Moshe's Epitaph – Signs and Wonders
None Like Moshe?
The concluding verses of the Torah eulogize Moshe, highlighting his dual role as both prophet and miracle worker:
(י) וְלֹא קָם נָבִיא עוֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוֹ ה' פָּנִים אֶל פָּנִים. (יא) לְכָל הָאֹתֹת וְהַמּוֹפְתִים אֲשֶׁר שְׁלָחוֹ ה' לַעֲשׂוֹת בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם לְפַרְעֹה וּלְכָל עֲבָדָיו וּלְכָל אַרְצוֹ. (יב) וּלְכֹל הַיָּד הַחֲזָקָה וּלְכֹל הַמּוֹרָא הַגָּדוֹל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה מֹשֶׁה לְעֵינֵי כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל.
(10) And no prophet arose in Israel like Moshe, whom Hashem knew face to face. (11) For all the signs and the wonders which Hashem sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Paroh and to all his servants and to all his land. (12) And for all the mighty hand and for all the great awe that Moshe did before the eyes of all of Israel.
Seemingly, according to these accolades, no other prophet compares to Moshe, not only in his prophetic prowess, but also in all of the signs and wonders he wrought. What, though, was so singular about the miracles performed by Moshe? Did not other prophets execute similar feats,1 and did not some achieve what might even be considered to be more remarkable miracles, such as Yehoshua commanding the sun to stand still, or Eliyahu and Elisha reviving the dead? What, then, makes Moshe so exceptional?
Attempts to interpret or translate verses 11-12 encounter some awkwardness and difficulty. While the individual words of these verses are readily comprehensible, their sentence structure leaves the reader hanging. How should the "לְ"s at the beginning of the verses ("לְכָל... וּלְכֹל... וּלְכֹל") be rendered, and why does the subject of these verses appear to be missing? Do these two verses continue verse 10, with the character of the signs and wonders somehow being a manifestation of Moshe's intimate "face to face" relationship with the Divine? Conversely, is Moshe's prophetic proficiency defined purely by his ability to bring miracles?
Plethora of Phrases
In the final two verses which speak of Moshe's miraculous deeds, four different terms are employed: "הָאֹתֹת", "הַמּוֹפְתִים", "הַיָּד הַחֲזָקָה", and "הַמּוֹרָא הַגָּדוֹל". Does each term allude to a distinct event or merely to a different aspect of the same event? While the Torah explicitly connects the two phrases of verse 11 to the happenings in Egypt, it is unclear to what period(s) the latter two terms in verse 12 refer. Do they also speak of the process leading up to the Exodus, or do they allude to additional miracles performed by Moshe only later on in the wilderness?
Devarim vs. Bemidbar
Devarim 34 is not the first time that the Torah speaks of Moshe's exceptional nature. Hashem, in His reprimand of Miryam and Aharon in Bemidbar 12, also elaborates on this very same matter:
(ו) וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁמְעוּ נָא דְבָרָי אִם יִהְיֶה נְבִיאֲכֶם ה' בַּמַּרְאָה אֵלָיו אֶתְוַדָּע בַּחֲלוֹם אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ. (ז) לֹא כֵן עַבְדִּי מֹשֶׁה בְּכׇל בֵּיתִי נֶאֱמָן הוּא. (ח) פֶּה אֶל פֶּה אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ וּמַרְאֶה וְלֹא בְחִידֹת וּתְמֻנַת ה' יַבִּיט וּמַדּוּעַ לֹא יְרֵאתֶם לְדַבֵּר בְּעַבְדִּי בְמֹשֶׁה.
(6) And he said, "Hear my words: if your prophet, Hashem, I will appear to him by a vision and I will speak to him in a dream. (7) My servant, Moshe is not so, he is faithful in all my house. (8) Mouth to mouth I speak to him, by an appearance and not in riddles, and the form of Hashem he will see; and why were you not afraid to speak against my servant, Moshe.
Interestingly, though, the Bemidbar verses focus exclusively on Moshe's prophetic powers and make no mention at all of the countless miracles he had produced.2 Do our verses in Devarim 34 come to supplement the Bemidbar description, or are they merely a restatement of the same theme in different form?