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Parashat Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Go and tell Pharoh king of Egypt
to let the Israelites depart from his land.’” (Exodus 6:10, 11)

Parashat Va’era opens with a crisis. Moses’ initial attempt to liberate the Israelites fails: Pharoah refuses to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, the Israelite slaves are punished with harsher conditions, and they, in turn, lash out at Moses for interfering. So when God commands Moses to return to Pharoah, Moses’ responds with an argument: “The children of Israel would not listen to me; how then should Pharoah listen to me—and I am of uncircumcised lips? (Ex. 6:10) It seems even Moses has joined the naysayers, resisting God’s redemption.

Moses makes a logical argument: if I can’t convince the Israelites , who want to be freed, how can I hope to convince Pharoah, who certainly doesn’t want the Israelites freed? Aviva Zornberg (1944-; contemporary scholar and author living in Jerusalem) wonders why Moses doesn’t make a simpler and more compelling argument: Pharoah has already said no. Why would he change his mind? She also asks, if God is driving the story, what difference does it make if Moses is “…of uncircumcised lips?”

Moses assumes the reason the Israelites and Pharoah don’t listen is because his speech lacks force. Yehuda Aryeh Lieb Alter (1875-1905; leader of the Gerer Chassidim) turns the statement around and says Moses is unable to speak forcibly because the people don’t listen. Zornberg claims this inability to speak and inability to hear is the real crisis: redemption cannot come because language itself is in exile. The cure for this inability to hear and to speak is the Torah itself. Only when Moses merits the Torah does he speak fluently. Language, with its power of narrative, is the path to redemption.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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