This month we are reading the final book of the Torah, D’varim. In it, Moses delivers an exhaustive farewell speech to the people of Israel, recounting their history, reviewing laws, and adding new statutes for a future life in the promised land. The book begins with the words Eileh ha-d’varim, these are the words that Moses spoke.
Many Sages point out that when Moses was first initiated into the role of God’s emissary to Pharaoh, he resisted the task, claiming Lo ish d’varim anokhi – I am not a man of words. And yet, forty years later Moses has indeed become a man of words. In D’varim Rabbah, (an ancient commentary on Deuteronomy) the Rabbis explain that Moses experienced a healing of his defective tongue through learning Torah. After receiving and learning Torah for forty years, Moses himself underwent a transformation of body and soul.
The Midrash states that Moses was like a well whose pleasant water could only be drawn out little by little. The Holy One saw that Moses had the quality of faithfulness and so, repaired his tongue so that the water would flow freely and without end. It is written in Exodus 4:12, that The Holy One responded to Moses’ protest saying, V’anokhi eheyeh im pikha, “I will be with your mouth.”
God responds to Moses saying, I will be with you in your weak place, in your wounded place. God gives Moses a task that appears too challenging for him, but God reminds Moses that he will not be alone. For, as Moses is a faithful servant, so too will God be faithful to him. “I will be with your mouth,” God promises Moses to strengthen him in his weakest place.
It is often the case, that we are faced with challenges that appear beyond our capabilities. We may focus on our weakness, preferring to remain in the predictability of narrow straits – of Mitzrayim/Egypt, rather than venture out into a wilderness of change and new possibilities. The midrash above reveals a critical understanding of change itself. The possibility for the greatest strength is often embedded in the weakness itself. The repair of Moses’ tongue was only possible because he was willing to trust in God, to trust in his destiny. Through trust in a process greater than his own personal story, Moses’ weakness was transformed into his ultimate strength. This man of “uncircumcised lips” becomes Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses Our Teacher.
The Midrash Tanchuma states that when Moses spoke these words of Torah, eileh ha-d’varim, he relayed them in 70 languages for all the world to learn and understand. The Rabbis suggest that his tongue was so completely healed that his capacities for communication expanded to the whole of mankind. His personal healing allowed him to speak the language of universal truth.
As a sacred community, we are facing many challenges and confronting many opportunities for change. This is the dynamism of our times. It is full of holy potential. Let us consider that each challenge holds the potential for healing, growth, and positive transformation. The essential thing we learn from Moses is to remain faithful to the guiding hand that supports us in every moment. Holding fast to the principles expressed in our Torah, we can lean into those solid roots, while allowing the branches of the community to express their unique beauty and blossom in new ways.
During these initial weeks as your rabbi, I am exploring a variety of ways to meet your spiritual needs within the constraints of a pandemic. These times demand new approaches for so many reasons. As we move forward, I expect to share new approaches while maintaining the comfort and stability of our traditions. Please share with me your feedback, positive or negative, as well as your needs and desires. Together, as a community guided by Jewish values and the Holy One of Being, I trust that we will not only weather the current storm but will thrive and grow in new and beautiful ways.
Ken Yehi Ratzon!
Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman