Vaera: Words that don’t work

silenceI have been having the hardest time getting words out for this week’s parasha.  Odd.  There is a phrase in this parasha that always catches my attention.  “Aral Sfatyim”…of uncircumcised lips”.  Moses is talking to God, after having been handed the job of leading the people out of Egypt.  Moses had already tried to get the people behind him, and failed.  God tells him to go back to Pharaoh again, and Moses says, “The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of aral sfatayim” (translated as “impeded speech.”)

Impeded speech indeed.  This is a particularly impeded week for me; I’m on voice rest.  Complete and total silence.  For those of you who know me well, insert joke here.

I noticed something wrong with my voice during the summer.  It just wasn’t….right.  Like a pianist who knows when a key just isn’t hitting right, or a woodwind player who notices a pad is just a little bit stuck on a clarinet, I could tell.  I sang through a couple of shows and finally went to the doctor to see if I was imagining it.  I wasn’t, but it’s really no big thing. In fact, it was a very little thing….a tiny capillary, just enlarged enough to cause problems. And now it’s not there anymore.   But to heal, I must be silent, so I’m silent.  And doing a lot of typing and writing on a dry erase board.  I’ve been here before, protecting, saving, resting.  A few more days, perhaps by the time some of you read this, I’ll be building back and fine.

We don’t really know how Moses’ speech was impaired, although commentators often cite stuttering as the problem. Perhaps it wasn’t just how the words came out, but…well, how the words came out.  Did he feel as if he just didn’t have the best words to use, to impact the situation and make it come out the way God preferred?  Everything hinged on his persuasive verbal abilities.  He couldn’t afford simply to let silence rule.  He had to both convince the people that he could lead them out; that they even wanted to be freed, and then get Pharaoh to do it.

Ramban, the 13th c. commentator from Spain, said that Moses thought the Israelites wouldn’t listen to him because he couldn’t speak “consoling words” to the people, so how could he speak to the Pharaoh?  According to Ramban, it was harder to speak kindly than forcefully, and the people wouldn’t follow him until he could prove that his words could be gentle.  Loud, rancorous language doesn’t get the job done.  It gets attention, but not results.

Well, that makes sense to me now.  One day over the summer I yelled.  Really yelled.  Really, really yelled.  And words came out completely unimpeded.  No circumcised lips then, no siree.  Like Ramban said, it was harder to use consoling words, and so I convinced no one that day. All I did was hurt myself.

So now, I’m silent.  I’ve been here before, but never for this reason.  Lesson learned.

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