The Tanach contains a number of instances when Hashem calls to individuals and repeats their name within the same verse. For example, just before G-d commands Avraham not to offer Yitzchak upon the altar, we find: “And an angel of G-d called to him from heaven and said, ‘Avraham! Avraham!’" (Bereishit 22:11).
In his commentary, Rashi explains that this reflects G-d’s love for the person being called.
In contrast, our parasha contains a verse that is unlike the usual name repetition: “It was when Moshe descended from Mount Sinai, and the two tablets were in Moshe’s hand when he descended the mountain, and Moshe did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while He spoke with him” (Shemot 34:29).
This is by no means a classic case, where Hashem summons people by repeating their names. Our verse is narrative, not dialogue. In addition, this is the only verse in the five books of the Torah of which I am aware wherein a name is found three times. This suggests that Moshe’s name is not repeated because of Hashem’s love for him, but for some other significant reason.
In his commentary, Rabbi Don Yitzhak Abarbanel suggests two reasons for this formulation, both focusing on the spiritual-physical change that Moshe underwent.
He notes that normally, Moshe’s radiance would have made it difficult for the Jews to recognize him. “Instead, the Jewish people perceived Moshe’s face as they always had done, and recognized that this was, indeed his face — even with the brilliant Divine light coming forth from him.”
It was crucial for our ancestors to continue to be able to identify Moshe’s face, eliminating the possibility of their once again proclaiming, “Come! Make us gods that will go before us, because this man Moshe who brought us up from Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him” — as they did two chapters earlier at the Golden Calf (Shemot 32:1). Moshe remained the Moshe they had always known, and his, and their, continuity remained intact.
As we see, the Abarbanel’s first reason for the three times we find Moshe’s name in our pasuk reflects our ancestors’ ongoing ability to recognize that Moshe was Moshe.
His second reason once again focuses upon the Divine light that emanated from Moshe’s face, and teaches us about the singular nature of his prophetic experience:
“The second matter that is made known to us regarding Moshe, and the [mystical] activity of the Divine light emanating from his face, is that he neither sequestered nor removed himself from his four senses — unlike the actions of all the other prophets at the time of their prophecy. We know this since he, himself, after receiving the Word from Hashem, returned his veil to his face. This shows that he never ceased to be aware of his senses, and that [during his prophetic communications] he was as totally awake as he had been prior to receiving his prophecy.”
Given the Abarbanel’s analysis, we are now in an ideal position to briefly explore the exceptional elements of Moshe’s prophecy. Maimonides addresses precisely this topic in his classic work Perush HaMishnah.
• Unlike all other prophets, Moshe communicated with G-d directly, without an intermediary.
• In contrast to other prophets, Moshe spoke to G-d during the day, completely conscious.
• All other prophets trembled and became weak due to their meeting with Hashem. Moshe remained fully in control of his physical and psychological powers throughout his prophetic engagements with Hashem.
• All prophets, except Moshe, received their visions whenever Hashem appeared to them, without their control. Moshe, however, spoke to Hashem whenever he so chose. (Perush HaMishnah, Sanhedrin, Introduction to Perek Chalek).
The Rambam describes the spiritual intimacy that existed between Moshe and Hashem. The portrait that emerges is that of a unique individual who enjoyed unparalleled access to the Almighty due to his exceptional spiritual gifts.
Moshe and his prophetic encounters were unique in the annals of Jewish history. As the Torah teaches us, “And there was no other prophet who arose in Israel like Moshe, whom the L-rd knew face to face” (Devarim 34:10).
While none of us are capable of achieving his exalted level, each of us can do our utmost to reach out to Hashem, and establish a meaningful connection with Him.