Moshe was hand-selected to liberate us from Egypt and to introduce Hashem to a human audience which had previously ignored Him. Moshe possessed an impressive blend of personal qualities—each of which would serve him in his long and storied career.
As a young baby, he was graced with radiant good looks, which drew the interest of an Egyptian princess. Raised by royals, his palace upbringing endowed him with the confidence to challenge Pharaoh and his intimidating court of magicians. Moshe deeply sensed the pain of human suffering, endangering his own life to rescue a battered Jewish slave. He valiantly defended the weak against injustice, saving unknown shepherd girls from local tormentors. Recognizing the futility of petty squabbling, he challenged two quarreling Jews to rise above their small-mindedness and spite and behave more gracefully. Loyal to his past, he delayed his grand mission—first securing permission from his father-in-law and only afterwards, relocating the family to Egypt. Moshe’s resume is brimming with leadership qualities.
Additionally, Moshe was the consummate outsider: a Jewish baby, raised by an Egyptian princess, married to a Midianite woman; his broad exposure and diverse experiences provided him with fresh perspective, and allowed his unbiased eyes to see the world large and whole. This future leader combined an impressive array of character traits with a wide range of experiences, and he appeared to be the perfect candidate for this historical mission.
There was only one problem: this multi-talented man possessed a severe speech impediment. Acknowledging his own handicap, Moshe was initially hesitant to accept this complicated mission. How could he stand before Pharaoh—representing Hashem—when he could not speak clearly and emphatically? How could an inelegant tongue issue divine demands to monarchs, and utter divine commands to Jews?
Yet, for some reason, this impediment did not disqualify Moshe from his mission. Evidently, his unusual mix of noble character traits was so rare that—despite his impairment—he was still the best candidate for these great tasks. He may not have been perfect, but he was still the best option.
What is odd though, is that he wasn’t miraculously healed of his condition by Hashem. After all, Hashem pulled out “all stops” and performed epic and dramatic miracles to emancipate us from Egypt. Wouldn’t it have made sense for Hashem to repair Moshe’s tongue—empowering him to speak more capably? This minor miracle of improving Moshe’s speaking abilities would have gone a long way toward advancing his ambitious agenda; yet Hashem preserved Moshe’s speech impediment—dispatching him to his duties without impressive rhetorical skills. Evidently, Moshe’s speech limitations did not impair his mission but, if anything, enhanced it. Had Moshe been a better orator, perhaps, he would have been a worse leader. His impairment was an asset.
Moshe freed us from Egypt and defeated the greatest superpower on earth; eventually, navigating our people to the doorstep of history and their entrance into Israel. Along this journey, he performed dazzling miracles and astounding supernatural feats. His rising popularity and expanding influence invited the unhealthy possibility that a cult of his personality would develop. Having been enslaved for two centuries, the former slaves were especially vulnerable to the influence of charisma and the peddling of such a personality. The impressionable young nation could very easily have been captivated by charisma and charm, rather than being educated by values. The human imagination is always tempted by charisma, and Moshe’s spectacular feats—coupled with the gullibility of a young nation—created a perfect storm for the emergence of such a personality cult.
Retaining Moshe’s imperfect speech averted this danger. Our speech conveys ideas; but it also projects our personality and our charisma. Speech without character and without passion is hollow and boring. Potent speech that is imbued with powerful spirit, grips a listener and penetrates the soul.
However, at some point, passionate rhetoric conveys too much of its own personality—which enchants the listener with the speaker—rather than with some larger idea or content. Checking against this danger, Moshe’s flawed speech assured that his charisma would never overtake his content. No one would ever be impressed with Moshe’s eloquence or with his underdeveloped rhetoric, but instead, would be attracted to his nobility of character, his quiet humility and his uncommon compassion. He would model moral traits such as courage, faith, dedication to nation, tolerance and of course, dedicated Torah scholarship. Though he may never deliver booming speeches, he will provide powerful, but hushed moral lessons. There will be no cult of personality surrounding a speech-challenged leader. There will be, however, deep values, profound role modeling and enduring education.
Additionally, Moshe’s muted speech assures that a different voice will reverberate—the heavenly one. Moshe delivered the direct word of Hashem by brokering mass revelation at Sinai. That seminal moment at Sinai, when we heard the direct voice of Hashem, formed the cornerstone of Jewish faith. For faith to endure, the accuracy of that mountain conversation must be unmistakable. The Jews at Sinai must be absolutely certain that they were listening directly to Hashem and not to a prophetic translation. Without that absolute certainty, Jewish faith would never survive. If Moshe were a more seasoned orator, the directness of our encounter with Hashem could have been questioned. Perhaps, the commandments were a product of Moshe’s imagination, or just flowery rhetoric—rather than a direct missive from Hashem. By positioning a heavy tongued speaker on top of the mountain, it was clear to all that all the content at Sinai was Hashem-given.
Sinai was based on absolute facts of direct revelation rather than on speculation, prophecy or human projection. Ironically, Moshe’s speech limitations made it easier to separate these facts from his personality.
The Swirl of Opinions
In the 21st century, we face our own struggle to separate fact from personality. It has become more and more difficult to obtain accurate information untainted by personal opinions. Social media has altered the flow of information, by providing a universal and easily accessible platform for strongly held opinions. Social media provides an endless buffet of personal opinion, but there isn’t much fact on the menu.
Furthermore, by carefully curating and selecting our sources of information, we trap ourselves in echo chambers—listening only to the views of those we agree with and rarely encountering different views.
News outlets are no longer information providers but loud and fanatical megaphones, patriotically broadcasting political agendas. In this storm of swirling opinions, it is impossible to discern honest facts from personal observations. In the past, humanity had little need for “fact checkers,” as accuracy was implicit in conversation. Our dependence upon fact-checkers—who are assigned to monitor accuracy—is a sad reflection of the sunken state of human communication in the modern world of polarized politics and sharply divided outlooks.
Tragically, we become our own greatest victims. Honesty and deception are each contagious. The more honest our outside world is, the more honest our internal world becomes, and the more accurate we can be in self-assessment, self-awareness and personal growth. A world in which opinions masquerade as fact, erodes our ability to honestly assess our own experiences and behavior. Intellectual honesty and personal honesty have become rare commodities in a world which distorts fact and fiction.
It is important to restore the balance between fact and opinion. It is vital to write and speak in a balanced fashion and to present facts as apart from opinion. We should value those who offer their opinion, but also admit that other opinions can be drawn from identical facts. We should listen to those who “suggest,” rather than those who attempt to convince or indoctrinate. We should value inner wisdom, not cheap opinion. We need more quiet people like Moshe and fewer shrill bullhorns.
The writer is a rabbi at Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush, a hesder yeshiva. He has semicha and a BA in computer science from Yeshiva University, as well as a masters degree in English literature from the City University of New York.