FROM THE RABBI’S DESK – SHEMOT:
With the sense of heightened drama describing in beautiful detail the conversations between G-d and Moshe regarding the latterâ€™s mission to take the people of Israel out of Egypt, one brief statement by Moshe sets the tone for the understanding of the relationship between G-d and man. Moshe states he is a stutterer, laden with a speech defect stemming from birth. How can he transmit the message of G-d to Pharaoh if he cannot enunciate clearly those words?
G-dâ€™s response to Moshe that He controls and determines the capacity of man to hear and speak is followed by a statement that G-d will guide Moshe and teach him how to speak to the king. In other words, as the Ramban explains, when Moshe speaks to Pharaoh, he will not stammer. He will not fall over his words. He will be eloquent and oratorical. Interestingly, Moshe does not tell G-d to cure him from his malady in order to address the Egyptian monarch. He obviously does not feel worthy of carrying out such a mission to free the Hebrew slaves. But G-d tells him, He will direct Moshe in his quest to emancipate the Israelites.
A speech defect such as suffered by Moshe is a disability. The anxiety that accompanies this type of condition can be daunting and overwhelming. Perhaps one percent of the population suffers from it, But Moshe’s story is inspiring and uplifting. While biblical and rabbinic sources speak of the power of the tongue to do harm or good, this reference to Moshe’s disability is the only one that appears in the Tanach, to the best of my knowledge. Yes, Isaiah refers to himself as the possessor of impure lips, but the discussion of Moshe’s disability as found in this week’s Torah reading is unique.
That G-d intervenes to help Moshe state his case before the king of Egypt is noteworthy as it gives hope and inspiration to the reader. A person’s innate eloquence and facility in turning a phrase does not make that individual great. He may be a great orator, but not necessarily a great person. As G-d says to Samuel who has been chosen to find a king to replace Saul, G-d looks at the heart and soul of the individual to determine that person’s greatness. Moshe may at one have been a prince of Egypt, but in the desert,,in the wilderness of Sinai, G-d declares Moshe to be the leader of Israel because of who he is as a person and as a potential teacher and guide. Moshe’s speech defect does not, and should not deter him from doing G-d’s bidding. Many have overcome disabilities and have achieved greatness. Moshe is the paradigm.