Moses – The Purveyor of Plan Bs

MosheplN B said to G-d, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” [Hashem] said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you[1]

Most people stop here and use the old arm-in-the-shirt-turns-leprous miracle and the equally impressive staff-turns-into-serpent thaumaturgy as proofs that G-d was sending Moshe to free the children of Israel. However, that’s not what the text says; that’s what we read into the text.

“…But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve G-d on this mountain[2]

G-d promised that He would be with Moshe, yet, the dialogue between the two, which features Moshe’s inability to accept his duties, eventually angers Hashem, Who says:

Then the anger of Hashem was kindled against Moshe and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; I will be with your mouth, with his mouth, and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as god[3] to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs[4].”

Whenever Tanach says, “The anger of Hashem was kindled,” something happens: the earth opens its mouth, a plague breaks forth, fire leaps from before Hashem, people die. In this narrative, nothing seems to happen. G-d gets angry, and he announces Aaron is on his way to greet him with joy in his heart. In this anticlimactic episode, are we to believe Hashem gets angry and there is no mark in conjunction with it? Every other place in Torah and Tanach, G-d’s, “burning anger,” results in a blow or a rebuke is physically expressed in the text. This is why R’Shimon b’Yochai says, “In regard to this one, too, a mark is mentioned, as it is stated, ‘Is there not Aaron your brother the Levi?’ Now, was he not a Cohen? Rather, this is what He meant: ‘I had said you would be a priest[5] and [Aaron] a Levi; now, however, he will be a priest and you a Levite[6].’” In context, “Levite” is mentioned here simply as a member of the tribe of Levi. No additional kedushah should be assumed, and the reason for this is given below.

Therefore, a Plan B replaced the first Plan A where Moshe would not only facilitate the release of Bnei Israel[7] from captivity, but also represent the people before Hashem as Cohen Gadol. Now, Plan B has Moshe serving as a navi[8] and Aaron serving as Cohen Gadol[9].

Hashem tells Moshe to bring Bnei Israel to Mt. Sinai to serve Him; at that point, with the revelation of Hashem’s voice and Matan Torah[10], Moshe and the Children of Israel would know definitively that Moshe Rabbeinu[11] was sent by G-d.

“…and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve G-d on this mountain[12]

We rightly see this as G-d’s original intent. However, when we are released from Captivity, the opening verse of Parshah Beshallach[13] provides an anomaly that must be explained.

When Pharaoh let the people go, G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For G-d said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt[14].”

A seeming discontinuity exists between “bring them to this mountain,” and “G-d would not send them by way of the Philistines,” because He didn’t want them discouraged in the face of war[15]. These two conditions are mutually exclusive. We cannot return to Sinai and also follow the coastline to the Promised Land. The Rabbis have concluded that we were not ready to leave Egypt; our faith in Hashem was weak as seen in the narrative that follows (Exodus through Numbers). Therefore, instead of taking us a direct route to the Promised Land as one could interpret the brit bein hebatrim[16] as indicating, G-d took us to the Mountain of Horev, which is renamed Mt. Sinai because of the sneh[17].

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then Hashem said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here [to the land of Canaan] in the fourth generation[18]

In an act similar to Tzimtzum[19], Hashem takes a piece of the holiness of Zion and brings it temporarily to Mt. Sinai, and the revelation of Matan Torah occurs. However, the revelation is a contraction of what we would have experienced had this event occurred on Zion as a Plan A. While we experienced the Revelation at Sinai and received the Torah, had this occurred in Zion, we never would have lost the first temple – a temple built by Moshe Rabbeinu[20].

A second Plan B is realized by our arrival at Mt. Sinai. It was intended we head straight into the Land of Canaan and receive the Torah at Mount Zion.

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moshe, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let G-d speak to us, lest we die.” Moshe said to the people, “Do not fear, for G-d has come to test you, that the fear of Him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moshe drew near to the thick darkness where G-d resided[21].

Hashem listened to the voice of the people and this is when the duties of the Navi (prophet) was created. The people as a community would no longer hear the voice of Hashem. Instead, G-d would choose a written document[22] as the foundation of our faith and emissaries or navi to speak further revelation to the people[23].

The third Plan B involves the voice of G-d being heard only by the prophets. Never again has the voice of G-d been heard by the nation as a unit.

The bechorim[24] were to assist the Cohen Gadol and the Cohanim[25] in the Temple / Tabernacle service. This concept was brought to the fore during the tenth plague when G-d said we are to sanctify the bechor. They were set aside for a special purpose. At the Cheit HaEgel[26], the bechorim were performing their tasks as “Cohanim” before the Golden Calf. When the Leviim stood up and killed those who sacrificed to the idol[27], Moshe said the Leviim would be ordained for the service before Hashem[28]. Because of their grave sin, the Bechorim lost their privilege and the Leviim took their place.

And when Moshe saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), then Moshe stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on Hashem’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, “Thus says Hashem G-d of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.'” And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moshe. And that day about 3,000 men of the people fell. And Moshe said, “Today you (spec. Levites) have been ordained for the service of Hashem, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.[29]

The loss of status for the firstborn is mentioned again in the book of Numbers. Chapter Three makes it explicit that the Leviim are to serve the function once enjoyed by the Bechorim.

And Hashem spoke unto Moshe, saying: ‘And I, behold, I have taken the Leviim from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel; and the Leviim shall be Mine for all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified to Me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine, I am Hashem.[30]

When the Levites returned from their grizzly task, they were ordained for the service of Hashem; their duties would be the duties stripped from the firstborn sons of Israel.

The fourth Plan B involves the Temple function being removed from the Bechorim and being given to the Leviim.

The Shekhinah was supposed to dwell within us. There wasn’t supposed to be a dwelling place for Hashem because we were to be His dwelling Place. The Aron[31] was a tool that allowed us to store the Luchot[32] that Moshe brought down from Heaven: a holy Storage Unit for a most holy item from Heaven.

And let them make for me a sanctuary and I shall dwell in them[33].

I will dwell in the midst of Bnei Israel and I will be to them a G-d, and they shall know that I am Hashem their G-d who brought them up from the land of Egypt that I may dwell in them. I am Hashem their G-d[34].

Due to our obstinacy, our proclivity toward avodah zarah at this time, and our unwillingness to take responsibility for ourselves, Hashem removed his Presence from our midst and put it at a safer distance. Our desire for the mundane, our need for gross sin, our lack of faith was still too high and this would be our death were the Presence of G-d to remain so close.

Then Hashem spoke to Moshe, “Leave, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaani, the Amori, the Hitti, the Perizzi, the Hivi, and the Yevusi. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way[35]

The fifth Plan B is the Shekinah dwelling would no longer dwell in the midst of Bnei Israel. Now, the Presence of Hashem would dwell with the people a safe distance away – in the Mishkan and far separated from the people of Israel.

If one can extrapolate that the original Plan A was for Moshe to lead us from the Land of Egypt into the Promised Land to construct a House for the worship of G-d, we failed to accomplish that goal by about 700 years – if my rough calculations are correct[36].

The sixth Plan B is the building of a Mishkan what would stand about 700 years before we built the Beit Rishon[37] in Jerusalem under the leadership of Solomon.

After we receive the Torah and after the Mishkan[38] was constructed, we left Mt. Sinai and headed toward the Promised Land. In Numbers 13, G-d permits us to send spies to reconnoiter the land[39]. When they return, ten spies give a negative, frightening account, while two[40] gave a positive G-d-centered account designed to inspire faith. We chose to listen to the bad reports and our reaction was over the top, dramatic, and preposterous.

And the whole congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all Bnei Israel murmured against Moshe and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Would that we had died in this wilderness! Why does Hashem bring us into this land – to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be a prey. Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” And they said one to another, “Let us make a captain, and let us return to Egypt.” Then Moshe and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.

And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Yephunneh, who were of those that spied out the land, rent their clothes: and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceeding good land. If Hashem delights in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it unto us; a land flowing with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against Hashem.  Do not fear the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defense is removed from over them, and Hashem is with us: fear not.” But the whole congregation moved to stone them with stones, but the glory of Hashem appeared in the tent of meeting unto all the children of Israel[41].

This event was the last straw. The adult generation who experienced the Exodus would perish in the desert prior to our entry.

A seventh change in course occurs when a Plan B turns into a Plan C. We fail to enter the Land after the Cheit HaMeraglim; we listen to the ten bad reports of the spies and we had to wait 38 more years to enter the land under the leadership of Yehoshua.

While this seems to be a long list of depressing twists, there is one more, and that’s when Moshe twice strikes the rock instead of speaking to it to produce water soon after the death of Miriam. His punishment for failing to uphold Kiddush Hashem in front of the congregation is losing his ability to enter the Promised Land. At the end of his life, Moshe climbs Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah[42]. There, he looks upon the land, but is never able to cross over. Thirty days later, in yet another Plan B, Joshua b’Nun, takes the Children of Israel over the Jordan and, under his guidance and leadership, continues the conquest.

[1] Exodus 3:11-12

[2] Exodus 3:11-12

[3] or judge

[4] Exodus 4:14:17

[5] The Sages maintain Moshe was invested with priesthood only for the seven days of the consecration of Aaron and his sons

[6] b.Zevachim 102a

[7] Children of Israel

[8] prophet

[9] High Priest

[10] the giving of the Torah

[11] Moses our Teacher

[12] Exodus 3:12

[13] Exodus 13:17 – 17:16

[14] Exodus 13:17

[15] Another thing to remember is our war with Amalek began when we asked, “Is Hashem with us or not?” [Exodus 17:7-16]

[16] Genesis 15:9-21, the Covenant Between the Parts

[17] the burning bush

[18] Genesis 15:12-16

[19] צמצום contraction or constriction

[20] The tzimtzum expresses the idea that God began creation by contracting his Ein Sof [infiniteness] to allow a finite and independent realm to exist.

[21] Exodus 20:18-21

[22] The Torah

[23] With this revelation never able to contradict or negate the original revelation given to us

[24] the firstborn males of every womb

[25] the physical descendants of the original Cohen Gadol

[26] Sin of the Golden Calf

[27] Exodus 32:25-29

[28] It is at this point that the Leviim are chosen for their special task as aides to the Cohanim. Had the tribe of Dan, for instance, stepped forward to stand with Moshe at that fateful moment, we would have the Danim who served with the Cohanim.

[29] Exodus 32:25-29

[30] Numbers 3:11-13

[31] Ark of the Covenant

[32] the tablets

[33] Exodus 25:8

[34] Exodus 29:44-45

[35] Exodus 33:1-3

[36] Building a timeline from the death of Moshe to the building of the Beit Rishon will become a future post

[37] First Temple

[38] Tabernacle

[39] Deuteronomy 1:22-25 gives us a more accurate portrayal of the events leading up to the Chait haMeraglim [Sin of the Spies]

[40] especially Kalev from Chevet Ephraim

[41] Numbers 14:1-10

[42] Deuteronomy 34:1-6


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