Our Torah moves on this Shabbat to an interesting series of scenes. There is dialogue between God and Moses regarding Moses’s call to go to Pharoah. The reluctant Moses again tries to get out of this “call”. The beginning of the portion contains one of our most famous scenes: “God spoke to Moses saying: Go tell the Pharaoh, king of Egypt,to let the Israelites depart from his land. But Moses appealed to God saying: The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh listen to me; a man of impeded speech!” (Exodus [6:10]-12)
Oy! So much here. There is a good amount of commentary on this passage that speaks to the fact that leadership and power is often based on the fact of the ability or willingness of people to listen to a leader. In other words (and think about this in our so-called election cycle) if people will not listen, then there is no leadership and power! Also, and something that I think has relevance for us, is a look at the phrase “impeded speech”. We know that Judaism places great stock on what we say. Words have power and there is even a comment on the Commandment to not commit murder that we can “kill” through the use of words. The phrase “lashon ha-ra” is used to describe gossip or words that, once spoken, can never be put back and can do great damage.
There is an interesting comment from Etz Hayim, the Torah commentary from the United Synagogues on this passage. The commentary (p. 354) refers to a previous statement by Moses that he was “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus [4:10]). The commentary speaks to what can inhibit speech. As we get older, and reflect on our life experiences, do we become too afraid to speak our mind? Are there moments and times when people would benefit from what we have to say? We see this in families. We sometimes see this in society. America is still somewhat of an ageist society, often negating the words of elders whose “time may be passed”. Yet, how can you discount decades of life experience? Maybe that is why there is this growing Encore movement that seeks to make use of Boomers and elders experience and wisdom.
Maybe the portion is also calling on us to not be afraid to speak up when we observe wrong and injustice. After all, Boomers lived through some of the greatest moments of social change. Many of us can recall marching and invovlement in the great social issues of the past. Why silent now when these same issues, perhaps in different shapes and voices, still exist; with many of these issues impacting us. Given the current environment of economic and social need, Torah is telling us again that this is no time for impeded speech.
Rabbi Richard F Address