Our Lips Are Sealed: Vaera 2023

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When have you been asked to do something that’s “way above your pay-grade”? Did you protest that request? Looking back, was that a good excuse?

To Moses, the expectation to become a vocal leader is too much to bear:

The Pitch: “But Moses appealed to the Lord, saying, ‘The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of uncircumcised lips!’” – Exodus 6:12

Swing #1: “What Moses comes in this narrative to represent, then, is the movement toward language. Acknowledging himself as … ‘of uncircumcised lips/edges’, he recognizes the ‘foreskin’ the impediment, that needs to be removed. Now, a project is born: the opening of his body and mind to a sense of its own incompleteness – a circumcision of sorts.” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Moses: A Human Life

Swing #2: “The contrast between the exalted, eloquent language of revelation and Moses’ complaint about his inability in speech sharply illustrates both his horizontal failure in his initial encounters with Israelites and Egyptians and his vertical failure in dutifully fulfilling his divinely imposed role of prophetic messenger.” – J. William Whedbee, The Bible and the Comic Vision

Swing #3: “To my imagination, this verse both sexualizes and constrains Moses. He is poised to speak, to deliver a message that could change the world, and he falters. He is either going to remain silent, be misunderstood, or have to slice away the foreskin of his mouth. I imagine him holding still, unspeaking, keeping his truth inside, eyes darting, heart racing, breath shallow. … I can feel his frustration, desperation, and anger at having been chosen to deliver God’s message of liberation. After all, it is not so unlike having to come out, again and again and again. …” – Jhos Singer in Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, Greg Drinkwater, Joshua Lesser, and David Shneer, eds.

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem sympathetic to or disappointed by Moses’s plea? Knowing what a great leader Moses would become, do his pleas to hide from the limelight seem silly to you? How can we tell whether our fears are frivolous?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: I’m grateful that the synagogue will host a Red Cross blood drive Tuesday, February 7th, from 1:30-6:30pm. The gift of life is the greatest mitzvah in our tradition, so please donate if you’re able.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of awkward speech, there was no one better than Yogi Berra. Plenty of ink has been spilled about his malapropisms, but perhaps my favorite was when his team celebrated “Yogi Berra Day”, and in his remarks, Berra said, “I’d like to thank everyone who made this day necessary.”

Shabbat Shalom!