what we do comes back
sink beneath the burden of loneliness
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This chapter in some ways follows seamlessly from the previous one. We return to the leitworts of “standing” “sitting” and “weight”. Moses’ “heavy hands” here become the crushing “weight” that must be “lightened” with the help of judges. As he did when he climbed the mountain, Moses stands in a liminal space “before God,” both part of the nation, and apart.
Yet in some ways, it is a discontinuity, as Moses’ old, personal life abruptly breaks in with the appearance of his family: his father in law, his wife, and her two children (no longer referred to as “his”, perhaps to indicate the gaping gulf). We return to the beginning of Moses’ mission, with the repeated word “hatzel—to save”—recalling both Moses’ initial meeting with Tzipora, and his accusation that God has “not saved” His nation. Now the initial linkage that God set up between “hearing” “seeing” and “knowledge” is complete. “Now I know,” says Jethro. There is a poetic beauty in the completed Exodus, with the Egyptians destroyed through their very instruments of oppression: “in the very thing with which they had acted intentionally.”
Yet a price is paid. Moses sits “alone”. “It is not good” Jethro says, recalling the primal “not good” of the Bible: “It is not good that man should be alone.” “You will wither, you and the people with you.” A system of judges is set up to relieve the burden. Yet while Moses no longer acts alone, he is even more isolated, lacking intimacy even with the people who “come to seek God.”]