Who am I?
At Jewish Newport
January 23, 2021
By Aaron Ginsburg
Thank you to Rabbi Marc Mandel, edited by Vicki Kaplan
|God speaking to Moses from |
the burning bush
Schlapperitzin, Konrad abt 1445
Rabbi Marc Mandel of Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island writes,
“One of the recurring themes in the early part of the Book of Shemot is the reluctance of Moses to serve as spokesperson to Pharaoh for the Jewish people. At least five times, Moses asks God to replace him with someone else - someone who can speak better than he. The Torah is not explicit, but apparently Moses had a speech defect which made him very insecure.
“Why did God choose someone with a speech defect to represent the Jewish people? The Dreshot Haran says that, ‘Moses was chosen so that it would not be thought that it was his eloquence which made Israel and its leaders his followers. For men with glib tongues have been known to attract multitudes and to have their lies taken for truth. The very opposite, however, is the case with one whose speech is impaired. Even the truth he speaks will not be accepted unless it is absolutely transparent.’"
“What a great lesson for our age!”
It is striking how much effort God put into convincing Moses to become His messenger. Was God’s power not so total? Or was it that it would be preferable if people did His bidding because they believed in what they were doing, rather than because He commanded it?
To get Moses’ attention, God used a cheap trick, the burning bush. Sure enough Moses approached the bush to see what was going on. At God’s command, Moses took off his sandals. Nowadays, God would ask people to keep their shoes on to avoid stinky feet! After commiserating with Moses about the hardships the Children of Israel were experiencing in Egypt, God popped the question, “Moses, will you go to Pharaoh and give him my message?” Moses demurred, saying, “Who am I?”
Like a child, Moses continued to come up with excuses, finally playing the “I stutter” card. God said, “Don’t worry, I will be with you.” When that didn’t work, God lost his temper and said that Moses' brother Aaron could do the talking. And Aaron hasn’t stopped talking since!
The comedic approach was repeated. Pharaoh wouldn’t listen, so the God-Moses team pulled out every trick in the book, ten (plagues) in fact. One can imagine God and Moses trying having fun thinking of things disgusting enough to get Pharaoh's attention. If a river of blood doesn’t work, let's try locusts; if locusts don’t work, lice; if lice don't work; darkness...and so on. As Leo A Connorton Jr. told us in seventh grade English at Thompson Junior High School before he jumped onto his desk, “If at first you don’t fricassee, fry, fry again.” Mr. Connorton knew how to get our attention!
Mrs. Namel Chadash asks,
“So Rabbi Mandel, (Oy, do I love that sweet name, Mandel.), did God have the same conversation with Joe Biden?”
Rabbi Mandel silently smiled.
So how did the God to Joe Biden conversation go?
G: “Joe, I’d like you to do some networking for me.”
Joe tried every trick in the book to avoid accepting the task.
J: “God, I want to be upfront with you. There is something you should know that will make it impossible for me to be your messenger.”
G: “Nu? That’s hard to imagine. Surprise me!”
J: “You won’t like this. I’m Catholic”
The heavenly choir laughed, a deep belly laugh. Even God smiled.
G: “Joe, look closely at me. Don’t you see that in addition to a Magen David, I have a crescent and a cross. You need a better excuse than that.”
Joe: “Sigh! There is something even worse. I’m a democrat.”
A murmur went up from the heavenly choir.
G: “Joe, we don’t discuss politics up here. A few years ago we formed a heavenly commission. After a long debate and consulting an outside expert, we decided politics were divisive and would interfere with our work.”
J: “Who was the outside expert?
G: “We went to the obvious choice, Rabbi Marc Mandel! The closest he ever came to politics was a discussion about avoiding it. Maybe you know him?”
J: “Isn’t Rabbi Mandel a young rabbi at an old Shul? Anyhow, I stutter. A spokesman with a speech impediment would not be a good spokesman. You deserve the best.”
The heavenly choir breathed a sigh of relief. God muttered under his breath, “Whew, that’s a safe topic”
G: “No problem, Joe. I don’t want you to sound too slick. I do want you to think carefully about what you say and make each word count.”
Joe: “I will do my best to represent your interests.”
G: “Who knows? Someday, maybe you will become a modern day Moses. Wait a minute. That’s going a little bit too far. How about the President of the United States. Trust me, Joe. If you make it that far, people won't worry about a speech impediment.”
The rest is history.
Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport!