Mo’ Better Blues: B’ha’alotkha 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you know when you really know someone else? Is it just a feeling you get, or are there signs that should alert us that we really understand another person?

When God comes to Moses’ defense after his siblings criticize him, God claims that their relationship is unlike any other:

The Pitch: “[God] said, ‘Hear these My words: When prophets of Adonai arise among you, I make Myself known to them in a vision, I speak with them in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of Adonai. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!’” – Numbers 12:6-8

Swing #1: “Moses achieved the exalted status of stenographer, hearing God directly, but he was the only prophet to do so. All other prophets are mere translators; they perforce must figure out precisely what God means to communicate, because their contact with the divine is less direct, and the messages they perceive reach them through a glass darkly. In more abstract terms: in all cases other than Moses’, there is a human factor in biblical prophecy.” – Benjamin D. Sommer, “Prophecy as Translation,” from Bringing the Hidden to Light: Studies in Honor of Stephen A. Geller

Swing #2: “The encounter between the transcendent God and Moses, as described in the prophetic tradition of the Tent of Meeting, is blatantly anthropomorphic. ‘With him I speak mouth to mouth’: It seems that because of the marked anthropomorphism in the depiction of God in this tradition, there was an urgent need to achieve a spatial difference between God and human beings, i.e., to make God transcendent. Even though God is perceived with a human shape, there is still a marked border between humans who sit on earth and God who dwells in heaven. However, the Priestly Torah, with its non-anthropomorphic conception, can allow for an immanent God without fear of blurring the difference between God and humanity.” – Israel Knohl, The Divine Symphony: The Bible’s Many Voices

Swing #3: “Does not the Hebrew verb Habata imply a looking down from somewhere above? ‘The likeness of Adonai’ which Moses beheld refers not to a [true] likeness of God but to His Divine qualities of graciousness and mercy, qualities which Moses brought down with him from above, down to earth and into the hearts of the Children of Israel.” – The Rabbi of Ger

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the relationship between Moses and God differently? What is unique about it? How many other people do you truly understand? Is God and Moses’ relationship a model for knowing other people in our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I’m so glad that we’ll get a chance to bring our Friday night services to different parts of the Charleston area. Tonight, we’ll be in Mount Pleasant, and next Friday, we’ll be in Summerville. We’re happy to spread our wings to wherever we find an audience.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of knowing people well, if you ever doubted that future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols has a humongous heart, watch this.

Shabbat Shalom!