Vort from the Rav: Va’era

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Ex. 6:12

וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעה וַֽאֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתָֽיִם
How then will Pharaoh hearken to me, seeing that I am of closed lips?

Earlier, at the Burning Bush, Moses argued that he was heavy of tongue. Why did he seem to repeat the same argument here? This question is addressed by the Zohar: Moses was then in the grade of “Voice,” and the grade of “Utterance” was in exile. Hence he said, “How shall Pharaoh hear me, seeing that my ‘utterance’ is in bondage to him, I being only ‘voice,’ and lacking ‘utterance.'” Therefore God joined with him Aaron, who was “utterance” without “voice.” When Moses came, the Voice appeared, but it was “a voice without speech.” This lasted until Israel approached Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Then the Voice was united with the Utterance, and the word was spoken, as it says, “and the Lord spoke all these words” (Ex. 20, 1).

The text divides the process of redemption in three stages. First it identifies bondage with the absence of both word and meaningful sound, with total silence. Redemption begins with finding sound while the word is still absent. Finally, with the finding of both sound and word, redemption attains its full realization.

Before Moses came there was not even a single sound. No complaint was lodged, no cry uttered. The men kept quiet when they were mercilessly tortured by the slave drivers. Torture was taken for granted. They thought this was the way it had to be. The pain did not precipitate suffering; they were unaware of any need. When Moses came, the sound, or the voice, came into being. Moses, by defending the helpless Jew, restored sensitivity to the dull slaves. Suddenly they realized that all this pain, anguish, humiliation and cruelty, all the greed and intolerance of man vis-à-vis his fellow man, is evil. This realization brought in its wake not only sharp pain but a sense of suffering as well. With suffering came loud protest, the cry, the unuttered question, the wordless demand for justice and retribution. The dead silence of non-existence was gone; the voice of human existence was now heard.

Why hadn’t they cried before Moses acted? Why were they silent during the many years of slavery that preceded Moses’ appearance? They had lacked the need-awareness and therefore experienced no need, whether for freedom, for dignity, or for painless existence. They did not rebel against reality; they lacked the tension that engenders suffering and distress. The voice was restored to them at the very instant they emotionally discovered their need-awareness and became sensitive to pain in a human fashion. Moses’ protest precipitated this change.

Even Moses, the Zohar emphasizes, who helped the people move from the silent periphery to the great center, did not acquire the word until he and the people reached Mount Sinai. Although Moses had the existential awareness of need, he had not yet discovered the logos of need which would, in turn, have endowed him with the charisma of speech. When the Almighty advised him that he had been chosen to be the redeemer of the people, Moses argued and was reluctant to accept the mission because the word was not yet given to him; therefore, he was slow of speech.

Though Moses had protested – he had killed the tyrant, rebuked the wicked Jew – he lacked the logical understanding of the teleology of the galus experience, as well as firm faith in the destiny of the slave-community. He did not believe that those slaves would ever be liberated. Hence, while Moses, and with him the whole community, had already broken out of their silence, they had yet to find the word. Only at Sinai was the logos, both as word and as knowledge, revealed to him. He finally understood the covenantal past and beheld the vision of a great future whose realization was dependent upon him. (Redemption, Prayer and Talmud Torah, pp. 58-60)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

The latest weekly digest is also available by clicking here.

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter