5767 - #14
THE CONCERN OF SPEECH
In expressing his reluctance to undertake
the mission to free the Jewish nation from the bondage of
In both Shemot 6:12 and 6:30, 3 Moshe appears to again refer to his weakness in speech, and indeed Rashi and Ramban both describe Moshes concern as the same physical concern that he had already raised. The question is obvious: why re-visit this argument which God had already rejected? Ramban answers that the distinction, in this case, is that Hashem was now commanding him to speak to Pharaoh. Previously, Moshe was questioning his very ability to speak, to properly convey the message to his fellow Jews. Now, Ramban explains, Moshe was questioning the very propriety of someone with a speech deficiency speaking before Pharaoh. Moshes original challenge concerned solely his very ability to speak, his very ability to convey the message. In his latter challenges, his concern has broadened. Speech is not an activity performed in a vacuum; it is an act of communication. To be an effective communicator, one must be concerned about himself/herself as the one speaking but, one must also be concerned about the one listening. Moshes concern, in speaking before Pharaoh, was not his ability to communicate per se but, rather, the nature of the listener and how he will respond, not solely to the message, but also to the messenger. Moshes concern was not how his speech impediment would affect his ability to articulate his message but, rather, how the listener would respond to the speech impediment itself.
Ntziv, HaEmek Davar, Shemot 6:12 and 6:30 expands upon this theme. To effectively communicate, the concern can only partially be the actual ability to communicate. One must also be concerned with the openness of the listener to the communication. There is the obvious desire to convince the listener of the correctness of the ideas being expressed; there is the obvious desire that the listener accepts the words and ideas being communicated. Yet before one can accomplish this goal, one has to first ensure that the listener will even listen to these words. This is Moshes concern with Pharaoh. Will Pharaoh even listen to Moshe or will Pharaoh deem it below his dignity even to bother to listen to Moshe let alone be convinced by his words? These are all Moshes concerns. One must be concerned with how one speaks, with the simple articulation of his words. This is a physical concern easily dismissed by God. One must also be concerned with how one will express his/her ideas to the listener so that the listener will follow the argument and hopefully adopt the view of the speaker. One must also be concerned about the image he/she presents so that the listener will even pay attention to the words. For these latter two concerns, the answer is not so simple and so Gods response is actually somewhat cryptic.4 As long as Hashem allows Pharaoh his free choice, God cannot guarantee that these concerns of Moshe will be met.
Concern for speech, thus, is not only a concern regarding the ability of the self. It includes a further concern about the other, the listener. Moshes perception that he is limited in his ability to speak is, thus, not solely a concern regarding himself. It is an extended concern regarding how he is seen by the other. To be able to talk demands, to some extent, concern that one is heard. Sefat Emet, Vaera 659 understands this concern to be the very meaning of aral sephatayim. In explaining the flow of the words in Shemot 6:12, he states that it is not because Moshe is aral sephatayim that he will not be heard but, rather, it is because he will not be heard that he is aral sephatayim. Sefat Emet writes this specifically in regard to prophecy. Communication, even with the Divine, must consider the speaker and the listener. A weakness in the communication may, thus, emerge from either but the result is the same. A problem in communication may be a problem with my ability to speak but it may also be a problem with the listeners ability to listen. One must be concerned about both. As such, to speak, to communicate, one must be concerned about how to effectively create a desire in the other to listen.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail
See, also, Ibn Ezra
and Rabbeinu Chananel which refer to the reference
to both tongue and mouth as reflecting Moshes
physical weakness in enunciating letters whose sounds are
formed by the lips/teeth or the tongue.
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