When Moses needs God most, God responds by announcing God's own name. This is a mirror of God's calling Moses by his name when they first met - and both encounters occur on Mount Sinai. A short d'rash about the closeness of God when we need God most.
When God first appeared to Moses, וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו אֱלֹהִים מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה מֹשֶׁה: “God called to him from the midst of the bush, saying ‘Moses, Moses!’” (Ex. 3:4). This initial encounter occurred on Mount Sinai, הַר הָאֱלֹהִים, “the mountain of God” (Ex. 3:1). At that moment, God needed to prepare Moses for the monumental task that lay ahead of him, the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt. God called Moses’s name--twice--to inspire him to rise to the potential God knew he had within him even though Moses doubted himself severely.
When Moses returned to Sinai, he faced yet another challenge. This time, the enemy was closer to home, but Moses’s sense of self-doubt was just as profound. During the 40 days and nights that Moses spent at the summit receiving God’s revelation, the people he led from bondage lost their way. Turning to an idol made of gold, they proclaimed אֵלֶּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם, “This is your God, O Israel, who led you up from the land of Egypt!” (Ex. 32:4). Moses pleaded and raged, he lashed out with violence and retreated back to the safe haven of God’s embrace. How could he lead this people who couldn’t be left to their own devices for six weeks at a time?
And so Moses turned with longing and desperation to the only one who could know his innermost doubts and fears. “Let me know your ways” (Ex. 33:13) he begged God, and “Let me behold your presence” (Ex. 33:18). And seeing the depth of Moses’s insecurity and the enormous challenge of leadership for which he felt utterly unprepared, God responded. This time, God did not call out Moses’s name. God knew he was in no position to reply, and he knew that Moses needed God more than God needed Moses. Instead, וַיַּעֲבֹר יְהֹוָה עַל־פָּנָיו וַיִּקְרָא יְהֹוָה יְהֹוָה, “Adonai passed before him and called out, ‘Adonai Adonai!’” (Ex. 34:6). God pronounced God’s own name as a promise never to abandon Moses and as a reassurance that God would always remain with his people.
We recall this scene every festival and during the High Holy Days. We recount God’s self-revelation as a reminder that God is always with us: even—and especially—during moments of tremendous difficulty. Whether our challenges lie ahead or we reflect with regret about challenges we’ve been through, God is there – sometimes to lift us up to the potential we have within and sometimes to step forward to give us the reassurance we need. אֵל קָרוֹב לְכָל קֺרְאָיו, “God is near to all who call”—and we may add אֵל קוֹרֵא לְכָל קָרוֹב, “God will call to all who’re near.” May this be our Shabbat prayer.
“To be effective, the preacher's message must be alive; it must alarm, arouse, challenge; it must be God's present voice to a particular people.”