Torah Fax

Friday, January 23, 2004 - 29 Tevet, 5764

Torah Reading: VaEra (Exodus 6:2 - 9:35)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:43 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:47 PM
Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh   

Smooth Talker

Our Parshah begins with Moses once again being commanded by G‑d to speak to Pharaoh that he let the Jews leave Egypt. Strangely enough, Moses demurs. The reason for his hesitation is summed up in one sentence: "If the children of Israel did not listen to me then how will Pharaoh listen to me, and I am a man with a speech impediment (literally: uncircumcised lips.)"

Commentators raise the question: When Moses was first asked by G‑d to be the liberator of the Jews, at the Burning Bush, Moses argued that he had a speech impediment and was therefore not fit to lead the Jews. Yet G‑d assured him that he would succeed and that Aaron would be his spokesman. Why did he now bring up the same argument?

The key to answering this question lies in contrasting the terminology Moses used in this week's Parshah with the terminology he used above. Earlier, at the Burning Bush, Moses speaks of himself being "slow of speech and slow of tongue." In this week's Parshah, however, Moses describes his speech impediment as "uncircumcised lips." Why the change?

Upon deeper reflection, one may suggest that the speech impediments of which Moses spoke were twofold and that there is a difference between being "slow of tongue" and having "uncircumcised lips."  The former impediment is physical in nature, while the latter is expressive of a spiritual defect.

Initially, when G‑d asked Moses to speak to Pharaoh and the Israelites, he humbly submitted to G‑d that he lacked the physical ability to speak clearly and eloquently. "Why choose me," was Moses complaint, when there are other more competent speakers. However, when G‑d told him that Aaron could be his spokesman, Moses could no longer protest. Aaron would do the talking and Moses was convinced that Aaron would be effective.

However, in this week's Parshah, after Moses speaks to the Israelites and they refused to listen to Moses and Aaron, he was concerned that there was a more serious problem than just having a physical speech impediment. Moses was now concerned that he lacked more than just clarity and eloquence in his speech. In his humility, he imagined that he lacked the ability to touch other people and to move them. Moses' reference to having "uncircumcised lips," did not refer to his physical handicap-for that was remedied by having Aaron be his spokesman-but rather to his inability to pierce through to the hearts of his fellow Jews. In his mind, Moses felt his words were dry and uninspired and could not penetrate.

To understand this, we should refer to the famous pronouncement of our Sages: "Words that emanate from the heart, enter the heart and have their desired effect." Moses, thus reasoned, if one's words do not come from the heart - if they are insincere and perfunctory - they will just bounce off their intended recipients.

Thus when Moses saw how he was not getting through, and the Children of Israel were not listening, Moses attributed this to his own spiritual deficiency. Moses was convinced that it was his fault-due to his "uncircumcised lips."  The term uncircumcised is used Biblically in relation to the heart, as in "an uncircumcised heart," where the connotation is that one's emotions are blocked. When used in relation to lips, it can be interpreted to mean that the crucial emotions that are necessary for one's words to have any impact were not coming through his lips.

Perhaps, Moses thought, that the lack of feeling on his part was actually having the opposite effect and undermining the words that Aaron spoke for him. G‑d assured Moses that he would succeed. All Moses had to do, G‑d told him (Chapter 7, verses 1-2 and Rashi), was to deliver the message one time, verbatim, as he heard it from G‑d. Aaron would be the interpreter to express the message in terms that would be understandable to Pharaoh.

One lesson we learn from this episode is that when it comes to teaching and transmitting the beliefs and values of Judaism, one must combine the method of Moses with the method of Aaron. It is imperative that we present the teachings of Judaism, unembellished and edited, but then follow it up with words of elaboration and commentary.

More specifically, this lesson can be applied to the way in which we are to tell our fellow Jews that Moshiach is coming to redeem the Jewish people and the entire world from the state of exile. To get the message across, we must use the double-pronged approach that G‑d employed prior to the exodus from Egypt: One must employ the Moses-Aaron approach. First, one ought to transmit the message simply, unadulterated. One must quote the Torah sources that point to the significant times in which we find ourselves and how we find ourselves on the threshold of Moshiach. We must then apply our oratorical and pedagogic skills to make this claim intelligible and acceptable.
Moshiach Matters

  “The belief in the future Redemption is part of the belief in G‑d, which is the first of the ten Commandments, “I am the L-rd your G‑d.” When it comes to discussing G‑d, we find that in is common for us to discuss it and talk about it. However, when it comes to discussing Moshiach and the Resurrection of the Dead, we shy away from the subject!... Whoever is not totally involved in the complete belief of the Redemption and the resurrection is similarly incomplete in his belief in G‑d.” (Ohr Yechezkel, Rabbi Yechezkel Lowenstein, Ponovitz Yeshivah)

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