Passover is quickly approaching, and while starting to clean my home for the holiday, I was reflecting on a Passover topic that is not often discussed.
In the Torah, Moses sees a bush on fire and hears God tell him that he will use his speech to deliver the Jews from Egypt. Moses’ immediate response to God is “… I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now… I have a heavy/labored tongue.” God suggests bringing his brother, Aaron, along if he needs help with his speech. Some interpret the “heavy/labored tongue” to be indicative of what we call now a stutter. In fact, developmental stuttering often starts at around 2-5 years of age and can continue throughout the individual’s life. It seems Moses had this problem for as long as he could remember, as he states “… I have never been a man of words …”
Stuttering is a neurologically based disorder that impairs an individual’s ability to time and sequence the physical movements necessary for speech. Over time, this underlying impairment results in primary stuttering behaviors that can include blocks (hard time getting a sound out), repetitions of words, syllables, sounds, and/or prolongations (drawing out a sound). Oftentimes this will cause secondary behaviors such as sound or word substitutions, physical tension and avoidance. Moses already seemed to be showing some signs of avoidance as he was trying to get out of a task he knew he would have a more difficult time performing. Moses showed three common symptoms of stuttering: fear, finding someone to speak for him, and avoidance.
As the story continues, Moses seems to find his voice and no longer needs his brother as a communicator. What is so interesting is that in Devarim, the last book of the Torah, Moses gives the laws to the Jewish people. His “heavy/labored tongue” is never mentioned again, not by him or anyone else. He went from someone who thought his speech was an obstacle to someone who used his speech with eloquence. How fitting that this was in the book of Devarim, translated as “words.” This may be the first case of cured stuttering in history! What did he do?
As a speech-language pathologist who works with many individuals who stutter, I offer an explanation. I often guide individuals who stutter to use different techniques when conversing with others. Some of these techniques include reducing the rate of speech, pausing, and incorporating mindfulness techniques when speaking.
Reducing the rate of speech puts less of a load on the speech mechanism, and when the speech mechanism has more time to say fewer words, fluency often improves. Pausing gives one’s speech mechanism a break before it has to produce more words, also improving fluency. Using mindfulness, or attending to what one is saying, will allow the individual to implement techniques to improve fluency as they will be more aware of what and how they are feeling while speaking and often decrease secondary behaviors such as filler words (use of words like “like” or “um” to avoid instances of stuttering).
I often work as a communication coach for individuals who want to be more effective communicators at their work. Coincidentally, the same techniques used for fluency are similar to those who want to communicate more effectively at their work. Moses’ biggest challenge at the beginning was his “heavy/labored tongue,” but it seems the very thing he deemed as a challenge actually helped him become a great orator and leader.
Joe Biden, Byron Pitts, Marilyn Monroe and Emily Blunt are all famous because of the way they use their speech. One is president, others have starred in famous movies and TV shows, and others are famous speakers. How many people talk about their stutter? Just like Moses, their stutter is not the topic that often comes to mind when thinking about them. It is likely that their stutter actually made them better speakers and performers, since to overcome their stutter they practiced their speech more and were more focused on every word they said.
Even if we do not stutter, as we celebrate Passover with our families, let us use this time to reflect on the words we use and how they can be used to be most impactful and positive. Wishing everyone a wonderful Passover.
Stephanie Jeret is a speech-language pathologist and the owner of Speak with Stephanie. She obtained her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the City University of New York. She has practiced speech therapy in a number of settings including outpatient rehabilitation, telepractice, skilled nursing facilities, and schools. She specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of a variety of communication disorders including articulation disorders, receptive/expressive language disorders and fluency disorders. She can be reached through her website, www.speakwithstephanie.com, or via email at