Understanding God's Conversations with Moses | Aleph Beta

The Exodus And Babe Ruth

Understanding God's Conversations With Moses

Immanuel Shalev


Epic speeches inspire us, but what if you're hearing the same epic speech over...and over...and over? That's what we seem to hear when God speaks to Moses in Parshat Va'era (Exodus 6:2–9:35).

Why was there so much repetitive conversation between God and Moses before the actual Exodus from Egypt? Why not just jump into the awesome miracles and leave the talking for later?

Join us as we explore the Exodus story, and try to understand what was God's real message to Moses.

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Teacher Guide: The Exodus and Babe Ruth
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Outline: The Exodus and Babe Ruth
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David: Epic speeches inspire us. They paint a picture of a better future. Martin Luther King Jr. emphatically said "I have a dream," and with those words, he acknowledged suffering and inspired us to believe that things can change.

Immanuel: It seems that that's exactly what God tries to do at the beginning of our parsha.

God Speaks with Moses... Again... and Again

Immanuel: He notices the Israelite suffering, and promises a better future!

וְגַם אֲנִי שָׁמַעְתִּי, אֶת-נַאֲקַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, – I have heard the groans of the Israelites.

לָכֵן אֱמֹר לִבְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, – therefore, say to the Israelites,

אֲנִי יְהוָה, וְהוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלֹת מִצְרַיִם – I am God, and I'll take you out from the oppression of Egypt.

וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתִי אֶת-יָדִי, לָתֵת אֹתָהּ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב – and I'll bring you to the land that I swore I'd give Abraham Isaac and Jacob.

David: See, the problem is, this speech would be epic... but God has already said that he's heard their cries, that he'll save them from Egypt and that He'll bring them to the promised land.

When God first charges Moses with his mission at the burning bush three chapters ago, God says:

רָאֹה רָאִיתִי אֶת-עֳנִי עַמִּי אֲשֶׁר בְּמִצְרָיִם, וְאֶת-צַעֲקָתָם שָׁמַעְתִּי; – I've seen the oppression of my people in Egypt, and I've heard their cries.

וָאֵרֵד לְהַצִּילוֹ מִיַּד מִצְרַיִם – I'm gonna go down to save them,

וּלְהַעֲלֹתוֹ מִן-הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא, אֶל-אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה, – and to bring them from this land to good and expansive, referring to the promised land.

Immanuel: Why is God giving this speech again in our parsha? Once wasn't enough? King's epic speech was "I have a dream," not "let me remind you of that dream I had…" In fact, why is God bothering with any of these speeches in the first place?

Understanding God's Conversations with Moses

There's a ton of dialogue between God, Moses, and the people throughout the Exodus story – as a prelude to leaving Egypt. Over and over again, God tells them what He's about to do….

Why not stop talking about freeing the people… and just free them? And why bother with any of this exodus saga? There were easier and quicker ways that God could have freed the people: He could've flown them out on a magic carpet with a snap of a finger. Why bother with the speeches, the visits to Pharaoh, the plagues?

David: Let's get to the heart of the Exodus story, this week on the Parsha Experiment. Hi, I'm David Block.

Immanuel: And I'm Imu Shalev

David: And Welcome to the Parsha Experiment. Let's bring up our 20-second parsha recap:

  • God delivers a speech to Moses about how He's gonna save the people from slavery.
  • Moses conveys the speech to the people, but they don't listen.
  • We hear about the genealogy that led to the birth of Moses and Aaron.
  • Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh, Aaron's staff miraculously turns into a snake, but Pharaoh isn't swayed.
  • Then we have the first seven of 10 plagues.
  • Throughout the plagues, Moses tries to convince Pharaoh to let the people go but Pharaoh refuses, following each of the plagues.

David: So, let's work backwards. Why did God bother with this whole exodus story instead of magicking the people of Egypt? This question is actually at the core of a series by Rabbi Fohrman – check it out.

For now, here's a taste of his thesis. If the Exodus story was all about freeing the people, yes, God could have done that quite easily. But it wasn't just about that. God had an agenda – one which He makes clear many times.

Immanuel: Here are just a few examples. God says:

וְיָדְעוּ מִצְרַיִם כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה, בִּנְטֹתִי אֶת-יָדִי עַל-מִצְרָיִם –

When I display my power, Egypt will know that I am God.

Later, God says that He'll send plagues:

בַּעֲבוּר תֵּדַע, כִּי אֵין כָּמֹנִי בְּכָל-הָאָרֶץ –

so that you, Egypt, know that there's no One like Me in the world.

And this display of power is for the Israelites too:

וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן-בִּנְךָ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם –

these miracles are so that you, the Israelites, will tell your children and grandchildren of everything I brought upon the Egyptians…

וִידַעְתֶּם, כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה –

and you'll know that I am God.

God's agenda is to teach that He's the omnipotent and omniscient God... the only God. That doesn't happen by just freeing the people. It has to be an interactive process. The plagues, the dialogues with Pharaoh, are all essential parts of the educational agenda.

David: There are two aspects of God that he wanted to teach: His power, through the strength of the plagues, and His precision, by limiting the impact of the plagues to only specific times and people.

But perhaps there's a third dimension of God's agenda. And for that, we take you back to October 1, 1932.

Interpreting the Conversations Between God and Moses

It's a breezy Chicago afternoon at Wrigley field. The Yankees and Cubs are tied in the third game of the baseball World Series. The legendary Babe Ruth steps up to the plate. The tension is palpable. Strike 1. Strike 2. The crowd is about to explode.

Just then, Ruth does something that would forever be remembered. With his bat resting on his shoulder, he points to a flagpole behind the center field fence, as if to say, "That's where I'm gonna hit it – over that wall."

Immanuel: The next pitch comes... Ruth leans in… and smashes the ball over the center field wall, right by the flagpole. Babe Ruth predicted his own home run, in what would forever be known as "The Called Shot."

What made the called shot so epic? Well, what's the exact moment when you realize that you're witnessing something historic? Is it when you see Ruth point to center field? Not quite. He just pointed somewhere.

It's when he hits the home run. At that moment, you realize how significant the earlier call was.

David: Perhaps that's exactly what's happening in the Exodus story. God's own version of the "Called Shot."

Let's go back to God's two speeches to Moses. Back in Parshat Shmot at the burning bush, God says that He'll free the Israelites from slavery. But God tells him even more: when you approach Pharaoh, וַאֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי–כִּי לֹא-יִתֵּן אֶתְכֶם מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, לַהֲלֹךְ, I know that Pharaoh won't let the people leave!

God even predicts non-essential details. When the people leave, וְשָׁאֲלָה אִשָּׁה מִשְּׁכֶנְתָּהּ וּמִגָּרַת בֵּיתָהּ, כְּלֵי-כֶסֶף וּכְלֵי זָהָב וּשְׂמָלֹת – Israelite women will borrow articles of silver, gold, and clothing, from their (Egyptian) neighbors. God is actually telling Moses exactly what's going to happen before it happens!

But why does Moses need to know all this in advance?

What Was God's Real Message to Moses?

Immanuel: If the point of the speech is to preemptively keep Moses' resolve – like, "I'm telling you now that Pharaoh's gonna refuse, so don't lose hope!" – the speech does a pretty bad job at that. Because after the very first time that Pharaoh refuses, Moses loses resolve... He's angry: לָמָּה זֶּה, שְׁלַחְתָּנִי – why did you send me?? I went to Pharaoh, וְהַצֵּל לֹא-הִצַּלְתָּ, אֶת-עַמֶּךָ – you didn't save your people at all.

And, God's speech in our parsha, Va'era, doesn't do well at inspiring confidence either. When Moses conveys God's message to the people – that He'll eventually take them out of Egypt, וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ, וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה – they don't listen to Moses, because of their low spirits and difficult work.

If these speeches were meant to inspire, God could've done a better job. He's God.

David: But perhaps the purpose is not to inspire at all. They're just God's way of placing the bat on His shoulder and pointing to center field. God's calling His shots before they happen. And just like Babe Ruth's call alone meant nothing before the home run, God's speeches aren't meant to have immediate inspirational impact.

It's God's way of saying, "I know you won't be able to appreciate this now, but later on, when I hit that home run, you'll look back at these earlier moments and realize that I planned this all along."

You know, it's one thing to make a call when the results are unlikely. But it's another thing to make it when things look impossible.

Why God Repeatedly Told Moses the Same Message

Immanuel: Now, we can understand why God seemingly repeats the speech to Moses. The key here is realizing what happened right before this speech.

Moses has just lost resolve... his confrontation with Pharaoh made things worse than ever before. Pharaoh doesn't free them and he increases their workload!

Now, more than ever before, the pit of despair is far too deep to climb out of. And in that moment, God does something very strange.

David: Well, the more impossible the call looks, the more remarkable it is when it's actualized. Even now, when things seem like they can't get worse, I'm going to take you out of Egypt. I'm simply reinforcing the call; planting more seeds. And when all this actualizes, you'll remember how desperate you felt at this very moment. And how I saved you from it all, just like I said I would all along.

Immanuel: In addition to omnipotence and omniscience, God wants us to know that He's also the Master of time. God knows what's going to happen and is involved in every step of the process.

Israel is about start a deep relationship with God, but before they do, it's crucial that they understand that God doesn't sit back and occasionally intervene. He is Master of it all. What happened, what's happening, and what will happen.

David: There's a lot of suffering in the world. We may not understand how God works, but at the very least, He wants us to know that even in those moments of suffering, I'm there, I feel your pain. I'm the Master of time, conducting it all. I never abandon you.

And sometimes, after it's all over, we can look back and understand a bit of what was unfathomable before…

A Deeper Meaning Behind What God Said to Moses

Immanuel: And now look again at how God introduces himself in the speech in this week's parsha. אֲנִי יְהוָה – I am YHWH. וָאֵרָא, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם אֶל-יִצְחָק וְאֶל-יַעֲקֹב–בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי; – I appeared to your forefathers as Kel Shakkai, וּשְׁמִי יְהוָה, לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם – and my name YHWH I never made known to them. What does it mean that the forefathers never knew that name?

David: The Sages point out that YHWH is an amalgam of three words: היה, הווה, הייה – was, is, and will be. It's God as Master of Time.

The forefathers only saw God call the shots. God made promises to them of land and children, but they never got to see them actualized.

But now, as the exodus story is about to unfold, Moses and the people will finally see God as YHWH. Not just the one who calls the shots, but the one who hits them out of the park. And when they do, perhaps they'll see that God was with them all along.

Immanuel: In classic Parsha Experiment form, we don't think the stories in Exodus are coming out of the blue, they are connected to a larger picture.

As God's relationship with humanity lapsed in Genesis, people refused to recognize Him, much less be in a relationship with Him. The Book of Genesis set up the prologue to humanity and planted the seeds for God's ultimate Plan C – this is actually the beginning of Plan C's execution, and it begins with fire and lights, and a demand that the world recognize Him as the Creator.

Ultimately, God will model a relationship with humanity with His bechor, but this experience is meant to teach the world who He is...The One God, Master of the Universe.

Join us next week as we see how God's firstborn carries out this mission on the Parsha Experiment.

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