The Book of Exodus begins by recounting that the descendants of Jacob flourished and multiplied in Egypt. A new Pharaoh arises who did not know Joseph and perceives the numerous Israelites as a potential threat. The Egyptians enslave the Israelites, and make life miserable for them.
A couple from the house of Levi bears a son and hides him for three months. When the infant can no longer be hidden, his sister, Miriam, sets him afloat in the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter finds the infant, rescues him, and names him Moses. When Moses is grown, he kills an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a Hebrew slave. Due to this incident, he is forced to flee Egypt and ends up in Midian. There he becomes a shepherd, a husband and a father.
One day, while Moses is tending his sheep, God appears to him in a burning bush. God instructs Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan. Moses gives God a number of reasons why he should not be the one to redeem the Israelites, and God answers all of Moses’ objections. Moses finally pleads with God to choose someone else. It is at this point that God is angered.
One of the reasons Moses gives God for why he is inadequate for redeeming the Israelites from Egypt is, he is “slow of speech”. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin uses Moses’ reason that he is “slow of speech”, as a vehicle for examining the question where does God’s influence end and human activity begin.
Moses appears to be telling God that a man who cannot speak eloquently cannot possibly hope to convince the Egyptians to free the Israelites. God responds “Who has made man’s mouth, or who makes man dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is not the Lord?” Basically, if God can create the vehicle, God can certainly create the necessary accessories.
God’s response does not sit well with Moses and he pleads with God “send I pray you, by the hand of whomever you will send (but not by me).” Moses is so convinced of God’s powers that he comes to the conclusion that it does not matter who God sends, because God can put the right words into anyone’s mouth. Just let it be someone else. The instrument is not important as long as God is with that person.
Rabbi Riskin writes that it is precisely this attitude that angers God. Moses has all the faith in the world, maybe too much faith. Just because God is in ultimate control of speech is not reason enough to justify removing all responsibility from human actors in the drama of the Jewish people.
God will certainly help, but God does not choose to act alone. It is true that we thank God for God’s help, but ultimately it is human beings who must speak the message and do the actions.