SALT - Thursday, 26 Tevet 5776 - January 7, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            We read in the beginning of Parashat Vaera of Moshe’s concerns when he was told by God to once again confront Pharaoh to demand the release of Benei Yisrael.  Moshe noted that Benei Yisrael had rejected his prophetic message, and so Pharaoh would undoubtedly do the same, and he further noted that he suffered from a speech impediment: “va-ani aral sefatayim” (6:12,30).

            The Ramban (6:12-13), in a lengthy discussion of the chronology of the events, writes that when Moshe first approached Benei Yisrael to convey God’s message of redemption, and then when he first confronted Pharaoh, others (the nation’s elders and Aharon) spoke on his behalf because of his speech impediment.  However, in the beginning of Parashat Vaera, when God proclaimed the “four expressions of redemption,” He specifically asked Moshe to convey this message to Benei Yisrael (“Lakhein emor li-vnei Yisrael…” – 6:6).  When this message fell upon deaf ears, Moshe attributed this failure to his inadequate oratory skills.  And thus when God commanded him to return to Pharaoh, Moshe resisted, noting that if his handicap prevented his prophetic message from reaching the hearts of Benei Yisrael, there was no reason to believe he would succeed in changing Pharaoh’s heart.

            Interestingly, in describing Moshe’s reluctance to speak, the Ramban does not formulate Moshe’s concerns as relating to his feared ineffectiveness due to his handicap.  Rather, the Ramban writes that Moshe was “embarrassed” to speak because of his impediment (“haya bosh le-daber”).  We might wonder as to the precise nature and cause of this “embarrassment.”  Was Moshe truly insecure because he did not speak fluidly?  Was he worried about embarrassing himself?  Or does the Ramban perhaps refer here to a different kind of embarrassment?

            Rav Moshe Taragin speculated that perhaps Moshe’s “embarrassment” was not about his personal dignity, but rather due to his role as the nation’s representative.  He approached Pharaoh not as an individual, but as the spokesperson for Benei Yisrael.  As such, his inability to speak fluidly and articulately might bring shame upon the people he was representing, and he felt ashamed for them.  Moshe insisted that Benei Yisrael deserved a suitable spokesman, who could represent them with honor, and so he was reluctant to assume this role in light of his speech impediment.

            Rav Taragin noted that if, indeed, this is the Ramban’s intent, then his comments remind us to be cognizant of who and what we represent as we go about our daily affairs.  We live not just as individuals, but rather as representatives of the groups, institutions and value systems with which we associate.  Our day-to-day speech and conduct, the way we present ourselves and interact with others, brings either honor or dishonor to all that we represent.  This awareness should motivate us to conduct ourselves in a dignified, courteous and becoming manner wherever we go and with whomever we speak, in order to reflect positively upon our nation, our faith, our families, and everything else that we knowingly or unknowingly represent.