But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?”
And He said, “I will be with you; that shall be your sign that it was I who sent you.
And when you have freed the people from Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”
Moses was asking two questions:
- Who am I – he was requesting that God reveal to him why he was chosen over all others to free the the Israelites
- And free the Israelites from Egypt – While it is true that the Egyptians were forcing the Israelites to do oppressive labor and obviously they should be freed, what will be when they leave? Certainly it is not God’s intention to improve their situation only on a physical level [accomplished by simply taking them out of Egypt].
And so God answered:
- To the question Who am I, God responds I will be with you – Because I know that you, Moses, are not drawn to anything for yourself, only what I send to you.
Moses’s name actually indicates this, as it says (Exodus 2:10), “She named him Moses משה, explaining ‘I drew him משיתהו out of the water,’” meaning that he was stripped of all personal desire and pleasure, and felt no pride from that fact that the Divine Presence was speaking to him.
- To the question And free the Israelites from Egypt (and the concern about God merely providing physical respite), God responds I will be with you…you shall worship God at this mountain – I will bring all of you under my yoke of Torah, and I will be engaged with you in that which is alive and eternal.
This is why God says to Moses That shall be your sign that it was I א–נ–כ–י who sent you, and not I א–נ–י, for the letter כ refers to something eternal [and infinitely unfolding], as is known.
The work of becoming, of figuring out Who am I? is not about getting to a comfortable place where we are focused on satisfying anything and trying to definitively answer the question. It is about constantly touching and uncovering that infinite part within, that inexhaustible vitality which is so much bigger than we could ever imagine.
Moses is exemplary for a few reasons. His humility does not restrict or inhibit him. It puts him in dialogue with a God who sends him to repair a broken world. To elevate those around him, allowing them to tap into something so much greater, placing themselves under a yoke that is not oppressive and dehumanizing, but enlivening and endless. He can do this because it’s not about him. It’s about the divine will flowing unrestricted through him.
The Ishbitzer points us to something else about Moses. In his initial question Who am I מי אנכי, he’s intuiting the sign that God will provide and placing it on himself, the כ that is infinite and everlasting and is always in a process of being revealed, but never being finale. He understands that this question, this work, is without end. Who we are can never fully be answered, because there is no end to who we can be. By living for something other than ourselves, by attaching ourselves to that infinite, we begin to reveal ourselves and surprise ourselves and gain the strength to go closer and deeper.