Questions and Suggested Answers
Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
(a) List the different interpretations of the phrase “heavy of speech” as they emerge from the foregoing commentators.
Moshe stuttered when he spoke
Moshe lacked fluency in the Egyptian language due to his long absence from Egypt
Moshe suffered from a speech impediment; i.e. not being able to pronounce certain combinations of letters
Moshe lacked the linguistic style of diplomatic language
(b) Summarize the arguments
Rashbam against Rashi:
1. There is no talmudic source to indicate that Moshe suffered a lasting speech defect.
2. It is inconceivable that the prophet to whom God spoke “face to face” and who received the Torah directly from God was a stutterer!
Ibn Ezra against Rashbam:
From the textual references (4 - 10) “I have never been a man of words... Now ever since Thou hast spoken to thy servant...” It is obvious that Moshe is referring to a
congenital speech defect.
Shadal against Ibn Ezra:
Challenge: Prove your point by showing an example of letter combinations that Moshe could not pronounce. How could Moshe have been an effective teacher of Torah if he had limited speech capacity?
(c) Which of the above explanations best fits the Divine reply (4 - 11, 12)?
It would seem that Rashi’s explanation best fits the Divine reply. In verse 11 God asks Moshe “who created the ability to speak (“peh”)?” God is thus promising Moshe an ability to speak clearly. In verse 11 God is saying that He is the master of speech. In verse 12 God assures Moshe that when he goes on his mission to Pharaoh, God will guide his speech.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem