Mordechai Silverstein

Don’t Underestimate Your Capabilities

Twice, Moshe discounts his ability to sell his mission to free the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage to his own people, let alone to Pharaoh. On one occasion, he declares to God that he is “heavy mouthed and heavy tongued” (Exodus 4:10) while another time, he pleads that he is “uncircumcised of lips” (Exodus 6:12) In the first instance, Moshe is likely claiming himself incapable of accomplishing the mission that God has assigned to him while in the second instance, he claims he is morally insufficient for the job. Each time, God insists that Moshe take up his assignment and reminds him that he has divine support.

This theme is taken up in “Otiot de Rabbi Akiva – The Letters of Rabbi Akiva (7th-9th century?), a midrashic collection which tries to explain the religious significance of each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In its drasha on the letter “Tzadee” we read the following:

Don’t call the letter “tzad”, rather “Tzedek – righteousness”. This recalls the righteousness of the Holy One Blessed be He and what He does for those of flesh and blood… When Moshe said to the Holy One Blessed be He: ‘I am uncircumcised of lips’, all of the creatures of the world shuddered and said: “If Moshe, who in the future the Shekhina (the Divine Presence) will speak with him in one hundred and twenty-seven places and who will capable of explaining every single letter and every single word and every single verse of the Torah in seventy languages, says that he is uncircumcised of lips, how much more so the rest of us.” And on account of his saying: ‘I am uncircumcised of lips’, he merited in the end: ‘I was standing between the Lord and you’… Said the Holy One Blessed be He to Moshe: “Moshe, Moshe, since you said to me: ‘I am heavy mouthed and heavy tongued’, behold, I will open your mouth and make you more articulate than any other person, for there is no room full of Torah nor any treasury of wisdom that there is to Me on high that you will not disperse to the world”(Deuteronomy 5:5) (adapted translation, Wertheimer ed.)

Moshe thought his flaws were an impediment that would hamper his ability to do great things and those around him assumed that if Moshe, who was extraordinary, was flawed, how much more so did it apply to them. This midrash turns that kind of thinking on its head.  God sees Moshe’s humility in acknowledging his own weaknesses as a virtue worthy of reward. In return, God not only assists him in redeeming the children of Israel, but also grants him a wealth of knowledge. The intention of this message is to remind all of us that self-awareness is to be valued, but equally important, is the knowledge that despite any flaws we may have, our worthy endeavors will be endowed with divine assistance giving us the ability to do great things in the service of God and humanity.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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