Mordechai Silverstein

God Will Give You the Strength

Sefer Devarim is Moshe’s book. In it, he recounts the events in the desert from his perspective, making explicit his message to his people before it enters the land:

On the other side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moshe undertook to expound this teaching (be’er et haTorah hazot). (Deuteronomy 1:5)

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, the Spanish exegete who was renowned as the master of Torah’s pshat or plain meaning, fleshed out how Moshe likely carried this out:

And behold Moshe began to expound to the children who were born in the desert what happened to their parents. And he old them of all of the commandments, all the Ten Commandments, that their parents heard from the mouth of God, that they should hear also from the mouth of God’s trusted representative.

Rashi, on the other hand, focused on the nature of Moshe’s message, noting that “He (Moshe) interpreted his message in seventy languages.” (adapted)

Rashi probably wanted to express the idea that God’s message was universal and open to all. Consequently, he asserted that Moshe presented God’s words in what the sages considered to be the languages of all of the nations of the world. It is worth noting, as any student of Rashi knows, that this comment, like much of his commentary, is harvested from the rabbinic midrashic tradition. Rashi extracted here precisely what he deemed necessary for his explanation and nothing more.

Rashi’s likely midrashic source yields more than just the “detail” which Rashi borrowed:

Come and see. When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: “I will send you unto Pharaoh” (Exodus 3:10), Moshe said to Him, “Woe, You (God) are treating me unfairly, for ‘I am not a man of words.’ (Exodus 4:10)” Moshe continued: “Seventy languages are spoken in Pharaoh’s palace, for if, a man comes from another place, they speak with him in his own language. [And so,] when I go on Your mission, they will examine me, saying, that if I am a representative of God, then if it will be revealed to them that I do not know how to speak with them, will they not laugh at me, saying, ‘Look at the agent of the One who created the world and all its languages, who does not know how to listen and reply?’ Woe! [This is unfair,] [for] ‘I am not a man of words.’ ‘For I have uncircumcised lips (namely, I am unable to speak properly).’ (Exodus 6:12)”

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “Behold, the first Adam, whom no creature taught him, from where did he know the seventy languages [that he knew]?… And you say: ‘I am not a man of words.’” At the end of forty years [from] when Israel left Egypt, [Moshe] began to elucidate the Torah in seventy languages, as stated: “he (Moshe) expounded this Torah.” The mouth that said: “I am not a man of words,” [then] said: “These are the words.” (Tanhuma Devarim 2)

The Tanhuma brings this story to inform us of both Moshe’s humility and his sense of inadequacy. God asked Moshe to enter Pharaoh’s court and confront him. Moshe, however, whom the Torah described as someone with a speech impediment, is here portrayed as someone who felt insufficiently prepared for the worldly task assigned to him by God. How could he present his people’s case before Pharaoh without a knowledge of languages? This midrash wants to inform us that God gave Moshe the strength to transform himself into someone capable of measuring up to the task set before him.

This message is larger than Moshe. It is meant to inspire all of us that with God’s help we, too, like Moshe, can face the challenges which confront us and succeed.

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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