10. And He Called

by Hillel (Adam) Penrod

It was G-d’s will that he apportion one family among all the families of the earth to Himself.

G-d designedly searched out the families of the earth for this people of purpose. The thread of G-d’s plan was traced out to Abraham. Abraham’s distinction was that he would, “command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD.”[1] Isaac was named Abraham‘s heir rather than Ishmael; on account of G-d’s will.[2] Jacob’s superior moral quality over the wicked Esau qualified his inheritance of the promise. The promise was established with Jacob and his sons. Jacob‘s death marked the end of the divine promise passing from individual to individual. Now, G-d’s promises and blessings became the shared possession of a nation.

            The redemption from Egypt was the most anticipated promise yet to be fulfilled.[3] The national relationship with the tribes was an unparalleled event in history. Moses, Hashem’s emissary, was equally unparalleled.

            With the selection of G-d’s messiah for his people selected and prepared G-d makes himself known. G-d discloses to Moses that Israel has not known Him as Adonai. Commentators and Critics of the Torah have engaged themselves in mortal combat concerning this verse. Hertz[4] elucidates the true meaning of this verse. The name Adonai was not something new. Moses’ mother’s name Jochaved, which “…means Adonai is my glory,” predates this revelation.[5] According to Hertz, the name signifies G-d’s attribute[6] of Faithfulness. The promises of G-d were professed true by the patriarchs through faith.[7] Only immediate promises such as those of protection were confirmed by experience. Not until the death of the patriarchs did Israel become a mighty nation. The new knowledge that Israel possessed concerning HASHEM was that his promises were in fact reliable. This knowledge corresponds to the meaning of Adonai. The nature of G-d, as faithful, is a comfort in times of trouble; especially now that it was not just a matter of belief but a matter of fact. Other promises made by G-d although not yet fulfilled, with certainty will be. Hertz believed that this commonsense interpretation preserved the oneness of the Torah and protected it from those in the Higher Criticism camps.

The wheel of time had finally turned to the day of fulfillment. The prophetic naming of Leah’s first three children foresaw it. The Torah proceeds to list the heads of each of the tribes of Israel but only lists the first three sons of Leah.[8] The strangeness of this compels us to investigate. Leah was the least favored between the two wives of Jacob. G-d opened Leah‘s womb in virtue of her righteousness and plight. Leah‘s first three sons are named according to her hope that her husband would now love her.[9]The first born, Reuben, is named because “…the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.”[10] Simeon is named because Leah says, “…The LORD hath heard that I am hated…”[11] and Levi, “…Now this time will my husband be joined unto me…”[12] Keeping these interpretations in mind we can begin to decipher the mysterious list in Exodus. We are blind sided by the answer to our riddle. The names signify Israel at the time of the Exodus! G-d tells Moses that, “…I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt.”[13] The Egyptians hate of the Hebrews is established when all the male children are ordered killed[14] and the Hebrews are put to hard bondage.[15] Levi’s name foretells the coming events of the Sinai experience when, “…I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God…”[16] The nation is afflicted, hated, and now finally joined to G-d.

            Many are inspired that the faith of the Hebrews lasted through four hundred years of harsh bondage. It is a mistake to suppose that the Children of Israel were in captivity for four hundred[17] much less four hundred and thirty years,[18] Between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus it becomes difficult to keep up with an exact chronology based solely on the text. What we do know from Scripture makes it impossible that the Children of Israel were in Egypt for four hundred years. A simple mathematical examination of the text reveals this fact. According to Genesis 46:11 Kohath was one of those seventy souls that accompanied Jacob into Israel. We know that he was born and entered the landof Egypt at the very beginning of the Exile. We also know from Exodus 6:16-27 that Kohath lived to be one hundred and thirty-three years old. Kohath’s son, Amram, lived to be one hundred and thirty-seven years old. Moses, the son of Amram, was eighty at the time of the Exodus.[19] Assuming that Kohath was one when Jacob entered Egypt and that he did not have Amram until the last year of his life, at 133, and that Amram in turn did not have Moses until he was 137 we only have 270 add to this Moses’ age at the Exodus, 80, and we can reach no higher than 350. This by no means presents a challenge to the authenticity of the Torah. It merely presents a problem to those that misunderstand the Torah and reject Jewish oral tradition. Understanding what the Torah really means in light of Israel’s tradition forces us to reexamine our previously conceived notions of the Exodus account.[20]

            The Torah announces that G-d has set Moses, “…in God’s stead to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet…” This verse is very troublesome. Does the Torah mean that Moses is a god to Pharaoh? Understanding the nature of prophecy clarifies the meaning of this verse. Moses is being likened to a messenger or angel that appears to a prophet and commands him what to say. In the Hebrew Scriptures we know that Elohim is used to refer to Angels.[21]  This verse expounds both Moses’ uniqueness as a prophet and Aaron’s role in the Exodus story (a role usually overlooked). Aaron is Moses’ spokesman to both Pharaoh and all of Israel.[22] If Aaron is acting as Moses’ prophet then we must assume that Moses is fulfilling the role of angel for G-d to Aaron. This would prevent us from concluding that Moses was literally “…in [G-d‘s] stead.”

            According to the Rambam there are three qualifications that one must possess to be a prophet of G-d.[23] A prophet must be a scholar[24], have a perfected moral character, and finally, their imaginative faculty must be of the highest state of perfection possible.[25] These qualities must be possessed by any would be prophet. However, without the divine will that a prophet receive prophecy the prophet will never be a prophet in reality only potentially.

            All of the prophets before and after Moses communicated through an angel and not directly with HASHEM.  Moses was the only exception. G-d specifically tells us that He speaks with all prophets in either a vision or a dream.[26] But with Moses he speaks “mouth to mouth.” That is why the Rambam says that Moses is a prophet only homonymous with other men.[27] Anytime a prophet says that he sees G-d or is speaking with G-d we conclude that it is through an angel in a dream or vision.[28]

            Moses differs from the prophets in several ways. Moses is superior to all prophets before and after him.[29] G-d spoke with Moses face to face not through an angel in visions and dreams.[30] Moses performed miracles before the entire nation of Israel,[31] as well as the enemies of Israel--Pharaoh and the Egyptians.[32]

            It was through a unique experience, the miracles of the Exodus, that a unique people, Israel, was lead by a unique leader, Moses, to receive a unique law, Torah, from a unique G-d, HASHEM. This unique quality of the Exodus experience removes it from all comparison and attack. No other revelation between G-d and a people match the Exodus. The truth of the Exodus is so clear from the evidence of its uniqueness that no critic can successfully overcome it. “For what great nation is there, that hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is whensoever we call upon Him? And what great nation is there, that hath statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law…” (Deut. 4:7-8)?

            Understanding Moses increases the awe of the entire Sinai experience. The giving of the Torah, the secret treasure of G-d, could not have occurred under any other circumstance. The holiness of the Torah demanded that the entire world look on  gasping with anticipation as the wonders of HASHEM unfolded.

            G-d commands Moses to display his wonders before pharaoh; however, these wonders will have little affect on him since G-d says he will harden his heart.[33] This verse is one of the most challenging verses in the Torah. It is here where Jews and Christians alike are forced to ask: “Do we or do we not have freewill?”  The response from the Jewish people is that we do have free will—we must. The Ramchal[34] explains that freewill is necessary to fulfill the divine purpose of creation--G-d’s fellowship.[35] Ramchal points out that not all of man’s deeds are a result of his freewill. Some of these deeds are determined by heaven. G-d can and will influence man if His servants are justly deserving it,[36] or to deal with those that are so evil that they have lost their freewill.[37] To some the idea that man possesses in any degree such a thing as freewill directly challenges G-d’s sovereignty. This is a false concern. It is from G-d that we receive whatever sovereignty that we possesses as human beings. It is like a king imbuing a governor the power to rule his province. No one would believe that this freedom challenges the king’s sovereignty. The king‘s sovereignty is only threatened when the governor becomes the King‘s equal. However, since it is clear that humans are not the equal of G-d, not even approaching the perfection of angels, there is no threat. 

            G-d gives Moses three signs to prove to Israel that G-d has sent him. He turns his rod into a snake, turns his hand from normal to leprous to normal, and takes water from the river (Nile) and turns it to blood as he pours it onto the ground. Oddly, Moses performs two of these feats for pharaoh, turning his rod into a serpent and turning the water of Egypt into blood. We do not see him performing the sign of leprosy.[38] The first and third signs are done for pharaoh because these are the signs of Egyptian power. The Nile was the life of Egypt. It was from the Nile that the Egyptian mythos was inspired.  The incidence of the leprosy was probably not shown to Pharaoh because its impact was not as significant as the first and third sign. The second sign,[39] if only shown to Israel, may have represented to them the fulfillment of G-d’s promise. Israel went into Egypt a small but healthy tribe, suffered affliction and became a curse amongst the Egyptians through their suffering, and now Israel will leave a mighty nation.

            It is through the plagues that Egyptian power will be destroyed and the unity and limitless power of HASHEM proclaimed. These wonders are G-d’s means to bring Israel out of Egypt to establish them as a holy nation. A nation whose purpose was destined by the divine will from the very beginning.

[1] Genesis 18:19 Hertz, J.H., ed. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. Soncino Press, London,. 1992.  This translation will be used for all quotes from the Torah unless specified.

[2] Genesis 17:19

[3] Genesis 15:16

[4] Hertz, Exodus. 6:3, p. 232

[5] Hertz, Exodus. 6:20, p. 234

[6]  See the Rambam’s (Moses Maimonides) explanation in The Guide for the Perplexed chap. LI-LX p. 68-87 on the danger of ascribing attributes to G-d.

[7]  See Genesis 15:6 where G-d promises Abraham that his descendents will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. This promise is not fulfilled until long after the lifetime of Abraham.

[8] Exodus 6:14-27

[9] Genesis 29:32-35

[10]  Genesis 29:32

[11]  ibid. v. 33

[12]  ibid. v. 34

[13]  Exodus 3:7

[14]  Exodus 1:15-22

[15]  ibid. v. 9-14

[16]  ibid. 6:7

[17]  Genesis 15:13

[18]  Exodus 12:40

[19]  Exodus 7:7

[20]  Jim Long in his book The Riddle of the Exodus gives a fuller account of this controversy touching on the traditional number of 210 years as the time Israel was in Egypt. Long, for example, dealing with the difference between four hundred and four hundred and thirty years says, “There is no discrepancy according to Seder HaOlam. It reveals that the added thirty years is reckoned by counting from the time that the promise was given to Abraham…a promise made thirty years before the birth of Isaac.” Long, James D. The Riddle of the Exodus. Lightcatcher Books.  Springdale, Arkansas. chap. 14,. p. 141

[21]  The Rambam notices that Onkelos “…understood Elohim in the above passage to signify “angel,” and that for this reason he did not hesitate to translate literally, “I will go down with thee to Egypt.” Do not think it strange that Onkelos should have believed the Elohim, who said to Jacob, “I am God, the God of thy father” (ib. 3), to be an angel, for this sentence can, in the same form, also have been spoken by an angel. Thus Jacob says, “And the angel of G-d spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob. And I said, Here am I,” etc. (Genesis 31:11); and concludes the report of the angel’s words to him in the following way, “I am the God of Bethel, where though anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me” (ib. 13), although there is no doubt that Jacob vowed to God, not to the angel. It is the usual practice of prophets to relate words addressed to them by an angel in the name of God, as though God Himself had spoken to them. Such passages are all to be explained by supplying the nomen regens , and by considering them as identical with “I am the messenger of the God of thy father,” “I am the messenger of God who appeared to thee in Bethel,” and the like. Friedlander, M. trans. Moses Maimonides,The Guide for the Perplexed. This translation will be used throughout unless specified. chap. XXVII,. p. 36. See also Exodus 4:15 where Aaron is called Moses’ ‘mouth.’

[22] Exodus 4:16

[23] For more information see “On Prophecy”—coming soon

[24]  As for the principle which I laid down, that preparation and perfection of moral and rational faculties are the sine qua non, our Sages say exactly the same: “The spirit of prophecy only rests on persons who are wise, strong, and rich.” We have explained these words in our Commentary on the Mishnah, and in our large work. The Guide for the Perplexed.  chap. XXXII,. p. 220

[25]  According the Rambam, “We have thus described three kinds of perfection: mental perfection acquired by training, perfection of the natural constitution of the imaginative faculty, and moral perfection produced by the suppression of every thought of bodily pleasures, and of every kind of foolish or evil ambition. These qualities are, as is well known, possessed by the wise men in different degrees, and the degrees of prophetic faculty vary in accordance with this difference.”  The Guide for the Perplexed.

[26] Num.12:6-8

[27]  The Guide for the Perplexed. chap. XXXV,.  p. 224.

[28]  The Rambam takes Exodus 23:20 and Deut. 18:18 and compares their statement to show that there is a connection between the two to draw out a principle that G-d speaks to prophets through an angel--not directly. Exodus 23 is a command that the Children of Israel obey the angel that G-d will send to them. Deuteronomy 18:18 commands Israel to obey the prophet that G-d sends to them is identical to the phrase in Exodus. This leads the Rambam to conclude that Exodus is referring to a prophet also. The angel that G-d sends to Israel communicates through the prophet. Israel is exhorted to obey the words of the prophet who is relaying the words of the angel of G-d. “For there is no doubt that the commandment is given to the ordinary people, to whom angels do not appear with commandments and exhortations, and it is therefore unnecessary to tell them not to disobey him…Here a principle is laid down which I have constantly expounded, viz., that all prophets except Moses receive the prophecy through an angel. Note it.” Rambam, chap. XXXIV,. p. 223

[29]  The Rambam provides proof for the difference between Moses and those before and after him. ‘That his prophecy was distinguished from that of all his predecessors is proved by the passage, “And I appeared to Abraham, etc., but by my name, the Lord, I was not known unto them” (Exodus 6:3). We thus learn that his prophetic perception was different from that of the Patriarchs, and excelled it; a fortiori ( even more) it must have excelled that of other prophets before Moses. As to the distinction of Moses’ prophecy from that of succeeding prophets, it is stated as a fact, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10). It is thus clear that his prophetic perception was above that of later prophets inIsrael, who are “ a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” and “in whose midst is the Lord”; much more is it above that of prophets among other nations. ‘ The Guide for the Perplexed. chap. XXXV,. p. 224

[30]  Numbers 12:6-8

[31]  “…in the sight of all Israel.” (Deut. 34:12)

[32]  “in all the signs and the wonders, which the LORD sent him (Moses) to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land…” and “…in the sight of the nations…” (Lev. 26:45)

[33]  Exodus 7:3, For more information see “Free Will and the Sovereignty of God”—coming soon

[34]  Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto

[35]  Ramchal states, “God’s purpose in creation was to bestow of His good to another…Since God desired to bestow good, a partial good would not be sufficient. The good that He bestows would have to be the ultimate good that His handiwork could accept. God alone, however, is the only true good, and therefore His beneficent desire would not be satisfied unless it could bestow that very good, namely the true perfect good that exists in His intrinsic essence.” Kaplan, Aryeh. Trans. The Way of God. Feldheim publishers, Jerusalem. 1988. I.2.1. This translation will be used throughout.

[36]  I Sam. 2:9

[37]  Exodus 7:3, Deut. 2:30, and Josh. 11:20 is the Tanach’s catch phrase that indicates such a wicked individual.

[38]  These signs to Israel are found in Exodus 4:2-9. The performance of two of these signs before Pharaoh takes place in Exodus 7:8-22

[39]  The Sforno in his commentary on Exodus 4:2 draws sees that the sign of the serpent and of the leprous hand are related. As the Sforno says, “What is this in your hand? A rod is inanimate whereas a hand is alive, but I (God) Who can destroy and bring to life, will cause the (living) hand to be as dead through leprosy, and grant life to the inanimate rod.” Pelcovitz, Rabbi Raphael. trans. Sforno: Commentary on the Torah. p. 264.