by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – December 23, 2010
The Torah section of Sh’mot introduces the toils and tribulations of the children of Israel in Egypt after Jacob and all his sons passed away. “And a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Sh’mot 1:8). Pharaoh no longer recognized the great contribution of Joseph to saving his country in the time of famine and was overcome with paranoia concerning Joseph’s family and relatives. “The people, the children of Israel, are more numerous and stronger than we. Come, let us outsmart it lest it become numerous and it may be that if a war will occur, it too may join our enemies and wage war against us” (Sh’mot 1:9-10). “Egypt enslaved the children of Israel with crushing harshness” (Sh’mot 1:11). And Pharaoh instructs the midwives, “When you deliver the Hebrew women … if it is a son, you are to kill him” (Sh’mot 1:16).
During these persecutions, “A man went from the house of Levi and he took a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was good and she hid him for three months. She could not hide him any longer, so she took for him a wicker basket and smeared it with clay and pitch; she placed the child into it and placed it among the reeds at the bank of the river” (Sh’mot 2:1-3). Of all people, Pharaoh’s daughter finds this infant, Moses, and chooses to raise him as her own. “And it happened in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brethren. He turned this way and that and saw that here was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Sh’mot 2:11-12). “Pharaoh heard about this matter and sought to kill Moses; so Moses fled from before Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian” (Sh’mot 2:15).
In Midian, Moses meets Yitro and marries his daughter Zipporah. “Moses was shepherding the sheep of Yitro, his father-in-law … he guided the sheep far into the wilderness … He saw and, behold, the bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed … and G-d called out to him from amid the bush” (Sh’mot 2:1-4). G-d elects Moses to approach Pharaoh and demand his brethren’s release from slavery after which he is to lead His people out of Egypt. “And now, go and I shall dispatch you to Pharaoh and you shall take My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Sh’mot 3:10). In his tremendous modesty, “Moses replied to G-d, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the children of Israel out of Egypt?’” (Sh’mot 3:11). After much give and take, Moses continues to resist, saying, “Please my L-rd, I am not a man of words, not since yesterday, nor since the day before yesterday, nor since You first spoke to Your servant, for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of speech” (Sh’mot 4:10). Moses complains of a speech impediment, making it difficult to serve as leader of a nation. G-d responds that he will appoint his brother Aaron as interpreter, so to speak, for him in delivering G-d’s message, after which Moses finally relents and accepts the awesome responsibility.
The question arises: Why did the omnipotent G-d not respond to Moses’ hesitance regarding his speech impediment by simply correcting it, thereby obviating the need for Aaron’s services? Moses could then speak directly to Pharaoh and anyone else without any impediment and without the need of an assistant? In Derashot Ha-Ran, attributed to the great medieval Torah giant R. Nissim ben Reuven Gerondi, we find the explanation to be that G-d purposely wanted Moses to have such a speech impediment, in order that no one should even remotely consider the thought that Moses’ success had anything to do with any great oratory talent. By having this speech impediment, all were convinced that his success at leading the Israelite nation and presenting the Torah was only due to G-d’s speaking through him.
G-d’s message is one of truth for the benefit of all. G-d was not in need of an expert orator or entertainer to persuade the public of what He has to say. The message spoke for itself and continues to do so over the generations. G-d’s message, as communicated in the Torah and its commentaries, continues to speak for itself. We only need a willing heart, open ears, clear eyes and an unbiased mind, and we will hear His message and understand it. Doing so is for our own good. Refraining is only to our own detriment.