Last night’s big Oscar winner was The King’s Speech, the true tale of how King George VI learned to overcome his stutter before ascending the throne after his older brother’s abdication. Most great leaders are gifted with the power of eloquence and the ability to enthral the populace with their inspiring words. It is therefore all the more surprising that the great Moses had a speech impediment.
“But my Lord, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence, either before or since you have spoken to your servant. I am a slow speaker and not able to speak well” (Exodus 4:10). This was Moses’ reply to God, emphasizing how unqualified he was, when God spoke to him at the burning bush and informed him that he would be the one to take the Israelites out of Egypt. According to Rashi, the term “slow speaker,” which, in Hebrew, literally means “heavy of mouth,” implies that Moses had a stutter.
The Midrash expands this fact to describe why Moses had a stutter. According to Exodus Rabbah 1:26, the toddler Moses caught the attention of one of Pharaoh`s advisors who believed Moses to be the destroyer of Egypt that the astrologers had foreseen. But Pharaoh refused to believe ill of his adopted grandson, so his advisors devised a test. The baby was seated before two bowls, one filled with gold and the other filled with hot coals. Grabbing the gold would conclusively identify Moses as the destroyer. If he reached for the hot coals, he was innocent. Like any young child, Moses was fascinated by the shiny gold. As he reached for it, however, the angel Gabriel pushed his hand and caused him to grab a glowing coal, which the baby then placed in his mouth. The burn he received on his tongue caused the child to stutter from then on, but saved his life.
Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.