34:9-17). The second incident is when Saul demands the foreskins of 100 Philistines from David as a dowry.

32 Quoted in Il. Pardes, pg. 86.

33 The term uncircumcised is used once more in the Torah in terms of `circumcise your heart' (Deut.10:16). There circumcised means spiritually clean.

34 Exodus Rabbah 1:26

35 From Paul Robert,  Moses and Civilization, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1996) pg. 79.

36 Yitro, the non Hebrew adds to Moses understanding of how to administer law. The first interfaith dialogue is between Abraham and the King of (Yeru)Salem Melchizedek, a king and priest of God who blesses Abraham by his God Most High.

37 Yitro is also called Kenite in Judges 1:16 and 4:11. Whether that is a family name or a tribal name is unclear.

38 Ronald Hendel makes an interesting comparison between Jacob and Moses. He notes the comparison of their special births, youthful and subversive deeds, flight as a result,  promise by God, incident at a well, marriage, commissioning, return to land of birth, dangerous encounter with a divine character and the meeting with a long lost brother. Hendel, R. The Epic of the Patriarch, (Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1987) pg. 140.

39 Quoted by D.M. Gunn, The ‘Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart’ Pg. 80, in Clines, D.J.A., Gunn, D.M., Hauser, A.J., Art And Meaning, (JSOT 19, Sheffield, 1982).

40 Gottleib-Zorenberg, A., The Particulars of Rapture, Reflections on Exodus, Doubleday,N.Y.2001),pg. 97-98.

41 Clines, Gunn, pg. 81.

42 Zorenberg, Exodus, pg. 163.

43 Zorenberg, Exodus, pg. 98

44 Or HaChaim as quoted by Zorenberg, Exodus, pg  99.

45 ibid

46 Zorenberg, Exodus, pg. 144.

47 The first covenant was with Abraham.

48 For the second time, he has been there when he saw the burning bush.

49 E. Levinas, a French-Jewish philosopher has said that referring to the text of the Torah and the word of God. Derrida, J., Writing and Differences, Trans. by Alan Bass, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1978) Pg. 153, quoted in Handelmann, Susan, A., The Slaying of Moses, (SUNY, Albany, 1982) Pg. 171.

50 Aaron is the vehicle of the people’s will and draws upon the powers of heaven. (Steinsaltz, Biblical, pg. 77))

51 Zeligs, Moses, pg. 142.

52 According to a midrash, Hur the son of Miriam, rejected the people’s demand and was killed.

53 This problem would arise again and again. Thirteen hundred years later Jesus being a 'god' became a defining moment separating Judaism from Christianity.  So he became god. Certainly his direct disciples led by his brother James did not believe Jesus was a God but an agent of 'God'. The Chasidic movement in the late eighteenth century created a group of Rebbes who were the intermediaries, agents of God, the connection between God and the people.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe died in 1995 and is considered by some of his disciples as a Messiah, an agent of God.

54 Zorenberg, Exodus, pg. 416.

55 The gold came from the gold and silver ‘borrowed‘ from the Egyptians (12:35). Instead of being used as woman’s jewelry it became a golden calf - an Egyptian god.

56 In the Masoratic text - that is the traditional Jewish reading of text is printed without punctuations.

57 Moberly, R.W.L., At The Mountain of God, (JSOT, 22, Sheffield, 1983) Pg. 111. Moberly considers three interpretations including a missing word or `Anath' the goddess, unlikely and believes the word is best interpreted as a form of singing.  

58 As noted by Zorenberg, Exodus, p. 421.

59 In the Jewish selichot (forgiveness) liturgy prayed in the days before and during the High Holy Days this is the central motif.

60 As he did with Noah.

61 All Jewish commentators agree that Moses hewed the stone. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, The Jerusalem Post Magazine, March 13, 1998, Pg. 27.

62 In Deuteronomy it states that Moses hewed the stone and God wrote on it (Deut. 10:1-5).

63 Hauge, M.R., The Descent from the Mountain, (JSOR, Vol. 323, Sheffield, 2001) Pg. 171.

64 Michelangelo’s magnificent statute of Moses with the horns is both literally correct as well as symbolically correct. The Torah chose to use the word ‘keren’ when others would have been equally accurate – the author chose a word translated as ‘horned light’?  ‘The people’s wish for a divine representation, concretely and visually present in the world below, has been actualized by Moses’.  

65 Coates, G.W., Humility and Honor: A Moses Legend in Numbers 12, from Clines, Art, pg. 100- 102.

66 The children are never heard of again.

67 *Eilberg-Schwartz, H, JSOT Vol. 158
Eilberg-Schwartz, H., The Savage In Judaism, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1990

68 Moses repeats  later on that to those going to the promised land that 'the nations you are to dispossess are `stronger than yourself and the cities immense with walls reaching to the sky. ... Who can stand up to the sons of giants?' (Deut. (9:1-2).

69 Buber, Martin, Moses, (Humanistic Press International, New Jersey, 1946) Pg, 187-188.

70 Zorenberg, Exodus, pg. 299, from Yalkut Shimeoni, 1,764.

71 Midrash

72 Zorenberg, Exodus, pg. 93.

73 BT Sotah 13b.

74 Maimonides, The Guide For The Perplexed, III,51.

75 BT. Baba Bathra, 17a.

76 As in the introduction to the song at the conclusion of the Red Sea splitting where Jews are noted to have `faith in God and his servant Moses'.

77 Moses had to die for his people.  With a different theology, Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection represent Christian salvation.

78 Nech. 8:1, 10:30, 13:1; Ezra 3:2, 6:18; Dan. 9:13; 2 Chron. 25:4, 35:12.

79 Philo, the great Jewish leader of Alexandria wrote a biography of Moses. Philo suggests that Moses was the 'greatest and most perfect of men' in his introduction.  Philo, De Vita Moyesis, trans. F.H. Coulen, (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1935) Pg. 1:1. He also calls Moses `the most excellent king' and the `the most perfect ruler'. He believed that Moses was destined to be the next Pharaoh, a theme that we found in Midrashim. There are other interpretations of Moses where he is a 'Majestic Man'. In the third century BCE book called 'Aegyptiaca', a Greek biography of Moses he is a General. As noted  in Silver, D.J. Images of Moses, (Basic Books, Inc. N.Y., 1982 numerous books written apparently in the first century BCE are entitled 'The Secret Book of Moses', 'Key of Moses', 'The Chemistry of Moses', 'The Maza of Moses' and 'The Diptosis of Moses', all suggesting Moses as a wizard and magician.

80 In Samaritan tradition Moses is to return as the Messiah. The Samaritans believe in the Pentateuch but not the remaining books of the Jewish Bible. The Sadducees, also believed only in the Pentateuch. It is likely that the idea of Moses returning as the Messiah was an old Jewish tradition.

81 Ecc. Rab 1:28

82 Allison pgs. 85-87.

83 Allison, pg. 84, footnote 196.