Spiritual and Ethical Issues in the Bamidbar Stories by Dr. Meir Tamari
My Servant Moshe
Torah teaches that people can talk directly to G-d and He reveals Himself to His righteous servants. Three of the Rambam's 13 Principles of Faith concern the revelations to Moshe. One, accepting that the words of the prophets are true, and two, stressing the special prophetic status of Moshe, the singularity of the Torah that G-d revealed through him, and its eternal nature. These fundamental and basic principles of our faith may help to see all the murmurings of Israel in the books of Sh'mot and Bamidbar as challenges to the legitimacy or to the truth of Moshe as the messenger of G-d. Then we can better understand the idea of prophecy in general and of that of Moshe's in particular.
Throughout the ages and in many faiths and religions, there have been misconceptions and perversions concerning prophets and prophecy. Sometimes they have been regarded as semi-deities or at least as supra-human beings. At other times, divine revelation has been seen as descending suddenly upon all sorts of people even the previously ignorant and even sinful. Both these errors are clearly rejected by the Torah when story of Moshe's mission to Par'o is interrupted to give us details of Moshe and Aharon's genealogy (Sh'mot 6:14-27). "This citation of origin is, for once and for all, to oppose any erroneous deification or every illusion of an incarnation of Deity in a human form and to show that Moshe, the greatest man of all time, was just a man. The position that he attained towards G-d did not transcend the sphere of mortal men. Furthermore, this register of names of the line of descent of Moshe and Aharon includes the names of the tribes coming before Levi with all their descendants, so it also serves to oppose a no less pernicious delusion. Such a list might establish the belief that any and everybody is suitable to become a prophet. A man could be known as a complete idiot today and tomorrow proclaim the word of G-d or the spirit of G-d could suddenly descend on an ignorant uneducated person and he can speak in 70 languages. Our register shows on the contrary that Moshe and Aharon were picked chosen men. G-d could have chosen the tribes before Levi or the other families of Levi or even the other children of Amram but He choose the noblest and most suitable of men to be His messengers. Before receiving such a call the human being must develop and refine his human qualities" (Rabbi S. R. Hirsch).
We see that G-d revealed Himself in the Torah even to non-Jews: Adam, Noach, Shem, Hagar, Avimelech, Lavan and most outstandingly, to Bil'am. At Yam Suf, even a maid- servant witnessed greater revelations than those of the prophet Yechezkiel while the whole of Israel witnessed the glory of G-d at Har Sinai. Abarbarnel, in the introduction to Yirmiyahu, points out that here we see a prophet destined to prophecy even before his birth and prophesying while still a young man. Notwithstanding all these, there are definite levels of prophecy and different forms in which these are revealed. These levels of revelation are dependent on the spiritual level of the person to whom the prophecy is revealed. "G-d will cause His Presence to rest only on one who is strong [who conquers his inclinations], rich [who is content with his portion], wise [all the positive intellectual qualities], and humble [the fundamental element in human worship of G-d]" (Nedarim 38a).
"All the prophets receive prophecy only in a visionary dream or during the day after sleep has overtaken them. When they prophesy their limbs tremble, their physical powers become weak, and they lose control of their senses and so of their minds. The message is granted in metaphors, allegories or imageries. They do not prophesy whenever they desire, nor is their prophecy a constant thing. They must concentrate on spiritual concepts and seclude themselves and await prophecy in a happy, joyous mood. Prophecy cannot rest on a person when he is sad or languid but only when he is happy; the prophet's disciples always have a harp, drum or flute with them when they seek prophecy.
All these statements describe the path of the early and late prophets with the exception of Moshe, the master of all prophets" (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 7:1-5).
The pages of the Tanach bear witness to these words of the Rambam. The Brit Bein HaBetarim was revealed to Avraham, "as the sun was about to go down deep sleep fell upon Avraham" (B'reishit 15:11); Bil'am spoke his prophecies in parables; Saul met a band of prophets preceded by a harp, a drum, a flute and a lyre and the spirit of G-d covered him (Shmuel Alef 10:5-6).
Prophecy through visions, or through loud, visible and awesome natural phenomena, or in the form of parables, or as a result of artificial forms of induced ecstasy are commonplace - but that of Moshe, the father of all prophets is radically and conceptually different. G-d Himself bears witness to this distinctive role of Moshe in His words to Miryam and Aharon: "If Moshe were one of your prophets I, G-d would manifest Myself to him in a vision, in a dream would I speak to him. Not so is My servant Moshe. Mouth to mouth do I speak to him, in a clear vision and not in riddles, and the similitude of G-d does he behold" (Bamidbar 12:6-8).
"At Sinai all the people saw the thunder and the flames, the sound of the Shofar and the smoking mountain, and the people trembled and stood from afar. And Moshe approached the thick cloud where G-d was (Sh'mot 20:15-18). Despite the ecstasy, the wonders and the tumult surrounding them, the people could still only tremble and stand far. Moshe, however, simply went straight into the cloud where G-d was." (Menachem Mendel, Admor of Kotsk)