Moses the Model, Moses the Missing
In literature and in real life, we expect that the people we encounter will change over time.
However, do we ever think of ourselves as changing and developing characters? Do we have the tools to be reflective and self-aware enough to know when we have changed?
Often it takes a close friend or family member to call out a change in behavior for us — when did you stop eating meat? Or meaningfully, why have you been so anxious lately?
We see this happen in movies all the time. It’s obvious to both the audience and the supporting characters that something is bound to happen to the main character, they just don’t see it themselves. We think, they’ll obviously end up together or she is so much more capable than she realizes. Ultimately, they do end up together and she does realize her potential.
We see this archetype in Moses, the protagonist of the Exodus story. Moses’s development is best highlighted in two of his key interactions with God: the conversations at both the burning bush and immediately following the golden calf.
When Moses first meets God at the burning bush in Exodus chapters 3 and 4, God has all the leverage and all the information. God calls out to Moses and Moses submissively answers “Hineini” , Here I am (Exodus 3:4). God then introduces Himself to Moses in the context of his ancestors:
“I am the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (3:6)
God makes it clear that this encounter is about fulfilling God’s will and covenant with his people:
“I have come down to rescue them (Israelites) from the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land to a good and spacious land…” (3:8).
Moses hides his face in fear of God and goes on to explain to God why he isn’t the right leader for the Israelites, he even begs God to find someone else for the job (4:13).
However, through their continued dialogue, Moses’s encounters with Pharaoh, the 10 plagues, and ultimately Sinai, there is a shift that happens in Moses’s mindset.
We see the greatest manifestation of this shift in Exodus chapter 32 just after the Jewish people make a sacrifice to their newly minted golden calf:
“God spoke to Moses, ‘Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted in a despicable manner.” (32:7) [emphasis is mine].
How did we go from the God of history coming down (where was He?) to rescue the people of his covenant to God telling Moses that his people are up to no good.
(This language feels familiar as a parent of young children — ‘your son is writing on the walls again’, I might say, if I don’t want to deal with the mayhem of the minute.)
Then in verses 32:8–11 God threatens to destroy the Israelites, the people whom He just saved from Egypt.
What does Moses do? Does he remind God about the time 28 chapters earlier when he told Him he was the wrong man for the job?
What follows, is perhaps, the key turning point in the Moses/God relationship and, in turn, in Moses’s development:
“But Moses implored his God, saying, let not your anger blaze forth against Your people, whom You delivered from the land of Egypt…Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, how You swore to them…I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars…” (32:11–13).
After which, the Torah tells us, God renounced his punishment.
There is a lot to unpack here, but there is one key thing that will help us understand how Moses saw himself develop — which is made obvious to us by the narrator:
“But Moses implored his God” — this is the one and only time the Torah refers to God in this way in relation to Moses. Why now?
I would like to suggest that Moses is telling God that he (Moses) has changed, he’s not the Moses God met at the burning bush. At the time, Moses is saying, You introduced Yourself to me as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (3:6) but now I belong on that list. You, God, are my God too(32:11).
We see this clearly in the language God uses when he first introduces Himself to Moses, he could have said: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, but instead he says “I am the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” — and now, the God of Moses.
Now that we know what we just learned above, it feels even more inconceivable that Moses is left out of the Haggadah.
I’d like to suggest that by leaving Moses out of the Haggadah we are giving ourselves the space to consider our capacity to have an impact — to go on the same journey of development as Moses.
If the Haggadah regaled us with the glorious heroism of Moses, we may miss ourselves in the story. Like the main characters of many books and movies before us, we don’t see ourselves as being capable of the leadership displayed by Moses.
So, what does the Haggadah do?
It leaves Moses out. It leaves him out and gives us a very specific set of instructions:
In each generation see yourselves as if you were the ones leaving Egypt.