Humility and Respect – Shemot 5779

D'var Torah | Exodus

When God, calls to Abraham the latter answers “Here I am!” (Genesis 22:11). When God calls to Moses, the latter also answers “Here I am!” (Exodus 3:4). But any comparison between Moses and Abraham is out of place, argues Rabbi David ibn Zimra (Responsa RaDBaZ, No. 815), one of the foremost religious authorities of the sixteenth century. Aside from the fact that God calls to Abraham through an angel while God calls to Moses directly, there is an even more significant difference. Abraham’s audition was entirely unexpected. He had every intention of carrying out his divinely ordered mission of sacrificing his son. The sudden intervention was both surprising and unforeseen. But when God called out to Moses, Moses already perceived something unusual – even miraculous – was at work. Indeed, he had already observed the burning bush and was making his way towards it in order to “see this great sight” (Exodus 3:3).


Abraham’s response of “Here I am” might be understood as a reaction to the unexpected. If his mission were to be changed, by saying “Here I am” Abraham was signaling his willingness to do whatever is necessary, whatever God demands of him. But Moses’ response cannot be understood this way. Moses approaches the burning bush appreciating that this is a supernatural event and thus he is already prepared to respond to it as necessary. Therefore, Rabbi David ben Zimra concludes that Moses’ response means something else.


In fact, Moses’ response indicates two ideas: one formal and the other personal. Formally, “Here I am” represents the standard Biblical response to God’s call. As such, even when the response does not “fit” it is nonetheless warranted. It is a textual and theological formality. Personally, “Here I am” is a statement about Moses’ character. Moses, later identified as the most humble man of all (Numbers 12:3), is expressing his humility in the presence of God and the respect he shows to the Master of the Universe by saying “Here I am:” ‘Here I am, a mere creature, humbled in the presence of the Creator.’


Humility and respect are the building blocks of civility and a worthy lesson to be learned from Moses, our Teacher.





Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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