“No flour, no Torah; no Torah, no flour.” – Pirkei Avot 3:21
The Lord replied to Moses, “See, I place you in the role of God to Pharaoh, with your brother Aaron as your prophet.” – Exodus 7:1
On learning of his election to represent God before Israel, Moses protests that he is unqualified: I have never been a man of words…I am slow of speech and slow of tongue (Ex. 4:10). Moses is uncomfortable speaking publicly. Moreover, after decades of living among the Midianites, he no longer speaks Egyptian well (Rashbam, Ibn Ezra). God reassures him, but Moses continues to object. God relents and instructs Moses to repeat God’s words to his brother, Aaron, who is already a prophet and will speak on his behalf to their people.
When God directs Moses to appear before Pharoah and demand the release of the Israelite slaves, Moses appeals again by drawing attention to his limited verbal ability. Once more, God instructs Moses to repeat God’s words to Aaron who will speak them on his behalf. In addition, Moses will be in the role of God to Pharaoh. Unlike Egyptian god-king, Moses, the human vehicle of God’s power, is not to confuse who he is with what God does through him.
Even for Moses, this is easier said than done. A midrash teaches: God, your God am I, as God, your God am I (Ps. 50:7) and asking “Whom did the Lord address as “God”?, Rabbi Pinchas ben Chama replied “Moses, to whom [God] said: Even though I address you as God – See, I place you in the role of God to Pharaoh – still God am I over you.” (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 12:23).
For any human being who wields great power over others by virtue of appointed or elected office, the role and the Source may easily get confused. May our political and religious leaders understand the difference and take Rabbi Pinchas ben Chama’s teaching to heart.
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