And This Shall Be The Sign That I Have Sent You: An Analysis of The Inauguration of Mosheh - Part 1
By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom
“AND MOSHEH WAS TENDING THE FLOCK…”
Mosheh Rabbenu, to whom we are introduced in this week’s Parashah, is the
first Navi, properly speaking. Even though God had previously spoken with
various individuals (Adam, Havah, Kayin, Noach, Avraham, Hagar, Avimelekh,
Yitzhak, Ya’akov and Lavan) as documented in Sefer B'resheet, these were all
“personal” communications. In other words, every one of these people
received God’s word (in some cases in a vision or via an angel) but they
were never instructed to transmit that Divine communiqué further. N’vu’ah in
the sense of Divine Agency, which continues to be the purpose of N’vu’ah
throughout the rest of the T’nakh, begins with Mosheh. Mosheh is thus termed
"Av laN'vi'im" - the father of prophets (Midrash T'hillim 90:8).
Mosheh's inauguration does not take place in his early years; rather, Mosheh
is nearly 80 when God first speaks with him. The passage that includes the
setting (three verses) and dialogue between God and Mosheh comprises one
parashah, consisting of 39 verses (3:1-4:17). The scene takes place on Har
Horev/Sinai, resulting from Mosheh's tending of Yitro’s flock. He sees the
wondrous vision of the enflamed bush that is not consumed – and turns to
attend to this sight. At that point, God calls to him and he is inaugurated
An in-depth analysis of the text demands significantly more space than this
forum allows for. We will, instead, attend to the structural nuances of this
inaugural passage, identifying patterns and utilizing that analysis to
explain several macro-questions relating to the agency of Mosheh and his
career. The essay will span two issues; this first one will delineate the
outline of the dialogue, observing the local use of those rhetorical tools
that are commonly found in T’nakh. We will also point out several themes
which course through the dialogue and identify the development and unfolding
of those ideas. One of the central issues which we will address is the
unique position of Mosheh among all N'vi'im, as elucidated in Bamidbar 12
(and as codified by Maimonides as faith-principle #7) - and his
development to that unequalled stature.
Although we will quote the relevant passages in full, it will be helpful to
peruse this study with Humash in hand.
Before even attending to the structure of the dialogue, a curious textual
feature (which repeats in one other passage in T'nakh) appears here.
We are accustomed to thinking about this dialogue as geared towards the
redemption of the B'nei Yisra'el from Egypt - and the confrontational nature
of the process which will ultimately bring them home to Eretz Yisra'el. It
is instructive to note that most of the dialogue is not directed towards
Mosheh’s task (i.e. the actual “Sh’lichut”), rather to various aspects of
God's reassurance, support and assistance in the performance and success of
that agency. There is a rhetorical device that, once we are familiar with
its use, will help us identify the main theme of this critical selection.
The word that shows up most frequently in these 39 verses appears 14 times,
which (as a multiple of 7) marks it as a leitwort or "key word" (Milah
Manhah). We have observed, analyzed and commented on the use of leitworten
in earlier essays and have consistently stressed that there is nothing
"magical" or "numerological" about isolating the repeated word to identify
its role as a guide to grasping the overall message or theme of the passage.
The sevenfold repetition of words is an easily identifiable and recognizable
rhetorical device - it demands no sophisticated machinery unavailable to
Biblical man nor does it contain any secret messages.
It may be surprising, given the expectation that this prophecy focus on the
redemption of the B'nei Yisra'el, to find that the leitwort is none other
than "Mosheh". In other words, much as we anticipate (and assume) that the
prophecy is about redemption - it is really about Mosheh - this is his
inauguration into N'vuah, into leadership. I hope to support this claim with
much more than the observation of 7 x 2 occurrences of "Mosheh" in this
There is one other selection in T'nakh which mirrors this phenomenon. In I
Sh'mu'el 3, a chapter made up of 21 verses, we read about the inauguration
of Sh'mu'el into N'vuah. There are several elegant rhetorical devices at
play in that chapter which the sensitive reader will notice; nonetheless,
the text seems to be focusing on the prophecy of the downfall of the house
of Eli. A simple perusal of the text - keeping the notion of the leitwort in
mind - leaves us with a very different impression. In this rather short
chapter, the most common word (appearing 21 - 7 x 3 times) is "Sh'mu'el."
Again, as the text hints at the beginning of the chapter (prophecy was rare
in those days) and again at the beginning of Chapter 4 (the B'nei Yisra'el
knew that Sh'mu'el was trusted by God), his inauguration into prophecy was
really the key event of that chapter. The density of the use of his name
bears this out - the sum total of occurrences of "Sh'mu'el" is just, as it
were, icing on the cake.
Parenthetically, this may be the textual source for a mysterious Midrash
about God's initial address to Mosheh, in which God speaks to Mosheh using
the voice of Mosheh's own father (Sh'mot Rabbah 3:1). . From the text in
Sh'mu'el, it seems that God was speaking to Sh'mu'el in the voice of Eli,
his mentor and, in a manner of speaking, father. In spite of the many
differences between the scenes, there is an underlying parallel between the
inauguration of these two giants (the text in T'hillim even ties them
together: "Mosheh and Aharon were among His ministers, and Sh'mu'el was
among those who call His Name" - 99:6). A full analysis of these two
parallel selections must wait for another opportunity, but it may be the
key, among other things, to understanding the aforementioned Midrash.
The second observation involves a careful look at the fragmented nature of
the dialogue. The first fragmentation is normal - even expected. God speaks
and Mosheh responds, asks, refuses etc. That is what makes this a prophetic
dialogue as opposed to a Divine monologue.
There is, however, a pattern found in most of the Divine utterances here
which is initially jarring without a proper understanding of the rhetorical
device at work.
THE “VAYOMER” PROBLEM
If we were to divide God's words into separate speech-units, using Mosheh's
interjections and responses as dividers, we would arrive at a total of 8
speeches. Some of these would be short as two words (#1: "Mosheh, Mosheh",
#5: "MahZeh b'Yadekha") while others would encompass a significant amount of
text (#4 includes verses 14-22). The speeches would be divided as follows:
This division is all well and good except, as noted, for a "linguistic
disturbance" which appears in speeches #2, 4 and 6 - which we will refer to
as the "Vayomer problem."
In conventional dialogue, each side speaks and then ceases while the other
responds. In narrative writing (as opposed to a play), the text states "and
he said", "and he asked" etc. to indicate that the previously silent party
is now speaking. There is never a need to repeat "and he said" if the first
party is going to add to his previous words - it clutters the text and leads
to possible confusion as to whom is being addressed by who.
Nonetheless, there are countless times when this "clutter" appears in
dialogues in T'nakh. One striking example is found in Bamidbar 32. When the
members of Re'uven and Gad approached Mosheh to request land in Gil'ad, they
began as follows:
And the sons of Re'uven and the sons of Gad had a very great multitude
of cattle; and when they saw the land of Ya'azer, and the land of Gil'ad,
that, behold, the place was a place for cattle; The sons of Gad and the sons
of Re'uven came and spoke to Mosheh, and to El'azar the Kohen, and to the
princes of the congregation, saying, Ataroth, and Divon, and Ya'azer, and
Nimrah, and Heshbon, and El'aleh, and Shevam, and N'vo, and B'on, The
country which Hashem struck before the congregation of Yisra'el, is a land
for cattle, and your servants have cattle; (32:1-4)
At this point, there is a parashah petuchah (new paragraph), which begins with:
Vayom'ru - (and they said): If we have found grace in your sight, let
this land be given to your servants for a possession, and bring us not over
Since the Gadites and Re'uvenites were already speaking, what need was there
for the text to add Vayom'ru?
This phenomenon occurs about a hundred times in the Torah, whereby a speaker
is quoted directly and the narrative interrupts the speech with the word
vayomer. The flow of speech is thus broken without any external party
interfering. What is the point of this textual device?
Meir Shiloach z"l made an almost comprehensive collection of all of such
instances in the Torah (Sefer Korngreen, Tel Aviv 1964), demonstrating that
this technique indicates "a pause in the speaker's words; since thereafter
he starts his words anew, the Torah needs to write again 'and he said,' as
it would in the case of a person who has just started speaking."
Shiloach divides all the instances which he collects into seven groups, the
first of which is when the speaker pauses because he "awaits a response or
an action hinted at in the first part of his words." He lists eleven
instances of vayomer…vayomer that occur for this reason, heading the list
with the words of the tribes of Gad and Reuven noted above.
Evidently, they were hoping that Mosheh would respond to their veiled
request - the "parashah space" indicates that there was a silence as Mosheh
waited for them to commit themselves further. As such, the text begins
their next speech with another Vayom'ru to identify this as a distinct
speech, necessitated by the lack of response on the part of their audience
Shiloach follows this example with a remarkably similar occurrence: the
words of Yoseph's brothers to Pharaoh when they request permission to settle
in the land of Goshen (Bereishit 47:3-4). In both instances, the speakers
expect that the listener will fulfill their request without their having to
make it explicit, and when their hints receive no response, they go on to
make their request explicit.
Here is the third instance from that list:
And they said: Stand back. And they said: This person came [only] to
sojourn; will he then judge? Now we will deal worse with you than with them
The men of Sodom hint to Lot that he should move aside and allow them a free
hand to 'deal with' his guests. It is only after Lot displays unwillingness
to desert his guests, and they realize after a certain pause that he truly
means to protect the people who have come under his roof, that they burst
out: And they said: This person came to sojourn; will he then judge? And
they approached to break the door
One other example of this phenomenon has been utilized to clarify an
otherwise abstruse statement. In the presence of the Egyptian grainmaster,
(Yoseph) at the onset of their "troubles", Re'uven turns to his brothers and
Did I not speak to you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and you
would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required. (42:22)
The Rishonim are bothered by this statement, as we never find Re'uven
warning them in this manner. A careful look at the referent interaction
between Re'uven and his brothers in Dotan, along with an appreciation of the
rhetorical tool of Vayomer…Vayomer will help us:
And Reuven heard it, and he saved him from their hands; and said, Let us
not kill him. And Reuven said to them, Shed no blood, but throw him into
this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might
rid him from their hands, to deliver him to his father again. (37:21-22).
Note that v. 22 begins again Vayomer Re'uven, to indicate that he waited for
a response which would have saved Yoseph from any harsh treatment. After
their silence, Re'uven steps back to a less confrontational position, which
the brothers accept - throwing Yoseph in the pit, ostensibly to let him
perish on his own.
Now we are ready to reevaluate the division of speech-units in our passage.
This "linguistic disturbance" appears several times in God's speeches in
this inaugural scene. During speeches #2, 4 and 6, God continues speaking
without interruption, yet the disruptive "Vayomer" further divides His words
into more speech-units.
By utilizing the Vayomer marker, we can discern 15 separate speech units in
God's words to Mosheh. Once we have made this division, some interesting and
curious developments come to light which broaden and deepen our
understanding of the development of Mosheh's role throughout this scene, as
well as the impact and significance of the entire "first stand at Sinai".
Here are the fifteen speech-units found in this passage. Mosheh's responses
are in [brackets], narrative notes are in (parentheses).
1) (And when Hashem saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him
out of the midst of the bush, and said) Mosheh, Mosheh.
(And he said) [Here am I].
2) (And He said), Do not come any closer; take off your shoes from your
feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.
3) (And He said), I am the God of your father, the God of Avraham, the
God of Yitzhak, and the God of Ya’akov. (And Mosheh hid his face; for he was
afraid to look upon God.)
4) (And Hashem said,) I have surely seen the affliction of my people who
are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; for I
know their sorrows; And I have come down to save them from the hand of the
Egyptians, and to bring them out of that land to a good and large land, to a
land flowing with milk and honey; to the place of the Canaanites, and the
Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the
Jebusites. And therefore, behold, the cry of the people of Yisra’el has
come to me; and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians
oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh, that you
may bring forth my people the children of Yisra’el out of Egypt.
(And Mosheh said to God,) [Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I
should bring forth the people of Yisra’el out of Egypt?]
5) (And He said), Certainly I will be with you; and this shall be a sign
to you, that I have sent you; When you have brought forth the people out of
Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.
(And Mosheh said to God,) [Behold, when I come to the people of Israel, and
shall say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you; and they
shall say to me, What is His name, what shall I say to them?]
6) (And God said to Mosheh,) Eh-yeh asher Eh-yeh;
7) (and He said,) Thus shall you say to the people of Israel, Eh-yeh has
sent me to you.
8) (And God said moreover to Mosheh,) Thus shall you say to the people of
Yisra’el, Hashem God of your fathers, the God of Avraham, the God of
Yitzhak, and the God of Ya’akov, has sent me to you; this is My name
forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.Go, and gather the
elders of Yisra’el together, and say to them, Hashem God of your fathers,
the God of Avraham, of Yitzhak, and of Ya’akov, appeared to me, saying, I
have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt;And I
have said, I will bring you out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of
the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and
the Hivites, and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey.And
they shall listen to your voice; and you shall come, you and the elders of
Yisra’el, to the king of Egypt, and you shall say to him, Hashem God of the
Hebrews has met with us; and now let us go, we beseech you, three days’
journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to Hashem our God.And I
am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, if not by a mighty
hand.And I will stretch out my hand, and strike Egypt with all my wonders
which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go.And I will
give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall come to
pass, that, when you go, you shall not go empty;But every woman shall borrow
from her neighbor, and from her who sojourns in her house, jewels of silver,
and jewels of gold, and garments; and you shall put them upon your sons, and
upon your daughters; and you shall plunder the Egyptians.
(And Mosheh answered and said,) [But, behold, they will not believe me, nor
listen to my voice; for they will say, Hashem has not appeared to you.]
9) (And Hashem said to him,) What is that in your hand?
(And he said,) [A rod.]
10) (And He said,) Throw it to the ground. (And he threw it to the ground,
and it became a serpent; and Mosheh fled from it.)
11) (And Hashem said to Mosheh,) Put forth your hand, and take it by the
tail. (And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his
hand;) That they may believe that Hashem God of their fathers, the God of
Avraham, the God of Yitzhak, and the God of Ya’akov, has appeared to you.
12) (And Hashem said furthermore to him,) Put now your hand into your bosom.
(And he put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, behold, his
hand was diseased, white as snow.)
13) (And He said,) Put your hand into your bosom again. (And he put his hand
into his bosom again; and plucked it from his bosom, and, behold, it was
turned again as his other flesh.) And it shall come to pass, if they will
not believe you, nor listen to the voice of the first sign, that they will
believe the voice of the latter sign. And it shall come to pass, if they
will not believe also these two signs, nor listen to your voice, that you
shall take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land; and the
water that you take from the river shall become blood upon the dry land.
(And Mosheh said to Hashem,) [O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither
yesterday nor the day before, nor since you have spoken to your servant; but
I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.]
14) (And Hashem said to him,) Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes the dumb,
or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Is it not I Hashem? Now therefore go,
and I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you shall say.
(And he said,) [O my Lord, send, I beseech you, by the hand of him whom you
15) (And the anger of Hashem was kindled against Mosheh, and He said,) Is
not Aharon the Levi your brother? I know that he can speak well. And also,
behold, he comes forth to meet you; and when he sees you, he will be glad in
his heart. And you shall speak to him, and put words in his mouth; and I
will be with your mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what you
shall do. And he shall be your spokesman to the people; and he shall be to
you instead of a mouth, and you shall be to him instead as a master. And you
shall take this rod in your hand, with which you shall do signs.
As outlined in the previous section, Mosheh speaks seven times during this
selection. His responses are symmetrically placed within the entire scheme -
3 within the first 7 speech-units of God, 3 within the final 7 and one in
response to the central speech (#8). There is a further elegance to the
schema of his responses, which can more easily be discerned by charting them
a) Hineni (Here am I)
b) Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth
the people of Yisra’el out of Egypt?
c) Behold, when I come to the people of Israel, and shall say to them,
The God of your fathers has sent me to you; and they shall say to me, What
is His name, what shall I say to them?
d) But, behold, they will not believe me, nor listen to my voice; for
they will say, Hashem has not appeared to you.
e) A rod
f) O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither yesterday nor the day before,
nor since you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech, and of a
g) O my Lord, send, I beseech you, by the hand of him whom you will send.
The first response is one of complete readiness and servitude. The final
response is its direct opposite - what is referred to as "opposite
parallelism"; Mosheh simply refuses to accept the mission, without even
trying to support his (courteous) refusal with a reason.
The second and sixth responses are similarly linked. The second statement is
phrased as a question, implying a request for support and help (see Rashbam
ad loc.). The sixth (second to last) is an assertion, defining Mosheh's
inability to complete the mission due to his poor oratory skills.
Mosheh's third and fifth speeches are also associated by apposition. In the
third, Mosheh requests (again asking, not stating) to know God's Name, the
most abstract and inaccessible knowledge which exists. . Indeed, God's
answer may reflect that philosophic inaccessibility. He desires this
knowledge in order to convince the people that he is truly a messenger of
the one true God. In the fifth response - a one word answer to God's two
word question - Mosheh defines (again no question here, although we would
certainly not expect one) that which is obvious to anyone - he is holding a
staff. As opposed to the third speech which motivates a response by God,
this one is itself an answer to God's query.
As we have seen several times in this forum, the purpose of this type of
literary structure - known as a "chiasmus" - is to highlight the middle
occurrence. When the parallel steps are synonymous in theme and message, the
"fulcrum" may serve as the apex or crescendo of the entire literary unit.
When, as in our case, the parallels represent opposite themes that move away
from each other, the middle occurrence usually represents the turning point.
This point will clarify the reason for the turn from the earlier movement
(in our case, towards acceptance of the agency) towards the latter movement
(refusal - and, as we will see further down, a new formulation of that agency).
Several examples of this type of inverted chiasmus with a "turnabout
fulcrum" can be adduced in T'nakh - the seven visions of Zekharyah
(Zekharyah 1:7-6:8), the entire book of Esther (which turns at 6:10), and
the entire "travelogue" from Egypt to Sinai (Sh'mot 13-18). This last
example has been presented, using the "inverted chiasmus", in V'shinantam 4/16.
Now we can look, with more sensitive eyes, at Mosheh's fourth response to
God - the one which represents the turning point (turning from what towards
what has yet to be defined).
Note that all other statements are self-referential - Mosheh's statement of
readiness, questioning his own stature, a request for proof of God speaking
with him, the simple declaration that he was holding a staff, his claim of
poor oratory skills and his final refusal. Here is where the middle
statement represents a significant departure from the rest: It focuses not
on Mosheh but on the lack of faith of the B'nei Yisra'el. (How Mosheh knew
this after decades of exile from his family and Egypt is unclear.
Nonetheless, those are his words.)
Once we complete our analysis of the lion's share of these passages (i.e.
God's speeches), we will return to this middle statement of Mosheh's and
endeavor to identify its role as the turning point in the entire dialogue.
This analysis and the conclusions we draw from it will be covered in the
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and Torah.org. The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.
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