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Moses spoke to God - the people were all terrified and

kept their distance (cf. EX 20:18)

Giuseppe Laras, head Rabbi of Milan
!al", 2003/01/17

#he E$odus depic!s Moses as !he %an &ho% God as'ed !o lead his people fro% sla(er"
!o freedo%, and as he &ho recei(ed !he #orah, !he di(ine !eachin) re(ealed on !he *inai.
+ccordin) !o rabbinical !radi!ion, !his is !he !i%e &hen !he people of srael unders!and
!he %eanin) of !he special e$perience !he" are )oin) !hrou)h and of !he (oca!ion !o
&hich !he Lord has des!ined !he%, ,separa!in)- !he% fro% o!her people, ,so no&, if "ou
are reall" prepared !o obe" %e and 'eep %" co(enan!, "ou, ou! of all peoples, shall be
%" personal possession, for !he &hole &orld is %ine. .or %e "ou shall be a 'in)do% of
pries!s, a hol" na!ion- (E$ 1/:012). .ro% bein) sla(es in 3haraoh, !he people of srael
&ill !hus beco%e ser(an!s of !he Lord, &ho has lis!ened !o !he cr" of his oppressed
people and has decided !o free !he%, re%ainin) fai!hful !o his pro%ises (cf. E$ 4:5110
and Gn 12:116).
+n" %anifes!a!ion of God is a !ranscenden!al e(en! before &hich %an is called !o
reco)ni7e God8s )rea!ness and his o&n s%allness as a crea!ure. #his is &h" Moses !oo,
!o &ho% God re(eals hi%self !hrou)h !he burnin) bush, ,hides his face-, because he is
afraid of ,loo'in)- a! 9i% (cf. E$ 4:2). 9o&e(er, Moses is defined b" !he *crip!ure and
rabbinical !radi!ion as he &ho% God allo&s !o be close !o 9i% and ca!ch a ,)li%pse- of
9is !ranscendence, o!her&ise i%possible and dan)erous (cf. E$ 1/:12 and 44: 1/124,
E$odus Rabb: XX;:2< Le(i!icus Rabb: :16). #his is &h" he can ,)o up- !o !he
%oun! and ,spea'- !o !he Lord &ho ,ans&ers- hi% &i!h ,a (oice- !ha! Moses ,can
bear- (cf. E$ 1/:1/< E$odus Rabb: ;:/). #he people ins!ead re%ain a! !he foo! of Moun!
*inai, &here !he si)ns of !heophan" are e(iden!: peals of !hunder, flashes of li)h!nin),
dense cloud, a (er" loud !ru%pe! blas! (cf. E$ 1/:12), bus especiall" fire, ,Moun! *inai
&as en!irel" &rapped in s%o'e, because =ah&eh had descended on i! in !he for% of fire.
#he s%o'e rose li'e !he s%o'e fro% a furnace- (E$ 1/:18). *o%e co%%en!s su))es! a
special rela!ionship be!&een !he &ord of !he Lord &ho re(eals 9i%self and !he fire
acco%pan"in) such a re(ela!ion, a charac!eris!ic &hich !radi!ion belie(es !o be co%%on
!o %an" !heophanies (cf. E$ 4:22 and Gn 10:15) and !o !he (er" &ords of !he #orah, as
s!ressed in an au!hori!a!i(e co%%en!ar" !o !he >eu!erono%", &hich a! one poin! s!a!es,
,indeed, bo!h (fire and #orah) &ere )ran!ed fro% hea(en and bo!h are e!ernal- (*ifr?
>eu!erono%" 164a). @e are !hus faced &i!h a di(ine e(en! &hich occurs once and for
all &i!hin !he con!e$! of a %edia!ion &hich in(ol(es especiall" Moses, for !he re(ela!ion
)ran!ed !o hi% is !he source fro% &hich all !he subseAuen! prophe!s ha(e dra&n, ,@ha!
!he prophe!s &ere des!ined !o prophesi7e !o !he )enera!ions !o co%e !he" recei(ed fro%
Moun! *inai- (E$odus Rabb: XX;:2).
#he )if! of !he #orah is no! onl" des!ined !o las! o(er !i%e, bu! i! &as )ran!ed in order !o
be accep!ed and prac!iced. n !his respec!, rabbinical !radi!ion hi)hli)h!s !&o i%por!an!
aspec!s. Bn !he one hand, i! specifies !ha! God e$pressed hi%self in ,!he se(en!"
lan)ua)es of hu%ani!"-, so !ha! all peoples &ould unders!and hi% (cf. E$odus Rabb:
;:/). Bn !he o!her, ho&e(er, i! poin!s ou! !ha! onl" !he people of srael accep!ed !he
re(ealed precep!s as life1lon) !eachin)s (cf. *ifr? a! >eu!erono%", 3isAa 464).
ndeed, !he *crip!ure s!a!es !ha! all of !he people ,see- !he si)ns of !heophan" on Moun!
*inai, and are !hus &i!ness !o God8s re(ela!ions !o Moses (cf. e$ 20:18), and all of !he
people sole%nl" under!a'e !o accep! !he #orah &i!h !he follo&in) asser!ion, ,@e shall
do (n8asC) e(er"!hin) !ha! =ah&eh has said< &e shall obe" (&enishi%a)- (E$ 26:5). #he
De&s !ha! spea' !hese &ords ha(e Eus! under)one a libera!in) e$perience uniAue in i!s
'ind. Fein) fai!hful !o his pro%ises, !he God !ha! has freed !he% canno! bu! &an! !heir
)ood, &hich is &h" he !eaches !he% ho& !o preser(e !he co(enan! so !ha! i! %a" las!
o(er !i%e. #his is &h" 9is !eachin) should firs!l" be prac!iced and in !his con!e$!
,heeded-, !ha! is, cons!an!l" unders!ood and considered ane& in !he li)h! of !he ne&
e(en!s of his!or" because, as !he #orah s!a!es, ,i! is no lon)er in hea(en- bu! in !he
hands of %en, so !ha! !he" %a" con!inue !o ,choose life and )ood- (cf. >! 40: 1211/).
+ll !his i%plies !he need !o unders!and e(er %ore profoundl" !he &ords spo'en !o %en
in !heir differen! percep!ible aspec!s. ! is no coincidence !ha! 3sal% 22 reads as follo&s,
,Bnce God has spo'en, !&ice ha(e heard !his- (3s 22,12). Rabbinical !radi!ion !eaches
!ha! fro% !his, one can infer !ha! a (erse of !he *crip!ure %a" ha(e differen!
in!erpre!a!ions, &hich are !o be percei(ed li'e !he spar's produced b" a ha%%er
sha!!erin) !he roc' (cf. Dr 24:2/). E(er" spar' is !he resul! of !he ha%%er8s blo&, and all
are !rue albei! in !heir di(ersi!", for %an" doc!rines can s!e% fro% a sin)le (erse of !he
*crip!ure (cf. Fab"lonian #al%ud, *anhedrin 46a< *habba!h 88b). ! is !hus i%por!an!
for !radi!ion !o con!inue !o discuss and as' i!self ho& %en can con!inue !o be fai!hful !o
God8s !eachin) of freedo% on Moun! *inai. ! is no! b" coincidence !ha! rabbinical
!eachin)s, pla"in) on !he assonance of !he 9ebre& !er%s charu! (e!ched) and cheru!
(freedo%), !each one !o consider !he la&s of !he #orah as ,freedo%- on !able!s ra!her
!han pra$is ,e!ched- on !able!s. n so doin), !he" rei!era!e !ha! !he re(ealed !eachin)
%us! be accep!ed and prac!iced, for i! co%es fro% !he onl" God capable of libera!in)
and con(er!in) an anon"%ous and losin) his!or" in!o a his!or" of sal(a!ion.
*!ill !oda", !his is precisel" &ha! !he De&ish people bear &i!ness !o a%on) !he peoples: a
freedo% !ha! leads !o co%%i!%en! &hile bein) fai!hful !o !he )if! of !he #orah, recei(ed
!hrou)h Moses &ho &as capable of ,spea'in) !o God-. ! is a re(ela!ion &hich, as dul"
recalled b" Elia Fena%o7e)h, also includes !he la&s )i(en b" God !o Goah af!er !he
delu)e, &hich are a !eachin) for !he ,ri)h!eous- li'e hi%, !ha! is, !he ,)en!iles lo(ed b"
God &hose %eri!s %a'e !he prosperi!" a%on) na!ions- (cf. E. FEG+MBHEG9, sraele
e l8u%ani!:, Marie!!i, Geno(a 1//0, p. 20/1260).