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Exodus: Slaves, Trapped By False Speech

Today is January 9, 2021 (Hebrew date 25 Tevet 5781). This week in synagogue we read the Bible portion called “Shemot”, meaning “names,” located in Exodus 1:1-6:1. For the supplemental reading: Ashkenazim read Isaiah 27:6 – 28:13; 29:22 – 29:23; Sephardim read Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3. (Source:

This week’s Bible portion has a lot of action. Here’s a quick summary, condensed from

  • Pharoah becomes threatened by the growth of the Jewish people. He at first tries to subdue them with taxes, and then with slavery.
  • He tries to get the Jewish midwives to depopulate the Jews by killing the newborn sons, but they don’t listen to him because they fear God more.
  • Moses is born, and when it is no longer possible to hide him, his mother and sister put him in a basket on the river because they literally don’t know what else to do to save his life. He is found, saved and raised in the palace by Pharoah’s daughter.
  • As Moses grows up, he sees and responds to injustice. He saves one Jewish man from another who is beating him, and has to run away because Pharoah intends to kill him as a punishment.
  • When Moses flees, he finds refuge by a Midianite priest named Jethro. He marries Jethro’s daughter Tziporah.
  • God appears to Moses and tells him his mission in life, which is to save the Jewish people from slavery. God tells him how to confront Pharoah with certain signs, but also tells him in advance that Pharoah will be stubborn and not want to listen.
  • Everything happens as God had said. God reassures Moses that the Jews will be redeemed.

Moses had some kind of speech impediment, although commentators disagree on what type of impediment it was, and because of this he felt inadequate to the task. He said to God (Exodus 4:10):

“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.”

God’s response was to remind Moses to have faith in the One who created both man and speech (Exodus 4:11):

“But the Lord said to him, ‘Who gave man a mouth, or who makes [one] dumb or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’”

In fact, one could argue that God specifically wanted a leader who was challenged in the area of speech, so as to prevent the Jews from falling prey to the worship of man rather than God.

The commentators note that Egypt was a place governed by false speech, which made the humble and honest Moses’ challenge even more challenging. For example, notes that Pharoah, the leader of Egypt, readily spoke falsehoods:

“The great Chasidic Master, Rebbe Moshe Yechiel HaLevi Epstein of Ozarov, zy”a, points out that the Torah almost always refers to the leader of Mitzrayim as Pharaoh and not as Melech Mitzrayim. Pharaoh means Peh Rah, a wicked mouth.”

To make matters even worse, the land of Egypt itself was contaminated so that speech was inherently “in exile” from itself, meaning that truth could not be heard. continues:

“The Zohar (Parshas Bo 2:125b) teaches that not only was Klal Yisrael in Golus in Mitzrayim but dibbur itself (the power of speech) was in exile. This would explain the passuk in Shemos (6:9) tells us that, “Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel, but they did not hearken to Moses because of [their] shortness of breath and because of [their] hard labor.” Because speech itself was in golus [exile], Moshe did not have the capacity to communicate to Klal Yisrael in a way that could reach them.”

These lessons from the Bible portion are so relevant to our time.

We find ourselves in a world where truth-tellers are scorned, as Moses was, because they don’t speak in the way that well-trained liars do. Moreover, we live in a spiritually befouled information environment, full of sarcasm, snark, and grossly misleading headlines. Worse, that environment is deeply enmeshed in a morally compromised culture.

It is no wonder that when people try to help one another see injustice, often the recipient merely responds with scorn.

God’s promise to the humble Moses is a lesson for us today. If he could courageously do his part to speak to the evil, arrogant, lying Pharoah; if he could suffer the sarcasm and scorn and constant complaining of the people themselves; then we can do our part to support the liberation of the people, too.

Maybe that means being quiet at times, and supporting those we believe to be genuine leaders.

Maybe at other times it’s about speaking up when the world is telling us to stay quiet.

Every situation is different, and every person’s risk threshold and life circumstances are varied, but the basic problem that truth-tellers face has never changed at all.

May God save us. May He quickly and mercifully unite the people in truth.


By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain. Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay.

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