In this week’s Torah portion, G-d tells Moses it is his destiny to go down to Egypt to free the Israelites, but Moses is afraid. Moses says to G-d, why me? “I am not a man of words, neither from yesterday nor from the day before yesterday…for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.”
Most commentators agree that when Moses says he is ‘heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue’, what he means is that he is a stutterer. How can I lead the Israelites from bondage into freedom, Moses worries, if my own mouth is bound? How can I release them from their heavy load, if my own tongue is heavy?
This piece of Torah has always resonated with me because I, too, am a stutterer. Like Moses, I have never been able to speak freely, “neither from yesterday nor from the day before yesterday”- since I was very little, I have felt speech welling up inside of me, ready to burst forth, but when it gets to my mouth, there is sometimes a block. I trip; I stumble; my intention is frustrated by something beyond my control, something closer to me than my own tongue.
In a way, you don’t need to be a stutterer to feel this feeling. All of us can have trouble speaking our truth, taking the things that live inside us, and translating them out into the world. All of us run up against the gap between our dreams and reality- in that gap, we get stuck; it doesn’t always go as planned. All of us, like Moses, can be afraid to do the thing that G-d, or the universe, or whatever we want to call your destiny, calls on us to do.
When Moses voices his anxiety about this all-too-human problem to G-d, G-d responds, “Who gave human beings a mouth?! Is it not I, your Lord?…So now, go! I will be with your mouth, and I will instruct you what you shall speak.”
Many rabbinic commentators suggest that when G-d says, “who made your mouth?”, what G-d tells Moses is: I made your stuttering, and I can take it away. Go, G-d tells Moses, and have faith that “I will be with your mouth”- I will cure you of this ‘deformity’.
But I want to raise another, perhaps less ableist, interpretation. Perhaps G-d is telling Moses that He has made his mouth, stutter and all, exactly for this purpose. I gave you that stutter, G-d tells Moses, precisely so that you could learn to embrace it, to lean into it; “go”, be exactly as you are, G-d tells Moses, and “I will be with your mouth”- I will show you how to look at your condition differently, and transform it from a curse into a blessing.
We all have stumbling-blocks, and limitations, wedged inside ourselves, that feel like they’re beyond our control. Maybe it’s something that effects us physically; maybe it’s an anxiety, a fear we were taught or inherited, a negative thought pattern we can’t seem to shake. Time and time again, we reach for what we want most in the world, but we always seem to get in our own way.
Sometimes, the answer is to push and push, to work hard to overcome our limitation, to have faith that one day, it will fall away. But sometimes, what’s needed is to recognize that we’re already perfect. That this thing which we see as a deformity, a weakness, can actually become a reservoir, a wellspring of new strength, if we learn to lean into it in a new way.
Like Moses, may we all learn to raise exactly the voice we were meant to raise in this world, with exactly the mouth we have been given! Shabbat shalom!