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Monday, July 20, 2009

Devarim. From "Lo Ish Devarim" to Sefer "Devarim." A Guest Post by Rabbi Joshua Hoffman. (annotated)

Rabbi Hoffman kindly consented to contribute this Dvar Torah, which addresses the evolution of Moshe Rabbeinu from "Lo ish devarim anochi" to "ve'eileh hadevarim asher diber Moshe." Whence this uncharacteristic eloquence? (See Medrash Rabba here and Shem MiShmuel.)

The simple answer, of course, is that Hashem cured Moshe Rabbeinu of his impediment either before yetzias Mitzrayim, or along with all the other physical flaws that were cured at Mattan Torah. The simplest answer, as usual, is not the correct answer. For one thing, Moshe Rabbeinu was not a ba'al mum (see Sotah 12b and Bechoros 45a). Secondly, we find that Hashem agreed with Moshe and sent Aharon to represent the Jews before Pharaoh, which indicates that whatever flaw Moshe Rabbeinu perceived in himself, there was no divine intention to reverse it by fiat. Rabbi Hoffman here presents an entirely new perspective on what, exactly, Moshe's difficulty was, and what changed between Mitzrayim and Arvos Mo'av.

Thank you, Rabbi Hoffman, for your contribution to our blog.


The book of Devarim consists of orations given by Moshe to the Jewish people shortly before his death as they prepared to enter the Holy Land. Some of these orations rebuke to the people for their past deeds, some instruct them on the performance of various mitzvos, and some are blessings and curses that will come to the nation in the future depending on the loyalty it demonstrates to these mitzvos and to God's covenant with them.

What stands out in all of these orations is Moshe's adeptness of speech. Lest one think that everything he said was simply a repetition of what was placed in his mouth by God to say, as was the case in regard to the first four books of the Torah, the Talmud tells us that Moshe said the section of blessings and curses in the book of Devarim on his own. The commentators explain that God later told him to write down in the Torah what he had said. Thus, the integrity of the divine nature of the Torah is still maintained. Some commentators take this Talmudic statement in a broader sense, and understand it to mean that the entire book of Devarim was said by Moshe on his own, and was later said over to him by God to be written in the Torah.

Whether we understand this Talmudic statement in a strict, limited sense, or in a broader sense, it certainly tells us that Moshe did not suffer from a lack of communication skills. This seems to be in conflict with what Moshe himself told God when He first asked him to speak to the Jewish people, as recorded in parshas Shemos and again in parshas Vaeira. There, Moshe told God "I am not a man of words… I am heavy of mouth and heavy and speech" (Shemos 4:10). How can we reconcile these contradictory messages?

Rabbi Boruch Epstein author of the Torah Temimah, discusses this issue in his work Tosefes Beracha, which originally appeared as a series of newspaper columns on the weekly Torah reading, He writes that when Moshe expressed reluctance to serve as God's messenger to Pharaoh, it wasn't because of a total inability to speak, but because of his unfamiliarity with royal protocol.

As an illustration, he mentions a story he heard from his father in the name of Rabbi Ya'akov Berlin, who was the father of Rabbi Epstein's illustrious uncle, the Netziv. Rabbi Berlin related that Rabbi Eliezer Fleckles, illustrious author of responsa Teshuvah MiAhavah and a student of the famed Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, chief rabbi of Prague, witnessed the scene of the audience that Rabbi Landau's son and successor, R. Shmuel, had with the Austrian monarch, Joseph I, who had been a great admirer of his father's. When Joseph asked R .Shmuel if he was as wise as his father, he answered 'much less.' The monarch was not pleased with this answer, because it implied that R. Yechezkel was deficient in knowledge and R. Shmuel was even more deficient. The correct thing for R.Shmuel to have said was 'my father was much wiser than I am.'

It was knowledge of this kind of scrupulously ceremonious protocol that Moshe felt he was lacking. Even though he had grown up in Pharaoh's house, it had been many decades since he left, and, therefore he was unfamiliar with the workings of the royal court. However, when it came to speaking to his own people, Moshe was certainly able to convey the message properly, as we see throughout the book of Devorim.

Actually, Rabbi Epstein's explanation is somewhat similar to that of the Rashbam in his commentary to parshas Shemos (4:10). He writes that Moshe was not able to pronounce Egyptian, which was the royal language, properly. It is inconceivable, continues the Rashbam, to say that Moshe, through whom the Torah was given, had a speech impediment and could not speak properly in any language at all. Rashbam then goes on to say that we should not pay attention to outside books. The Rashbam is probably referring to the medieval midrashic-style compilation, Divrei HaYamim D'Moshe, which does include a story according to which Moshe did have a physical speech impediment.

(It is interesting to note, however, that Rashbam does accept, in his commentary to parshas Beha'aloscha, the account - also included in that compilation - that Moshe was married to the queen of Kush, and it was about that marriage which Miriam and Aharon were complaining when they spoke of Moshe's wife, the Kushite woman. Rabbi Avrohom Ibn Ezra, however, in parshas Shemos (2:22) writes that the Kushite woman mentioned in parshas Beha'aloscha is Tzipporah, daughter of Yisro, mentioned in parshas Shemos, and adds that one should not pay attention to what is written in Divrei Hayomim D'Moshe.)

In regard to Moshe's argument that he was heavy of mouth and of speech, Ibn Ezra explains, similarly to Rashbam, that he had trouble pronouncing the Egyptian language. According to Ibn Ezra, then as well, Moshe's reason for not wanting to speak to Pharaoh had no relevance to his ability to speak to his own people.

Rav Ya'akov Moshe Charlop, in his Mei Marom to parshas Devarim, offers a completely different approach to the phenomenon of Moshe's great oratorical skills, as demonstrated in the book of Devarim, in contrast to his earlier reluctance to speak, as advanced in the book of Shemos. Moshe, writes Rav Charlop, believed, in his humility, that all of the abilities he had, including his ability to speak, came through the merit of the Jewish nation. Because of this, he did not want to use his special talent of speech until it was fully relevant to them. Rav Charlop explains that the exile in Egypt was really an exile of the power of speech. Although Moshe did use his power of speech to some extent once the Torah was given, since redemption had come to a certain culmination at that point, the complete redemption would not come until the people were ready to enter Eretz Yisroel. This is so, he continues, because the purpose of the Jewish nation is act as God's witnesses in this world, to speak of God's wonders, as the prophet Yeshaya says, " You are my witnesses, the word of God " (Yeshaya 43:12) and, again, in a later verse, "this nation which I have fashioned for Myself, that they might declare My praises" (Yeshaya, 43,:21). Because the optimum location for the fulfillment of Israel's task of relating God's praises is Eretz Yisroel, their complete redemption could not take place until they entered the land, at which time the power of speech could be used to its maximum effect. It was, therefore, only in connection with that step of the conclusion of their redemption from Egypt that Moshe believed he would have the ability to fully exercise his power of speech, which he derived from the nation.

We may add that this explanation is particularly meaningful according to the Ramban, who writes in his introduction to devarim that the entire book is geared toward the life of the nation is eretz Yisroel. Moreover, it is the Ramban who says that the the entire book of Devarim was said by Moshe, and later repeated to him by God.

The notion that the exile in Egypt was an exile of speech is actually found in the Zohar (Raya Mehemna, Vaeira), and is elaborated upon by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l in his essay " Redemption, Prayer and Talmud Torah," (Tradition, Spring 1978, pps. 55-72).The Zohar, cited by R. Soloveitchik, says that although God told Moshe that He would be with him when he went to Pharaoh, Moshe countered that he was on the level of 'voice,' but his utterance was in bondage to Pharaoh. R.Soloveitchik explained that before Moshe appeared, the Jewish people had no voice at all, and were unable to express even their fundamental human needs. All they could do was give out a shriek, much like an animal in pain. When Moshe appeared on the scene, he gave voice to their suffering, and defended them. However, they were still unable to bring out the meaning behind their existence, their teleological destiny. This could not happen until they received the Torah at Sinai. Only through study and prayer, writes Rabbi Soloveitchik, can the nation express and realize its true, ultimate needs. "A history-making people," he writes, "is one that leads a speaking, story-telling, communing, free existence" (page 55).

Rav Soloveitchik's approach to the exile and redemption of speech, as presented in the Zohar, provides us with an insight into Moshe's contention that he was not able to speak to Pharaoh, but it does not explain why Moshe waited to exhibit his great oratorical skills until the end of the nation's sojourn in the wilderness. Rav Charlop's approach introduces the added elements of Moshe's belief that his individual talents drew their source from the nation and should be used only in connection with their national purpose, and the importance of Eretz Yisroel as providing the stage for the fulfillment of Yisroel's national purpose of declaring the praises of God. By bringing these two elements into the equation, Rav Charlop shows that it was only in connection with the nation's development as a dynamic gestalt entity in Eretz Yisroel that speech would be used for its ultimate purpose, and true redemption would finally be achieved. Therefore, Moshe waited until the nation was about to enter the land that until he demonstrated his oratorical skills, in service of the nation from which he drew those skills. Although Rav Charlop does not say this, perhaps we can add that it is because of the crucial role that speech plays in the destiny of the nation, that it was the misuse of speech in the incident of the spies, as recalled by Moshe in parshas Devarim, that prevented them from entering the land for forty years until a new generation, untainted by that sin, arose. Perhaps, too, this is why we read of this sin on the Shabbos before Tisha B'Av, the day on which we mourn the destruction of the Temple, the focal point of our connection to God and our destiny as a nation created to declare His praises. May it be speedily rebuilt in our days.

(editor's note: There's a difference between "don't really know" and "really don't know."
I really don't know what Rav Yosef Ber means, and I don't really know why Rav Charlop says that
Yetzias Mitzrayim was not an optimum opportunity for Moshe Rabbeinu to use his Ko'ach Hadibbur.

Even so, I think I can try to elaborate on the idea that Moshe Rabbeinu's power of speech stemmed from his relationship with Klal Yisrael:


In the parsha of Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven, R' Berel Povarsky (in his Bahd Kodesh Bamidbar 32:1) brings the Medrash (Bamidbar 22:7) to the effect that there are three matonos in the world; wisdom, might, and wealth. One who has any one of these has everything. But that is only so when they are gifts from Hashem and come “b’ko’ach haTorah.” But “g’vuraso v’ashro shel basar vadam eino klum.” The Medrash gives as an example two chachamim who were utterly lost, because their matanah was not from Hashem, but rather “chotfin osoh lahem.”

He says that we see a chidush that there are two kinds of chochmah, one a gift from Hashem and miko’ach haTorah, and one of chatifah. He uses this to explain a Medrash in Vayishlach, Medrash Breishis 81:2, that someone was sent to be a poseik in a town, and they made him a big platform with a seat on top, and he totally lost his chachmas haTorah. When he went back, he explained to his Rebbi that the kavod caused him to become haughty and he forgot his Torah. Also, he brings Psachim 66b “kol hamisyaheir...chachmaso mistalekes mimenu.” He says that this is only true on Torah and Chachma that are a matas Hashem and come miko’ach haTorah. But the other type is less sensitive and will not necessarily be affected by gaivoh.

This is a useful insight which suggests several interesting things.

1. Not all great accomplishment is a matanah from Hashem. One can snatch these things.

2. The idea that certain bad behavior or middos deleteriously affects chachma might only apply to the chachma that stems from kedusha and tahara. But the other type of chochma is not necessarily affected by these things.

3. Just as Shimshon's strength was completely unrelated to his physical traits, Moshe Rabbeinu's talents were gifts from Hashem; when he became angry, the flow of wisdom became occluded and his wisdom departed. And, hanogei'ach le'inyaneinu, when he felt that his ko'ach hadibbur was not pivotal to an imminent geula of Klal Yisrael and to their greatest benefit, he became mute.



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