5.4. Moses’ Refusal, and the Promise of the Renewal of the Covenant (3:11-12)

(11) But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?”

(12) And He said, “I will be with you; that shall be your sign that it was I who sent you. And when you have freed the people from Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”

(11) But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?”: Moses refuses the Divine mission because he does not understand who he is. He has severed his former ties, thus renouncing both his former identities. With what shall he now go to Pharaoh and to the Jews?

(12) And He said, “I will be with you; that shall be your sign that it was I who sent you. And when you have freed the people from Egypt, You shall worship God at this mountain”: God does not grow angry with Moses for refusing the mission. On the contrary, God amends His earlier plan for the Exodus to include “worshipping God on this mountain;” that is, the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the place where this very dialogue between Moses and God is now taking place.

Here for the first time we encounter the idea of the Sinai Revelation, when the people will receive the Law, an expanded system of commandments. This is important not so much for the people as for Moses himself, since, having been raised in Egypt as a statesman, Moses considers the law to be the very foundation of national life.

God therefore tells Moses that although the Chosen People will be created from the Jewish nation that already exists, Moses’ fears regarding the Jews’ spiritual level in Egypt are not unfounded, and his ideas about the need to build a covenant on a new and different foundation, on the Law, are entirely valid. Thus, Moses’s plan will be partially preserved and integrated into God’s own plan.

(11) But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?”: This is a real question, not a rhetorical one. When Moses asks, “Who am I?”, God answers his question with the words, “You shall worship God at this mountain.” That is: “Since you have asked who you are, my answer to you is, that you, Moses, are the very personification of the Sinai covenant. That is who you are.” Moses, by nature, symbolizes that covenant, and the task of bringing it to the world therefore devolves upon him.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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