Why did God choose Moses to be the most important of prophets and the savior of the Israelites? The Biblical text this week in Sh’mot (Exodus 1:1-6:1) begins to tell the story of this extraordinary leader.
Born of a Hebrew slave-woman, Moses was raised as an Egyptian prince but was at home nowhere. His place was with God.
The Torah tells us that Moses was the most intimate of God’s prophets who communed with the Almighty panim el panim — “face to face” or ‘soul to soul’ (Exodus 33:11). No other prophet is described in such intimate and personal terms in all of Biblical literature. We learn as well that Moses was the most humble human being ever to live (Numbers 12:3).
Moses is our people’s gold standard of a religious, moral, and political leader. In our era the world has benefited from other great figures including Mahatma Gandhi, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela. Nevertheless, Moses stands alone.
The prophetic message is old but ever new, and as we ourselves witness cruelty on the southern border of the United States, in Syria, the Congo, and in countless other places, Moses remains our moral standard-bearer.
What follows is my effort, drawing upon Biblical, midrashic and mystic imagery, to evoke Moses’ character and experience as he begins his prophetic mission.
I walk about in a daze / Eyes sunk in creviced faces / Fettered to worldly tasks / Unable to glimpse rainbows.
I imagine Moses in Midian like that / Brooding in exile / Burdened by the people’s suffering / Knowing that each day / They scream from stopped-up hearts / Shedding silent tears.
A simple shepherd Moses / Staff in hand / Counting sheep / Until one day weaving among rocks / And bramble bushes / The shepherd heard thorns popping / Turning his head his eyes opened / And he would never be the same.
God had from his birth taken note of him / And waited until this moment / To choose him as prophet.
Dodi dofek pitchi li / A-choti ra-yati yo-nati ta-mati / Open to me, my dove / my twin / my undefiled one. (Song of Songs 5:2)
Moses heard God’s voice / Beheld angels / His soul flowing in a sacred river / Of Shechinah light.
‘Why me? / Why should I behold such wonder? / Unworthy am I!’
God said / ‘Moses – I choose you / Because you are soft / Because you weep / Because your heart is burdened / Because you know the world’s cruelty / And you have not become cruel / Nor do you stand idly by.
You are a tender of sheep / And you will lead my people / With the shepherd’s staff from Egypt / And teach them to open their hearts / Without fear.’
Trembling, Moses peered a second time / Into the bush aflame / Free from ash and smoke.
His eyes opened as in a dream / And he heard a soft murmuring sound / Like the sound breath makes / Passing through lips.
Two voices—One utterance / He hid his face / The more Moses heard / The brighter was the light / And he knew he must turn away / Or die.
The prophet’s thoughts were free / Soaring beyond form / No longer of self / To this very day / There has not been a purer soul than his.
God said ‘Come no closer Moses! / Remove your shoes / Stand barefoot here on this earth / I want your soul.
I am here with you and in you / I am every thing / And no thing / And You are Me / I see that which is and which is not / And I hear it all.
Take heed shepherd-prince / My people‘s blood / Calls to me from the ground / The living suffer still / A thousand deaths.
You must go and take them out / Every crying child / Every lashed man / Every woman screaming.
And Moses know this / “With weeping they will come / And with compassion will I guide them.” (Jeremiah 31:8) / The people’s exile began with tears / And it will end with tears.
I have recorded their story in a Book / Black fire on white fire / Letters on parchment / Telling of slaves / Seeing light / Turning to Me / Becoming a nation.
The Book is My spirit / The letters are My heart / They are near to you / That you might do them / And teach them / And redeem My world / That it might not be consumed in flames.
Poem composed by Rabbi John Rosove