Rabbi Yishai Lisner
Former Rosh Kollel in Montreal 2007-2010
Moshe Rabbeinu tries to refuse Hashem’s mission by claiming:
“Behold, I am of sealed lips; so how will Par’oh heed me?” (Shmot 6:30)
In other words, I cannot speak properly, because my speech is not fluent. And thus, there is no point in sending me to Par’oh.
Yet, in contrast, at the beginning of Sefer Devarim, we are told that Moshe Rabbeinu is an accomplished speaker:
“These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan…” (Devarim 1:1)
Chazal (Midrash Rabah – Parshat Devarim 1) address this seeming contradiction:
“Behold Moshe. Before he merited the Torah, it is written of him, ‘I am not a man of words.’ (Shmot 4:10) But once he merited the Torah, his tongue was healed, and he began to speak the words, which we recite in the matter of, ‘These are the words which Moshe spoke.'”
According to this Midrash, Matan Torah was the moment when Moshe was transformed from an arel sefatayim (a man “of sealed lips”) into a man of words. What does this mean? Is the Torah a guide to rhetoric?
During Creation, the Divine soul is fused with man’s body, which is formed from the dust of the ground:
“And Hashem God formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and the man became a living spirit.” (Breishit 2:7)
According to Onkelos, when Hashem poured the Divine soul into man’s earthly body, man became “a talking spirit”.
Similarly, the Maharal states that Moshe’s “sealed lips” resulted from the fact that:
“Moshe’s intellect (i.e. his Divine soul) was completely separated from the material.”
Moshe’s disconnect from physicality and his attachment to spirituality is what caused him to be an arel sefatayim. Since the power of speech manifests the combination of the material and the spirit, Moshe’s speech is affected when this combination is imperfect and unbalanced.
Yet, after Matan Torah, Moshe is transformed into a man of words. When Bnei Yisrael received the Torah, a new connection was formed between the Elyonim and the Tachtonim (loosely, the Upper and Lower Worlds):
“And Moshe ascended to God.” (Shmot 19:3)
“And Hashem descended upon Mount Sinai.” (Shmot 19:20)
Initially, Moshe Rabbeinu was separate – a holy man of God – but Matan Torah, which renewed the connection between theElyonim and the Tachtonim, transformed him into a man of words.
Chazal use Moshe’s transformation to teach us that speech is an indication that one has found a proper balance between the physical and spiritual worlds.
The Torah associates speech with hafla’ah (wonder):
“A man or woman who sets himself apart (yafli – literally, causes wonder) by making a Nazirite vow to abstain for the sake of Hashem.” (Bamidbar 6:2)
Moreover, the Rambam uses the word hafla’ah when discussing the laws of speech. Why? The Rama (Shulchan Aruch – Orech HaShulchan 6) explains that the words “u’mafli la’asot” (literally, “the One Who acts wondrously”) mean:
“That He protects man’s spirit within and connects a spiritual matter to a physical matter.”
Speech, which represents the combination of the material and the spirit, is a true wonder. When the spiritual blends with the physical and man speaks, we witness one of the universe’s greatest wonders!
The power of speech can cause one to be either an arel sefatayim or a man of words. Hence, Shlomo HaMelech declares:
“Death and life are in the hand of the tongue; and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Mishlei 18:21)
Man can bring life into the world by connecting the Elyonim and the Tachtonim. Yet, at the same time, one also can use one’s mouth – chalilah – to destroy this great wonder and tear the Elyonim and the Tachtonim asunder.
Torah learning does not necessarily turn a person into a gifted public speaker. However, it certainly enables one to connect theElyonim and the Tachtonim and to introduce holiness and life into this world. And thus, our living Torah causes one to become a true man of words.
“Remember the Torah of Moshe, My servant.” (Malachi 3:22)
When you remember Moshe, My servant, who was transformed from an arel sefatayim into a man of words by the Torah he received, you, too, will become men of words, who know how to combine the Elyonim and the Tachtonim via your speech and your deeds.