Vaera - 5778/2018~ “Can you Hear me Now?”
The Torah records Moshe “arguing” to Hashem about his chosen mission to persuade Pharaoh to let our forefathers leave Egypt, with these words: “Hain Bnai Yisrael Lo Shom’u Ailay, Vaich Yishmaeinee Phaaroh, Va’ani Aral Sfasayim”— “Behold, the children of Israel have not listened to me, how will Pharaoh listen to me? And I have sealed lips.” (Shemos 6:12).
According to Rashi, this is one of the ten “Kal VaChomers” referenced in the Torah. The Kal VaChomer–one of the thirteen tools through which the Torah is interpreted, is best
defined by the Latin, “a fortiori”. As one popular definition goes, “This is a Latin expression which literally means with greater force. In logic, it is where, having made or established a large point, a minor point, subsumed in the larger point, is made at the same time; thus, there is no need to argue the validity of the minor point.”
In short, the above phrase would be interpreted as follows: “If the Jewish people did not listen to me, then how much more so will Pharaoh not listen to me”. And this would seem to make sense. After all, the Jewish people, slaves who surely desired their freedom, had every motivation to listen to their own son and brother, Moshe Rabbeinu, deliver a message of salvation, whereas Pharaoh, the enslaver, had every motivation to ignore such a message. Hence, the rendering of what appears to be a powerful “a fortiori”, a true Kal VaChomer.
This logic appears however to contain a serious flaw. In Talmudic parlance, this would be called a “Pircha”-as follows: The Torah a few verses earlier gave an explicit reason why the Children of Israel did not listen to Moshe: “Vlo Sham’u el Moshe Mikotzer Ruach Umai’Avodah Kasha” – “they did not listen to Moshe from shortness of breath and hard labor” (Shemos 6:9). Thus, a perfectly legitimate reason is given for their lack of heeding to Moshe’s words. They were enslaved. They were hard-worked and downtrodden. Harried workers do not have the peace of mind to luxuriate in the soothsaying of a would-be savior. But Pharaoh can certainly listen! He was the ruler! Time belonged to him! He was neither “short-of-breath” nor over-worked! Pharaoh had all the time and peace of mind in the world to listen to Moshe! So what kind of Kal Vachomer do we really have here?
Another problem: Moshe provides additional reasoning for his charge that Bnai Yisrael will not heed his words, by concluding his argument with this: “Va’ani Aral Sefasayim”, “and I am covered of lip” (I have a speech defect!). Thus, after Moshe clearly articulates the Kal Vachomer, he adds another, unrelated reason–his speech defect. Will the real reason for us not listening to Moses please stand up?
Here comes my Chiddush: In the story of creation, the Torah states, “Vayeepach B’apov Nishmas Chaim” – “and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life” (Bereishis 2:7). In interpreting this, the (Aramaic) Targum Unkelus says “Unfach B’Anpohi Nishmasa D’Chayii, VaHavas B’adam L’Ruach Memalela”— “and He blew into his nostrils/face the soul of life, and it became in man to be the spirit of speech”. Thus, Unkelus equates Nishmas Chaim, the soul of life, our very Neshama, with the “Ruach” the power and ability to speak. Our level of G-dliness is manifested through our capacity for speech. The lessons contained in this are profound and deep. Our talkrepresents the spark of G-d that has been planted within us. The necessary logic thus flows: Our speech, how we say things, when we say things, what we say, reflects our G-dliness, the level of Kedusha and holiness within us, and conversely, the level of our Kedusha and G-dliness is a reflection of the level and refined nature of our speech, and the capacity for language which we have achieved.
The Torah tells us that Bnai Yisrael could not listen on account of their “Kotzer Ruach”. Armed with our newfound definition of “Ruach”, here is how I would read and interpret the verse:
Our Rabbis tell us that in Egypt we almost reached the lowest state of Kedusha–We were at the 49th level (out of fifty) of impurity. Moses, whose message was that we will be delivered so that we can serve Hashem free from a life of servitude to Egyptian masters and values, knew that there was a deep language barrier between himself and his people. Moshe had just spoken with Hashem, and thus reached the utmost refinement of his own “language”, but what language did the rest of us speak? On what common spiritual grounds could we participate in a conversation with him?
We, Bnai Yisrael, did not hear Moshe because of our Kotzer Ruach”–from a deficiency in the “Ruach Memalela”, that power of speech–the breath of Hashem with which we were imbibed with at creation. Steeped in idolatry, Egyptian mores and the pathos of the Egyptian lifestyle, a way of life they could not shake off due to the mind-numbing “Avoda Kasha”. Due to the demoralizing workday existence of the lowly slave, our forbearers simply did not speak the same language as the man of G-d, Moshe Rabbeinu.
Recognizing this, Moshe says, in the purest form of Kal Vachomer, “If Bnai Yisrael, the Children of Israel, who, however subjugated and subsumed by Egyptian society, surely must still have had within their consciousness some memory of their great heritage and some cognizance of the vast spiritual blessings of their forefathers could not hear my words”, could not “speak my language”, then how can I expect Pharaoh, king of the Egyptians, who already reached “level 50” to understand my words, to relate to my form of communication? Says Moshe, in connection with Pharaoh, I surely have a speech defect, am an “Aral Sefasayim” and be unable to find any common spiritual ground and thus any form of common language.
As I write this Dvar Torah, I recall celebrating during this period, the Bris of my only son, Shlomo Meir. Contemplating the above, I cannot escape noting what I believe is no coincidence: The Mitzvah through which a male is brought into the fold of Yiddishkayt and Torah is called Milah, which also means “word”. What reflects our Yiddishkayt are the “words” we use, and our Yiddishkayt is in turn influenced by the words we use. One of the reasons we merited to leave Egypt is “Shelo Shinu es Leshonam”, “On account of us preserving our language”; on our maintaining our connection with the seat of our spirituality. As Jews in exile, we may be forced to use the words of an alien culture, yet we can never be forced to speak a different language. So long as we maintain and refine our spiritual stature, we will always be ready and available to hear and understand the call of our final deliverer, Mashiach, and have no doubts about the meaning of his message-Speedily in Our Time.
So…thanks for “listening”…and Good Shabbos!