Moshe and the Three Disqualifiers

Now the man Moshe was very humble, more than all people who were on the face of the earth[1].

Whatcleft made Moshe so humble? There are at least two reasons. First, he had a unique encounter with Hashem that no one else in the world had experienced. In the cleft of a rock, Hashem’s Splendor passed by, and he saw Hashem’s “back[2].” How can one ever cease to compare Hashem’s awesomeness to one’s own insignificance? It’s no wonder Moshe, at the end of his life, is noted as being the most humble man to walk the surface of Earth.

However, there is another side to his humbleness that became very apparent because of this experience at Horev[3]. There is a midrash we all have learned, and this story speaks of Joseph. Near the end of his life, Joseph tells a secret to the next generation because he was very concerned about assimilation; unless Bnei Israel[4] was very careful, there would be no one to redeem after the 138 years which passed from Joseph’s death to the Exodus[5]. The story says Joseph delineated three things that most never cease:

  1. We must not replace our clothing
  2. We must not forget our language
  3. We must not give up our names

It’s most interesting to see bris milah[6] is not included in the list, because, arguably, this is a command they all knew. While we can find evidences we did not forget these three things, it did not seem to help. According to the Zohar, we still plummeted to the 49th level of Tumah.

(1) clothing

Moshe Rabbeinu, when he fled Egypt at or about the age of 40, he came to a well in Midyan[7]. There, he met the seven daughters of Reuel. He helped them get water and subsequently, this allowed the ladies to return home in record time. They told their father an Ish Mitzri[8] assisted them, and this began the relationship, that led to Moshe’s marriage to Tzipporah.

Why was he called an Ish Mitzri? On the surface, it would make sense, since he was born there. More true to form, he would have been called an Ish Mitzri because he was dressed like an Egyptian. At an early age, probably between two and four years of age, he left his parent’s home, and he took residence as the grandson of Pharaoh until he fled at or about the age of 40. When he fled, he was dressed in royal Egyptian clothing, had the latest rave styles, and wore the makeup and accouterments of the upper-class Egyptian lifestyle. It’s no wonder the daughters of Reuel said, “An Egyptian man rescued us from the shepherds; even moreso, he drew water for us and watered the sheep[9].”

(2) language

Near the age of 80, Moshe experienced an encounter with Hashem at the Sneh[10]. Here, Moshe was introduced to the career move of a lifetime: return to Egypt, stand against Pharaoh, and become the Goel[11] for Bnei Israel. However, Moshe halted and abnegated. He said, “Oh, my Lord, I am not a man of words – neither from yesterday not from the third day, nor since you spoke to Your servant, for I am of heavy mouth and of heavy tongue[12].”

Common translations seem to indicate Moshe was a stutterer or he lacked self confidence to speak, but I would like to propose a different idea. Since leaving his family at a tender age of two or fours years of age, the language of greatest influence was Egyptian. How hard is it for a four year-old child to forget his or her first language in an environment wrought with the words of a foreign tongue? To be a Goel, one needs to be able to speak the language of the people whom he is to redeem, and Moshe – at best – will have a four-year old’s vocabulary. No wonder he says he is of heavy tongue and heavy mouth – his Hebrew will sound like he has a mouthful of marbles. So to assist Moshe in a non-miraculous way (since Moshe seems to lack the faith to depend upon Hashem’s miraculous intervention), Hashem brings Aaron his brother to help him and to speak on his behalf.

(3) name

Moshe Rabbeinu was born 58 years after the death of Joseph. Sometime during the three years between the birth of Aaron and Moshe, Pharaoh decreed that all the boys born to Bnei Israel were to be thrown into the Nile[13]. Therefore, when Pharaoh said, “throw the boys into the water[14],” he was saying the Nile would determine who would live and who would die. Yocheved managed to hide the child for three months because he was a “good child,” though one should read, “quiet child[15],” instead. In order to save the boy, his mother put him in a basket and sailed him down the Nile. As providence would have it, Bas Paroah[16] found him and pulled him from the water[17].

The Nile was considered a divine force of life and death. Pharaoh was considered its divine caretaker, and they were tied to each other. Bas Paraoh’s name, which is recorded as Bitya in the midrash, indicates that she, the daughter of a god, was a deity as well. When Bitya took the boy after the weaning period was complete, she called his name Moses, and said, “Because I drew him out of the water[18].” She was greasing the wheels of Moshe career. By declaring Moshe came from the Nile, she was saying he is the son of a god – a son of the Nile, firmly placing him in the pantheon of Egyptian gods, at least on equal footing with Pharaoh himself.

In all three instances, Moshe failed to uphold the three standards accredited to Joseph. He no longer looked like he belonged to Bnei Israel, he forgot the language and was incapable of effectively communicating to the people he was sent to redeem, and his name was not Jewish; in fact, his name was deified within Egypt. But who better to redeem the people of Hashem?

  1. No one more effectively than Moshe would be able to prove the humanity of Pharaoh and the nonexistence of the Egyptian pantheon.
  2. Who better to communicate with Pharaoh than Moshe who was educated in the palace by the nation’s best instructors?
  3. Being given a name of a deity, Moshe would command respect that someone with a Hebrew name would not.

It took someone of Hebrew descent, yet removed from Bnei Israel to be the goel. But Moshe’s humbleness caused him to argue with Hashem, trying to provide logical reasons why he was a terrible candidate for this important job. In the end, in spite of these humble beginnings, Moshe proved to be an effective emissary between Hashem and His people, and to this day, he is called Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher.

Painting Credits:

[1] Numbers 12:3

[2] Exodus 33:12-34:9

[3] Mount Sinai

[4] The Children of Israel

[5] years 2309 to 2448

[6] circumcision

[7] Exodus 2:15

[8] an Egyptian man

[9] Exodus 2:19

[10] the thorn bush that was on fire yet did not burn; Exodus 3:2

[11] redeemer

[12] Exodus 4:10

[13] cf. Matthew 2:16

[14] Exodus 1:22

[15] Exodus 2:2; this is why some rabbis say the young lad’s original name was Tovia, though Chaver, Yered, or Avigdor, are among other ideas

[16] the daughter of Pharaoh

[17] Exodus 2:5-6

[18] Exodus 2:10


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