Moshe: A Man of Many Words?

PARASHAT DEVARIM: For someone "not a man of words", Sefer Devarim is one long speech by Moshe!

By Rav David Silverberg

The Midrash (Devarim Rabba), in its opening comments to Sefer Devarim, notes a certain irony that arises from the first verse of this book: “Eileh ha-devarim asher diber Moshe el kol Yisrael” – “These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel.”  As this introductory verse indicates, Sefer Devarim is a record of Moshe’s lengthy discourses which he presented to the people before his passing.  The Midrash finds this ironic in light of Moshe’s response to God forty years earlier when God first assigned him the role of leader of Benei Yisrael: “Lo ish devarim anokhi” – “I am not a man of words” (Shemot 4:10).  Moshe, who was not a man of “devarim,” now presented a lengthy book of “devarim,” teaching and instructing Benei Yisrael before his passing.  This observation is made as a source for the “healing” power of Torah, as the Midrash writes: “See how cherished the tongue of Torah is, as it cures the tongue… Moshe, until he was privileged to receive the Torah, it is written about him, ‘I am not a man of words,’ but once he was privileged to receive the Torah, his tongue was cured and he began speaking words…”

How might we explain the Midrash’s reference to the “curing” powers of Torah?

Presenting to people instructions, telling them what they must do and must not do, entails a certain degree of arrogance.  Anybody who teaches people what they should be doing needs to ask himself or herself, “What right do I have to tell people what to do?  Who am I to assume that I have the authority to give instruction to others?”  Moshe, the humblest of all people (Bamidbar 12:3), thus did not consider himself an “ish devarim,” a man of words, qualified to guide, teach and preach.  What enabled him to serve this role, however, was his receiving the Torah.  As he received the Torah from God, he taught with confidence, knowing full well without any shadow of a doubt that he was communicating eternal truth, that he was presenting to Benei Yisrael the actual word of God.  He became an “ish devarim,” a person with the confidence to stand before the nation and instruct them, only because of the Torah.

This, perhaps, is the Midrash’s intent when it speaks of Torah “healing” Moshe and turning him into a “man of words.”  An honest, humble person is empowered to teach only through unwavering belief in the truth and importance of what he teaches, and it is thus only through firm belief in the truth of Torah that a person can feel confident assuming the role of “ish devarim” and conveying words of Torah to others.

(Based on an article by Rav Oded Mittelman)

Originally posted on VBM

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