Moses: The Man

Starting with the Book of Exodus (Shemot)- and throughout the following three remaining books of the Torah- the figure of Moses is the guiding force. He is, in fact the single most central figure in the TaNaKh.

There is nothing mythological or heroic about him. As the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said: “The human being acting under God’s orders is portrayed in all his untransfigured humanity.”

Cleveland rabbi, the late Jeremy Daniel Silver, explained “Moses is anything but a perfect physical specimen; he stammers. Moses is no saint; he can be irascible, he is cold to his family, and on at least one occasion he willfully disobeys God.”

Which begs the question, as in many other cases, why the almighty God of Israel required a human being, such an improbable one, for the matter, as Moses, to accomplish the grand-plan for Israel.

Even more- as pointed out by University of Georgia bible scholar Richard Elliott Friedman- though in the biblical presentation of this story, it is God, who ultimately causes all the great miraculous events,

Moses’ own character plays such a powerful role that in some ways the story is more focused through him than through God. Moses is so much in control of the timing, the execution, and the drama of the miracles that he has to remind his people repeatedly that it is God and not he who is doing these things.

This is the essential tenor of the Bible, says Israeli philosopher Yoram Hazony: God approaches man in order to elicit spectacular responses, and the text faithfully reflects this relationship. God approaches, and the individual could choose between duty, as in Moses case, or as in Jonah’s case, flight.

Moses is the expression of the response to the challenges of life that Judaism expects of ordinary humans. Moses is not especially gifted, he is willing to “listen” and to play his role as a human being in the world.

Like Moses, every Jew faces the same situation, an existential one, memorably described by Martin Buber:

“Each of us is encased in an armor whose task is to ward off signs. Signs happen to us without respite, living means being addressed; we would need only to present ourselves and to perceive. But the risk is too dangerous for us, the soundless thundering seems to threaten us with annihilation, and from generation to generation, we perfect the defense apparatus. All our knowledge assures us, “Be calm, everything happens as it must happen, but nothing is directed at you, you are not meant; it is just ‘the world’, you can experience it as you like, but whatever you make of it in yourself proceeds from you alone, nothing is required of you, you are not addressed, all is quiet.”

Each of us in encased in an armor which we soon, out of familiarity, no longer notice. There are only moments, which penetrate it and stir the soul to sensibility. And when such a moment has imposed itself on us and we then take notice and ask ourselves, “Has anything particular taken place? Was it not of the kind I meet every day?” then we may reply to ourselves, “Nothing particular, indeed, it is like this every day, only we are not there every day.”

The signs of address are not something extraordinary, something that steps out of the order of things, they are just what goes on time and again, just what goes on in any case, nothing is added by the address. What occurs to me addresses me. In what occurs to me the world-happening addresses me.”

Nothing expresses better Moses attitude beginning with the burning bush driving to the rebellion against slavery in Egypt.

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