The seventh of Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith declares that Moses was “the father of the prophets both those who preceded and those that followed him”.
Clear Scriptural evidence for this assertion is provided in the pre-penultimate verse of the Torah, Deut 34:10 – “Never has there arisen a navi (prophet) like Moses whom G-D knew ‘face-to-face’”.
However, already in Sefer Bemidbar (Num 12) this superiority is revealed to Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ siblings. They had questioned why their brother had separated maritally from his wife Zipora, thinking he had done this voluntarily, not realising it had been a Divine command (see Deut 5:27-28) because Moses uniquely had always to be in a pure state to receive the word of G-D.
Responding to their criticisms of Moses, G-D rebukes them saying: Hear now my words: if there will be prophets among you, in a night-vision or a dream (mar’a) shall I G-D reveal Myself to him and speak with him. Not so my servant Moses ….mouth-to-mouth I speak to him in a clear vision (mar’eh), not in riddles (Num 12:6-8)
Two words are used here for “vision” – mar’a and mar’eh. The first, in feminine form, applicable to all other prophets, denotes a vision or dream lacking total clarity or a trance-like state. When these prophets communicate their prophecies to the people for whom they are intended (that is the function of a navi, a conveyer (le-havi) of a Divine message to others), they do so in their own words and bringing their own personalities to bear.
The second word for “vision”, mar’eh, in the masculine form, applies only to Moses. G-D communicates with Moses in absolute clarity and Moses becomes the conduit to bring the clear Divine word verbatim to the people. The Torah is the exact word of G-D to Moses, chief of the prophets.
The secret of how Moses merited this unique distinction of ambassador supreme is contained in this week’s sidra in which Moses is first introduced to us.
The words mar’eh and mar’a resemble the English word “mirror”. It is more than likely that the English derives etymologically from the Hebrew. Indeed “mirror” is apt to describe the symbiotic link between Moses’ reaction at the burning bush and his selection as prophet supreme.
Moses is shepherding his father-in-law Yitro’s flocks. The care and selfless devotion he shows to the flocks, as he had to the welfare of the Hebrew smitten by the Egyptian and of Yitro’s daughters who were being harassed by the male shepherds at the well, qualified him ideally for the role of leader of his people. But he seals his selection when he reacts to a burning bush, blazing but inexplicably not consumed.
Remember Moses grew up in magic-riddled Egypt. He surely would have been used to similar sights and could easily have dismissed it as enchantment or an optical illusion. However he perceives G-D’s angel in the bush (Ex. 3:2). And he exclaims: I shall turn aside and see this great vision (mar’eh) why the bush is not burnt! (3:3)
The word used by Moses is mar’eh. He perceived it as a big, profound, significant, clear Divine vision. On this occasion the word mar’eh is not designated by G-D. It was Moses’ choice how he would react, if he would view this sight as a mar’eh, a mar’a or a sleight-of-hand. Because Moses chose to turn aside to look at what he saw as a mar’eh, G-D mirrored his choice (explicitly narrated in 3:4) by selecting him as His prophet supreme to reveal the Torah to him in mar’eh, in clarity of vision for the rest of his life.
G-D’s ‘angels’ appear to us in an amazing multiplicity of ways. We can choose to see them in everyday occurrences or to be blind to them even when their presence is blindingly obvious. It all depends on our strength and quality of inner vision!