God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord.”
After Moses spoke his words at God [questioning God’s judgment in sending Moses to petition on behalf of the Jewish people], God reprimanded him. This is seen from text’s use of the word spoke דבר, for this implies harsh language. Similarly, the divine name of God אלהי-ם is a reference to [harsh language and judgment].
Immediately afterwards, the text follows with And said to him. This is like a person who gets angry at his friend yet loves him dearly, and when he sees his friend standing in shock and fear, he intimates to him that all his anger was surface-deep and is fleeting.
This is the essence of And said to him, “I am the Lord,” for the word said אמר implies soft and gentle language. God whispered to Moses that He was not speaking out of anger, God forbid. This is also demonstrated by Him saying
I am the Lord י-ה-ו-ה. The blessed divine name abounds in compassion, and the rebuke I gave you was only for a moment, and you have nothing to fear at all.
There is a difference between how we speak to others and how we wish we spoke to others. We are always trying to express a deep part of ourselves and make that known to another, striving to say “This is who I am and this is how I so badly want to be and act in the world, and please see that.” Sometimes it can be harsh, but underneath it is this endlessly fertile ground of compassion.
So too with God. He starts out with a caustic rebuke of Moses’s doubt, but is able to be so quick in reassuring Moses of His love for him. God’s actions are remarkable here because He can do it in the same breath. Some of us take much longer to really see the impact of our words on the people we love, and only later can we bring compassion into the relationship.
These early chapters of Exodus are all about Moses and God getting to know each other, figuring out who the other is, and setting the groundwork for everything that will follow from this partnership. There is a lot of back and forth between them about who God is, what name to use when introducing Him, what kind of a deity will He be for the Jewish people. The Ishbitzer is showing us a beautiful moment early on in this courtship. God recognizes the power of His words and rushes to comfort Moses when He sees the frailty and vulnerability of human beings. He tells Moses not to be afraid, that everything they do that is lasting and eternal (leaving Egypt, receiving the Torah, their wanderings through the desert towards the Promised Land) will be rooted in and filled with compassion. This simultaneous acknowledgment of the other’s limitations and reassurance is the promise that God lovingly whispers to Moses. It is the foundation of everything they and we will do as partners with the Divine, as we relive these episodes over and over again, in the text and in our lives.