Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Vo’eiro 2023: Stuttering and Greatness

Raboyseyee and Ladies,

Stuttering and Greatness:

Can one who stutters or stammers still achieve greatness? We shall explore that topic below but first these opening thoughts. Buckle up: another serious topic follows. Following a bad head cold the Ois was diagnosed with a shtikel sinus infection, is on steroids, and should be back to his regular humor and sarcasm soon.

Two weeks ago, the heylige Ois penned a shtikel and titled it ‘Reconciliation Without Forgiveness’ and OMG; what an impact it has had. Mamish minutes after it was posted, calls, WhatsApp’s and other messages started pouring in from readers -men and women- to whom the words the Ois wrote were mamish relevant. The bottom line: we all have stuff going on! Who among us can honestly state with certitude that there isn’t one broken relationship in our circles? No one! The missive hit a nerve. This week, the Ois was informed -and is thrilled to report- that at least two people took the words to heart and reconciled with and without forgiveness. Kudos to you and a cheap plug to myself. In full disclosure, a few commented suggesting the Ois has lost his edginess.

Last week we discussed yet another relevant topic; wealth, lost and found, and advice we can take from those less fortunate. Many commented and loved the advice my father, OBM used to give. This week we shall take a shtikel dive into physical disabilities. Why? Because they too are real and are specifically discussed in our Parsha. Mamish?

Last Shabbis, just as laining was coming to an end, a gentleman – let’s call him Chaim Frucher- sitting just behind me asked where he could find the words describing Moishe’s speech impediment. I pointed them out and to the Rashi. Moments later, I was confronted by another gentleman -let’s call him Eli Harris- who implored me to take a second look -for investment purposes (nisht in shabbis giredt)- at a company his brother heads, this one working on a program helping those who stutter. The results he stated are astounding. The opportunity -he advised- came with the potential to make  money and to do a mitzvah. And here we are one parsha later, where the topic of stuttering and by definition some physical impairment and or a learning disorder is front and center. More on that below.

Last Shabbis, we read how the RBSO commuted the Yiddin’s 400-year sentence He had forecasted to Avrohom Ovenu, to a more manageable 210 years. What the Yiddin did wrong to deserve 400, 210 or any sentence, we were never told. Veyter. Seven days have passed since we reviewed Parshas Shmois, so have 210 years; and as Parshas Vo’eiro begins, it’s time for the RBSO to extract His people and punish the oppressors. To execute the plan, He arranged for the birth of Moishe to a mother who may have been 130 years old. Grada when Soro became pregnant and delivered Yitzchok at age 90, a big deal was made of her pregnancy. Ober, when Yoicheved suddenly resumed menstruating and became pregnant with Moishe at her age, gornisht (nothing). Was she taking anti-aging medications? Had she frozen her eggs?

Moishe, as we all know was fetched from the water, rejected the breasts of the various shiksa wet nurses and was in the end, raised in the king’s palace. To make Paroy in gantzin mishuga, the RBSO planted His intended messenger in the King’s palace. A better script has yet to be written. Though Moishe was raised by Paroy’s shiksa daughter and grew up surrounded by Mitzri friends in school with whom he mistama played during recess, he had special warm feelings for the Yiddin. We can kler this came about as a direct result of the Cholov Yisroel breast milk he was being weaned on by his real mother Yoicheved who was hired by Bisya to feed and nurture baby Moishe. After a violent start to his career -of course you recall from last week how he killed a Mitzri- and being on the lam for decades, Moishe, now married with kinderlach and busy as a shepherd for his shver Yisroy, had an encounter at a burning bush, an event that zicher intrigued him. It’s not every day that the average person encounters a burning bush, no matter the cost, if you chap. Shoin, after tense negotiations with the RBSO to lead the Yiddin out of Mitzrayim, Moishe grudgingly accepted. By the end of last week’s parsha, Moishe was having second thoughts about the assignment. He will verbalize them -again- in our parsha. Why the RBSO selected Moishe, the product of a suspicious and questionable marriage between Amrom and Yoicheved, was previously covered and if your interests are piqued by that and other such relationships from whence great and famous leaders of the Yiddin were selected, you should visit the site – www.oisvorfer.com  and click on Archives.

To get out of the assignment, Moishe told the RBSO that he was not qualified, he had a speech impediment. Before we delve into Moishe’s stuttering issue -assuming that was the issue plaguing him- here are a few nuggets for the shabbis tish. Before leaving Midian for Mitzrayim to execute the mission, Moishe was given a shtekin (staff) by his shver Yisroy, maybe as a wedding gift -and was good to go.  We previously mentioned a Mishneh (Ovois 5:6) which tells us that Moishe’s staff was created by the RBSO on day six of creation and put aside by the RBSO for use at a later date. This very staff was passed along to many Toirah personalities. In the end, it was Moishe’s to use and abuse. He did both. So have many since, if you chap. Thankfully the RBSO gave us Yom Kippur to wipe the slate clean.  That same Mishneh will tell us that the mouth of the donkey too was one of the 10 items created on that very day, also for later use. And says the medrish, Pirkei Di Rebbe Eliezer (Ch 31) so gishmak azoy: Following Moishe’s appointment to lead the Yiddin out of Mitzrayim, Moishe returned to Midian, saddled up his donkey (Shmois 4:20), and placed his wife and kids and mistama himself onto the donkey. They were off to Mitzrayim to meet Paroy for the first time in decades.

As an aside, we learned that he arrived to Mitzrayim without his eishes chayil and kids. What happened to them is hotly debated between the RambaN and others. According to most, they did not accompany Moishe and were seemingly unceremoniously dumped along the way.  We will next be hearing about her and the boys in Parshas Yisroy, stay tuned. Yes, they have a shtikel reunion; it’s the last we hear of her and boys. Did the boys enroll at the famous yeshiva of Shem and Ever? Ver veyst, but mistama not. Moishe’s boys -as we mentioned just last week- were unremarkable and maybe even less than that. Ober what’s so unique about that donkey? Says the medrish azoy: The donkey Moishe was riding on, was born to the donkey created on the 6th day of creation and is the very donkey that Avrohom Ovenu saddled up as he prepared to take his favorite son Yitzchok to the Akeydo (binding).  Veyst zich ois (apparently), this donkey was zoiche (merited) to have arichas yomim (long life) and generations later reappeared to carry Moishe’s family out of Midian. Mamish so gishmak, but wait, there’s more. This very donkey – perhaps more modernized for the times and equipped with GPS and an electric motor- will carry the Moshiach as he comes riding into town; may it happen really soon! And now you know. Gishmak.

Shoin and welcome to Parshas Vo’eira where in the opening pisukim (verses), we find a dejected and depressed Moishe locked in serious negotiations with the RBSO regarding his resumption of duties. Moishe had tried quitting; the RBSO said no. The RBSO rejected his resignation. The medrish will tell us that Moishe, over a seven-day period, argued strenuously with the RBSO against his own re-appointment. Moishe stated that he was the wrong man for the job, his lips were uncircumcised. His lips were what? Grada we will be discussing a mass circumcision Moishe was involved with in a few weeks; for now, keep your pants on. How Moishe had the temerity to argue with the RBSO, ver veyst? It’s one thing to argue and say no to your wife, your partner, a good friend, and even to someone else’s wife, ober to the RBSO? Unheard of! Ober, avada we all know that if the RBSO wants something done, it always goes His way. Nonetheless, he was patient with Moishe and in the end, mamish compromised and had Moishe bring along an assistant, Moishe’s own older brother Aharoin (age 83) who would be his mouthpiece. Alone and together, they will be instructed to demand the release of the Yiddin -for a three day- journey (lol) and to warn Paroy about each of the plagues the RBSO was about unleash on them as payback for his harsh treatment of the Yiddin; payback is a bitch.

Shoin, earlier we mentioned that while Moishe was attempting to talk his way out of a job, as an excuse he told the RBSO, “but I have uncircumcised lips.” What he meant was that he had some sort of a speech impediment. Is that what he meant? What sort of an impediment? How severe? We are not told. Perhaps he -like millions of others- was but shy about public speaking. Or, perhaps an old medrish they taught us about a much younger Moishe picking up a piece of hot coal and placing it to his mouth, has some legs and might just be emes. It can happen from time to time; they can’t all be fictional. In any event, this was the second time that Moishe attempted to demur. Last week, he told the RBSO that he “..wasn’t a man of words and that he had a heavy mouth and a heavy tongue.” In our parsha, he tried again with slightly different words; he added the uncircumcised lips. It didn’t work! Let us quickly read what Moishe said last week (Shmois 4:10) and this week (6:12).

4-19: Moses said to the Lord, “I beseech You, O Lord. I am not a man of words, neither from yesterday nor from the day before yesterday, nor from the time You have spoken to Your servant, for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.”   יוַיֹּ֨אמֶר משֶׁ֣ה אֶל־יְֹוָה֘ בִּ֣י אֲדֹנָי֒ לֹא֩ אִ֨ישׁ דְּבָרִ֜ים אָנֹ֗כִי גַּ֤ם מִתְּמוֹל֙ גַּ֣ם מִשִּׁלְשֹׁ֔ם גַּ֛ם מֵאָ֥ז דַּבֶּרְךָ֖ אֶל־עַבְדֶּ֑ךָ כִּ֧י כְבַד־פֶּ֛ה וּכְבַ֥ד לָשׁ֖וֹן אָנֹֽ
6:12- But Moses spoke before the Lord, saying, “Behold, the children of Israel did not hearken to me. How then will Pharaoh hearken to me, seeing that I am of closed (uncircumcised) lips?”   יב וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר משֶׁ֔ה לִפְנֵ֥י יְֹוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר הֵ֤ן בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֹא־שָֽׁמְע֣וּ אֵלַ֔י וְאֵיךְ֙ יִשְׁמָעֵ֣נִי פַרְעֹ֔ה וַֽאֲנִ֖י עֲרַ֥ל שְׂפָתָֽיִם:

Whether he had uncircumcised lips or not, we don’t know with certainty. What we are taught is that he was otherwise totally circumcised having been born ‘perfect’ which our medroshim will teach us means that he was born already circumcised, hence saving his parents a few thousand dollars for a huge after bris party. More on that another time.

Uncircumcised lips? What’s pshat? Grada in our times, many -mostly females- pay thousands to have their lips look fuller and more uncircumcised, ober let’s go back and read the different excuses Moishe offered the RBSO. Last week (Shmois 4:10), following the RBSO’s instruction for him to speak to the Yiddin, Moishe described himself as not an “אִישׁ דְּבָרִים“, literally not a “man of words,” and as “כְבַד פֶּה”, (lit. “heavy of mouth”), and “כְבַד לָשׁוֹן”, (heavy of tongue). Are these all the same? In our parsha (6:12), following the RBSO’s instruction for Moishe to speak to Paroy, he describes himself as being “עֲרַל שְׂפָתָיִם” (close-to-literally “uncircumcised of lips). Rashi tells us that uncircumcised lips mean “sealed-up of lips”. Let’s recall that earlier, Moishe stated that he was “heavy of mouth, heavy of tongue.” And the question is azoy: which of these ailments did Moishe suffer from? One, more, all, or none? Are they different, or the same using different words? Once again, the heylige Toirah left us guessing, ober not to worry because our sages, and many others, all had ideas and let’s read what a few had to say.

Says Rashi -and who knew more or better- azoy:  Moishe had an actual speech impediment—perhaps a stutter or a severe lisp. More specifically, Moishe had an issue with either stuttering or stammering. Translating -as he often does into medieval French- Rashi tells us that the noun balbus, mean stuttering or stammering (from which comes the modern French verb balbutier, to stutter), to which later glossarists added the Old German Stammeler, a stutterer. Is that what ailed him?

Case closed? Moishe was a stutter? Was Moishe taka limited as a result? Our sages and medieval commentators differed greatly over the nature of his so-called impediment. One medrish – mentioned mamish above- tells the story of how Moishe burned his tongue as a baby in Paroy’s court (Shmois Rabbah 1:26), leaving him with a stutter. Ober, let’s read this amazing and expanded Rabaynu Chananel who goes so far as to specify the nature of his impediment: from a young age, Moishe had trouble pronouncing sibilants (otiyos hashinayim – teeth letters), as indicated by the phrase “heavy of mouth” and dentals (otiyost haloshon = tongue letters) as indicated by “heavy of tongue.” Rashi concludes that Moishe was a stutterer, presumably from birth. Some attribute his disability to a birth defect or an early childhood event, others to the RBSO’s design. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes that Moishe was better off with his impediment. “Being slow of speech he could [speak the unvarnished truth] better than had he been eloquent, for the eloquent speaker easily reacts to the opinions of an audience and tends to incorporate their ideas so that he be better appreciated.” In other words: Moishe had something going on but whatever somethings was, for Moishe, it was a plus not a minus. It made him more effective. Wait! There’s more: Rabaynu Nissim argues that the RBSO deliberately chose a stutterer so that no one could say that it was Moishe’s eloquence, and not the RBSO’s might, which convinced the -not yet- Yiddin to follow him. This would lend some context to the RBSO’s impatient response to Moishe when He stated (4:11), “Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” Moreover, had the RBSO wanted to heal Moishe, He would have. The bottom line: according to the above exegetes and others: Moishe had some form of speech impediment but that did not impede his abilities. Do all agree? Not at all!

Says the Ibn Ezra not so fast. Moishe knew how to speak clearly. His speech and words were not delayed and he didn’t stutter. Mamish the opposite!  Perhaps he had difficulty with specific letters. Moishe described two issues:  “Heavy mouthed and heavy tongued.” How did the RBSO respond? “Who gave a mouth to man, and who placed a cripple…” The RBSO wasn’t referring to the language of Egypt. He was born like this (“heavy mouthed”); he couldn’t produce all the letters of the lip and tongue. Only a few he produced heavily. And this is the meaning of “I will be with your mouth and instruct you.” The RBSO said he would provide Moishe with the words that didn’t contain the letters that were difficult for him to pronounce. The bottom line according to the Ibn Ezra: Moishe may have had some form of limitation; he was however not a stutterer. Fartig. Case closed? No! Veyter.

Says the Rashbam azoy: when Moishe said -last week-  “I am heavy mouthed and heavy tongued” what he meant to say was this:  I am not versant in the Egyptian language. When I was young, I fled from there and now I am 80 years old. I am not versant in the language. And his proof? In the Novee Yichezkel (3:4-6) we read that one who is not fluent in a language of the kingship is called this (heavy mouthed). Moreover, is it possible that a prophet who knew the RBSO face to face and received the heylige Toirah from His hand stuttered?! Not! Moishe did dot stutter.

The bottom lines: the RBSO never tells us that Moishe had an issue. In both parshas, Moishe diagnosed himself as having some inability to communicate the RBSO’s message to anyone, least of all the mighty king Paroy. In our parsha, Moishe expresses this idea twice (6:12 and 6:30). He refers to himself as עֲרַ֣ל שְׂפָתַ֔יִם, an opaque term alternately translated as “a man of impeded speech,” “of uncircumcised lips,” “of fore-skinned lips,” “sealed lips” (Artscroll), and one “who gets tongue tied.”

Ober, how can this be emes? Was Moishe, the Yiddin’s leader, difficult to listen to? Did the RBSO davka select a compromised man for the job?  The man who guided the Yiddin through the midbar for 40 years, taught them 613 mitzvis, rallied them to battle, and repeatedly interceded with the RBSO on their behalf, was mamish limited and plagued by a speech impediment? How could he tell the RBSO that he was not an “ish devarim,” a man of words, when he was seemingly mamish the opposite? What’s pshat here? If we buy into the exegesis which tell us that taka Moishe was either a stutterer, a stammer, or stam azoy, has some speech impediments, how do we square that with the fact that Moishe spoke to the Yiddin for forty years, taught them the entire heylige Toirah, and was the orator of kimat the entire Sefer Devorim? A quick search turns up at least seventy different times that the RBSO told Moishe to speak to the children of Israel. And he did! Did he stutter his way through? And taka asks the medrish (Tanchuma Devorim 2) in the introduction to Sefer Devorim, azoy: “Yesterday you said (in Shmois 4:10), ‘I am not a man of words.’ And now you are speaking so much?” Did Moishe indeed have a speech defect, which the RBSO cured for him at the burning bush? May we assume that when the RBSO said (in 4:12) “I will be with you as you speak and will instruct you what to say,” that the RBSO has removed Moishe’s defect? Could be! Or, is pshat that Moishe was cured -along with all other Yiddin of their aliments- at the moment of the revelation at Sinai, and taka so says another midrash (Tanchuma 8:2). According to that medrish, a number of Yiddin had been injured as a result of the hazardous slave labor performed with mud and straw. Others may have been born with defects. Ober, the RBSO said azoy: It is not right that I should give my law to imperfect people. What to do?  The RBSO instructed the angels to descend and heal them. Gishmak. Was Moishe healed?

On the other hand, the Ibn Ezra offers two explanations, both indicating that he lived his whole life with his impediment. Ershtens (firstly), another medrish on  (4:16), tells us that Aharoin spoke for him all the time and after Aharoin’s death, Aharoin’s son Elozor took over as spokesman. Another medrish (6:12), tells us that the RBSO did remove his impediment at times, but only when necessary. On the other hand, others take exception to the idea that Moishe had a speech defect. “Not a man of words,” “heavy of mouth and tongue,” and “of uncircumcised lips” must mean something else. And taka says the Rambam (Mishneh Toirah (Yesodei HaToirah 7:1), that Moishe was ‘shalem b’gufo’ (perfect in his body), a description clearly at odds with any physical defect, and that Moishe -as a prophet- was almost a superhuman figure, endowed with perfected attributes of mind and spirit. Oib azoy (if that’s the case) why would Moishe argue over and again that he was unfit, that he had uncircumcised lips, that he was not a man of words? One logical answer was proffered by the Rashbam -quoted above- tells us that Moishe, safter spending decades in Midian, had simply forgotten his Egyptian, and would therefore be an unsuitable spokesman in the Egyptian court. And says the Shadal that he was “simply not a man of words,” that he lacked eloquence and worried that he would not be able to persuade Paroy in any matter.

The bottom line: all the explanations are but ways of dealing with what is ultimately an abrupt and unexplained shift from the Moishe of chapters 4 and 6 to the Moishe of the rest of the Toirah. Another bottom line: when reading Moishe’s responses and arguments with the RBSO, we need to keep this in mind: It’s Moishe himself describing his impediments. It is Moishe telling the RBSO he is not the right guy for the job. Seemingly the RBSO thought otherwise. Was Moishe but lacking in confidence?

The take aways: Many -to include even those without any physical limitations- are disinclined to believe that they are capable of great things. Be it out of modesty, fear of failure, of embarrassment, of exposure, or simply a lack of belief in themselves. Myriad other reasons include stuttering and or other learning or even physical challenges. Some, having failed once- or more times and are afraid to start over. They shy away, or even run from what might be a call to greatness or some venture that could change their lives. Some would rather suffer a lifetime of stuttering than be required to speak in front of any kind of a group. Moishe might have been a stutterer, but he had an important message to share. Even with his self-diagnosed handicap, he shared the message; perhaps he but needed the push the RBSO provided. As well, he got creative. And he got help from Aharoin. He used props and trickery and turned staffs into snakes. He made it rain frogs from the sky. He made the rivers flow red with blood. He did not give up. He was relentless. He believed in what he was saying, and he got people to listen. Of course, having the RBSO on his side, did not hurt. Jewish stutterers all over the world love Moishe. Perhaps inspired by Moishe’s success as a stutterer, in 2010 the Jewish Stuttering association was formed to help others achieve their own greatness despite challenges. Check them out here:  https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/human-interest/86862/the-jewish-stuttering-association-mercaz-kvad-peh.html

The final bottom line: we all have things we would rather not have. From Moishe we learn that we can be more than effective; superstars mamish by chapping that whatever the limitation -real or imagined- we can overcome. Those who do can achieve greatness.

A gittin Shabbis-

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman


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