by Rabbi Percy Johnson
As I was preparing my Torah study of Parashat* Shemot (Exodus) 1:1- 6:1, I was fascinated by the birth and calling of Rabbenu Moshe (our teacher Moses). I enjoy studying the legends of our people since they help me to better understand Yeshua as our Messiah. As a Sephardic Jew I like to find the common ground that we as Messianic Jews share with our sages. It is no longer a surprise to me after many so years of studying our sages that I find the many parallels which can be drawn between the births of Moses and Yeshua.
* (weekly portion read at the synagogues)
There is clear evidence in the Messianic Writings that the supernatural birth of Yeshua was not merely an attempt by the writers to fabricate an extraordinary tale but was based on the pre-existent Jewish folklore of the day. Also this is necessary to be understood in the line of Jewish folklore: Amram and Yochabed remarried (some legends say that before Amram knew Yochabed, she was already with a child from the Ruach HaQodesh) and the light of Israel was born.” Many other legends of the Jews about the miraculous births as e.g.: Isaac, Jacob and Esav, Samson, etc. All of them were born from mothers that were unable to conceive in a natural way.
(See the article by Rabbi Iosef Shemi, the birth of Yeshua).
In his excellent book “The Messiah in the Old Testament in the light of Rabbinical Writings”, Professor Risto Santala states that”…the Messiah as the second Moses in Rabbinical literature presents parallels between similar types of fact, following the qal vaHomer (from the light to the heavy) Jewish principle of interpretation… In the same way one of the most frequently used parallels is the likening of Messiah to the first savior, Moses (Page 57).” If we follow the advice of the Talmud in that “All the prophets prophesied only for the days of Messiah” (Berachot 34b), we can see how important it is for us to know our own roots.
The Chumash (Pentateuch) by Rabbi Yaacov Benzaquen contains a very surprising statement: “Our prophet Moses had an unusual conception and birth, according to the legends of our people….when Pharaoh gave the decree that all the male boys born from Israel needed to be drowned in the River (i.e. killed), the people of Israel got divorced in order to not have more children. Amram and Yochabed were separated (divorced) but Miriam prophesied that Moses was going to be born and that he would be the Savior of Israel (Sotah 11b, 12a; Meg. 14a; Ex. R. 1.24; compare with Josephus, “Ant.” 2. 9,)
The word teva תבה appears twice in the Torah. The first time with Noah when referring to the ark and the second time when referring to the basket in which Moses was placed by his mother to save his life. The name Moses means “to be drawn out of the water” or to be saved, in the Egyptian language means son of… Noah represents the first man through whom the entire world was saved out of the water. Through him, humanity was spared from complete annihilation. Everyone alive in the world today is a descendant of Noah. Moses was saved out of the water and later on to be the Redeemer of Israel.
Through the redemption of Israel comes the redemption of the world. In the Messianic Writings we see Yeshua coming out of the water when Yochanan was immersing the people in order for them to do Teshuvah. In Matthew 3:13-17 it is written as follows: 13 Then Yeshua appeared: he came from Galilee to the Jordan to be immersed by Yochanan. 14 Yochanan tried to dissuade him, with the words, ‘It is I who need to be immersed by you, and yet you come to me!’15 But Yeshua replied, ‘Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that uprightness demands.’ Then Yochanan gave in to him. 16 And when Yeshua had been immersed he at once came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of G-d descending like a dove and coming down on him. 17 And suddenly there was a voice from heaven, ‘This is my son, the beloved; my favor rests on him.’
Since the disciples of Yeshua spoke Hebrew, not Greek and came from a culture that was completely different from Greek, certain traditions have been completely misunderstood. In this case where Yeshua is being immersed, G-d is giving us the same picture as the ark. Remember, at the time of Yeshua G-d was speaking to the Hebrew people. They understood these pictures. Yeshua was being “drawn out of the water” like Moses was, like Noah had been and with this simple act, he was letting the people of that time know that he was the Messiah.
Another explanation is that it was Yom Kippur and Yochanan the Immerser –המטביל יוחנן (also known as John the Baptist) an Essene was immersing people for teshuva in a body of water other than the pool of Siloam at the Temple in Jerusalem because he no longer considered the Mishkan sacred. Yeshua came to Yochanan to begin his ‘public service’.
In another legend, we see the influence of Moses even within the act of creation—“heaven and Earth were created for his sake” (Lev.R.36. 4). In another account in Gen.1:6-8…“And G-d saw that it was good” because G-d foresaw that Moses was going to suffer through water (Gen. R. 4.8). Another story relates that at the moment of Moses’ birth, a peculiar light entered his home; another that Moses was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth just as Yeshua was, even though it was dangerous at the time to do so because Jewish boys were order by the Pharaoh to be kill by drowning them in the Nile river (Pirke R. El. 48). There are many more legends about Moses during his life and the relationship with the Messiah, all of which are meant to fulfill the prophecy in Deut. 18: 15-19.
Thus it became easy for me to see how to explain the ‘so called’ miraculous birth of our Messiah Yeshua, whose life can be compared with Moses as the leader of Israel, and the model of godly leadership.
From his birth, Moses was separated by G-d to be the leader who would liberate Israel from slavery and bring them to the Promised Land, in the same way that Yeshua would liberate Israel from the slavery to religion and bring them back to Torah. Moses was prepared in the elitist of schools of his day; he grew up in the court of Pharaoh and he enjoyed the best teachers. As the adopted son of Pharaoh’s sister, he needed to be prepared in the areas of leadership and administration which he would need at a later date in order to fulfill his important role as the leader of Israel.
From the moment of his calling by G-d at the burning bush (sena סנה in Hebrew, Ex. 3:1ff) to his death before the crossing of the Yarden (the Jordan River – Deut. 34:1-12) Moses had a unique relationship with G-d and with which only Yeshua can be compared.
Moses was a most reluctant leader. From the beginning he tried by all means to divert his calling onto someone else…’who am I to go to Pharaoh? What is His Name. What will I say?…(Ex. 3:11-13); But, they will not believe me and will not listen my voice…I beg you Lord, I am not a man of words…I beg you Lord send anyone…(Ex. 4:1,10,13). He looked for a reason seven times not to fulfill his calling. Moses said to G-d, I am a man of uncircumcised lips as one of his excuses. The word used for uncircumcised is aral- ערל. The picture given here is of someone covering his lips making him out to a person who is not open to being used by G-d. We can see this idea which Moses will expand upon later concerning the circumcision of the heart (Deut. 10:16, 30:6) as well as prophets such as Jeremiah (see Jer. 4:4). Obviously Jeremiah is not speaking about a literal circumcision but is referring to the heart needing to be open to G-d, not covered by our stubbornness as in a hard-hearted person. In the Hebrew understanding the heart is the seat of intelligence and thinking process. It does not represent feelings or emotions. Our Scriptures speak of the pagans being the uncircumcised (Ezek. 44:7). This does not necessarily have anything to do with physical circumcision, but refers to how closed they are in their understanding and willingness to follow the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the end G-d provided Aaron, Miriam and Yehoshua (Joshua) to be helpers for Moses and of course G-d Himself was with him at all times.
Unlike the other prophets, Moses spoke with G-d in a direct way (face to face). He interceded before G-d for his people. Even though Moses was a humble man, he lost his temper with his people and is disobeyed God when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it as he was told. This error cost him dearly and was not able to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:12-13). For us it is might be difficult to understand why G-d would mete out such a severe punishment after this special man had been through so much and for so long but according to our sages, the more that is given to you, the more is required from you! Here we can observe that the Scriptures are genuinely G-d’s revelation; He does not spare any of our heroes of the faith and shows them as they are— mere human beings without cosmetics. Since the Glory belongs to our G-d and not to us, we cannot take any credit. Moses always put G-d and Israel first; he saw himself as an instrument of G-d without taking his own position into consideration (how I wish that these words would ring true in all of us). Even his own children, Gershom and Eleazer were lost as part of the tribe of Levi and were not counted as part of the foundation of the Priesthood as were the children of his brother Aharon.
Humanity in stark contrast admires leaders, who place themselves at the center of everything with their names written in bold letters and their pictures placed everywhere for everyone to adulate. This is quite opposite to the faithful servant who humbly rejoices and looks only to do his work in service of the Creator. We hear very little about these people who are quietly performing their labors of love but the L-RD who knows them in secret and will one day openly reward them.
When we learn about leadership it is important to know that responsibility comes with a calling and we cannot run away from it. Sooner or later we will be doing what we were called to do. In my personal life, I have often asked myself if I could be doing something else, something which would bring more prosperity for the good of my family. Like Moses I too have tried many times to argue with G-d about sending someone else but I have not been given the go ahead to avoid my calling. This brings to mind a scene from “Fiddler on the Roof”, where Tevye our central figure, in one of his many prayers asks G-d a valid question, “L-RD I know that we are the chosen people, but couldn’t you choose someone else for a change?”
If the Almighty has called us let us be assured that He has been with us from the beginning and that He has prepared in advance the works for us do. In the meantime, let us turn to our calling and be faithful to do it because He is with us morning, noon and night.
As students of our Rabbi and Messiah Yeshua we can say with confidence as Phillip said to Nathaniel, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the Torah and about whom the prophets also wrote “(Yochanan 1:45).