Overcoming Self-Doubt

Moses's complaint and God's response teach us that despite our doubts and insecurities, we can, and should, work to accomplish our unique missions in life.

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Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.

The previous parashah ends with the Israelites suffering greatly in servitude to Pharaoh; rather than heed God's instruction to let his slaves go, Pharaoh increases their workload and even refuses to give them straw for the bricks they must make. Moses goes back to God, and in the beginning of this week's Torah portion, God reassures him that the Israelites will indeed be delivered by God's own action. The plagues upon Egypt then commence, but Pharaoh will not be moved. Eventually, God "hardens" Pharaoh's heart, and the plagues upon Egypt continue, becoming more wondrous each time.

In Focus

"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites depart from his land.' But Moses appealed to the Lord, saying: 'The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me--a man of impeded speech!'" So the Lord spoke to both Moses and Aaron in regard to the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, instructing them to deliver the Israelites from the land of Egypt. (Exodus 6:10-13)


Moses complains to God several times before this that God's mission for him--to proclaim to Pharaoh that he must free the Hebrew slaves--is impossible, or too difficult, or that Moses is the wrong man for the job. Moses seems not only to doubt his own capabilities but he also comes across as a bit jaded about human nature.

He points out that a slave people isn't likely to believe the wild reports of a wandering shepherd regarding their redemption, and Pharaoh is even less likely to heed seditious suggestions in the name of an unknown God. In this verse, as before, Moses protests that he is not a fluent speaker; it's not clear whether this means that he had a physical speech defect, or was self-conscious and inarticulate. (Cf. 4:10.)


Digging a bit deeper into the question of Moses's "impeded speech," we find that even explanations of the term fudge a bit as to whether it is a physiological or emotional problem. In this verse, quoted above, the literal translation of Moses's complaint is that he has "uncircumcised lips," which doesn't help us at all.

Rashi says that "uncircumcised" means "closed," or "stopped up," and gives several examples from other verses to corroborate this definition. However, he doesn't say what it actually means to have "closed" lips--it could be a kind of thickness of speech, or it could mean that his words don't flow very well, that he has inadequate rhetorical skills.

Moses makes his complaint a bit differently in the earlier verse referred to: "Oh Lord, I am not a man of words, not yesterday and not from the day before, nor from the time You have spoken to Your servant, for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue." (4:11)

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.