Sh'mot (December 25, 2010)
(10) But Moses said to the LORD, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (11) And the LORD said to him, “Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”
Excerpted from The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised Edition, editor W. Gunther Plaut (NY: URJ Press, 2005). Used by permission of URJ Press, www.urjbooksandmusic.com.
David Wolkin, Coordinator,
The notion that Moses has difficulty speaking is one of his defining characteristics as a biblical figure. Based on this passage and the verses that follow, we know that his brother, Aaron, fills in the role as Moses’ speaker. I’ve always found the imagery implied by this arrangement to be somewhat comedic: In my mind, I either see Moses just standing there as Aaron speaks or sometimes hearing a voice from God, whispering in Aaron’s ear, and then seeing Aaron communicate on his behalf. It always has been unclear to me if this arrangement continues for the duration of the Torah or if it’s simply taken for granted that Aaron is always the intermediary.
Whichever way things ultimately shake out for Moses’ communication setup, I think we all know how everything turns out. Moses, presumably speaking through Aaron the whole time, is able to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, through the wilderness and into the ancient Land of Israel. Along the way, he deals with a whole range of problems from the Golden Calf to Korach’s rebellion, and on the good side, he does take care of the whole Torah thing, which is a pretty big deal.
What I’m getting at is, this is a lot to accomplish for a leader who for whatever reason lacks the ability to communicate directly with the people he leads, and sometimes it’s easy to forget about this as you’re moving through the action of the Torah. And so, I try to think about this in today’s terms, in our society that places such a high currency on the ability to communicate effectively through a constantly increasing range of media. How many people in our world could go as far as Moses did by speaking through somebody else? Would it add an aura of powerful mystique to the person, or would it be read as weakness? I’m inclined to lean towards the latter, as the former seems like something that would make sense with a villain from one of the less popular James Bond films.
Our culture assumes that in order for someone to be a successful leader, the person needs to possess a very specific set of skills. But Moses’ trajectory in the Torah challenges all of that. He never was meant to be a leader, and he effectively was forced into the role after being chosen by God. Absent that selection, he might never have discovered his gifts for leadership. The lesson that I take from this is that we should take no person’s skills at any sort of face value and, rather, look at our friends and neighbors as people with latent gifts in addition to the skills that they already may have. It is only by challenging people into what are sometimes uncomfortable new situations — and by allowing them the opportunity to do so — that true potential can be unlocked.
Moses wasn’t much of a speaker, but he led the Jewish people to freedom. Who knows what the rest of us are capable of doing for this world, if only given the chance?
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