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    What made Moses speak? – D’varim

    Moses speaking to the Israelites, illustration from a 1907 Bible card

    Early in his career Moses says, “I am not a man of words” (Ex. 4:10). By the time of the Book of Deuteronomy we read, “These are the words which Moses spoke”.

    Tongue-tied Moses has become a speaker!

    What caused the change?

    Maybe it is the Torah which made him a speaker – politicians have speechwriters and so did Moses, except that in his case God was his speech-writer.

    Maybe it is leadership that made him a speaker – his experiences, challenges and decisions moved him and gave him the gift of words.

    The best answer is suggested by Rashbam in his commentary on Exodus 4:10. He says that the problem was not that Moses had a serious speech defect or a lack of verbal fluency. He simply did not want to be known as a mere orator word spinner but as a worker.

    How often have I heard it said about a public figure, including rabbis, “He is wonderful at giving speeches, but what else can he do?”

    It is said that at an 1897 conference of Russian Jews, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever insisted that all speeches be in Yiddish. Some people found that very difficult and would have preferred to speak Russian, Polish or German. Nonetheless Rabbi Mohilever was adamant.

    “If you have to speak in Yiddish you will prepare properly, you will weigh your words and be relevant and concise. You won’t waste time on rhetoric and we will be able to get on with the practical work,” he said.

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