Visibility and essence, image and character
The Parasha in the everyday life - Parashat Va’era - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald – 5780
IN MEMORY OF A SOULMATE AND A SPECIAL TALMID CHAHAM - RABBI ELISHA VISHLITSKY, Z"L ON HIS FIRST YORTZAIT
In our Parasha, Moshe mentions his difficulties in speaking and expressing himself twice, as a rhetorical disadvantage that may impair his ability to represent the people of Israel to Pharaoh:
הֵ֤ן בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֹֽא־שָׁמְע֣וּ אֵלַ֔י וְאֵיךְ֙ יִשְׁמָעֵ֣נִי פַרְעֹ֔ה וַאֲנִ֖י עֲרַ֥ל שְׂפָתָֽיִם׃
“The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech!” (Shmot 6:12).
“See, I am of impeded speech; how then should Pharaoh heed me!” (ibid 30)
At the beginning of the Parasha, Moshe Rabbeinu complained about the failure of his mission. And some say he even blamed this failure on his speech difficulties, and the mocking responses he elicits:
...והרי עינינו הרואות כי הזיק להם בשליחתו, ואמר משה אולי אני הייתי סבה לזה לפי ששלחת אליו איש כבד פה ולשון כמוני, ע"כ חרה אפו של פרעה ביותר כי אמר ראה היהודים משחקים בי וא"כ למה זה שלחתני...
"... and then our eyes see that they got hurt by sending him, and Moshe said maybe I was the reason because You sent a man slow of speech and slow of tongue like me, which upset Pharaoh, because he said: look, the Jews are being contemptuous. And so why did He send me? " (Kli Yakar Shmot 6:1)
Already by the Bush, when Hashem designates Moshe for his mission, Moshe points out his difficulties in speaking and expressing himself, as a disadvantage that could hurt his mission, in leading the people of Israel and in the negotiations with Pharaoh:
בִּ֣י אֲדֹנָי֒ לֹא֩ אִ֨ישׁ דְּבָרִ֜ים אָנֹ֗כִי גַּ֤ם מִתְּמוֹל֙ גַּ֣ם מִשִּׁלְשֹׁ֔ם גַּ֛ם מֵאָ֥ז דַּבֶּרְךָ אֶל־עַבְדֶּ֑ךָ כִּ֧י כְבַד־פֶּ֛ה וּכְבַ֥ד לָשׁ֖וֹן אָנֹֽכִי׃
"…I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue". (Shmot 4:10)
(Rashi ibid) כבד פה Slow of speech (lit. heavy of mouth) — I speak heavily (with difficulty); old French balbus. (English = stammerer).
Moshe urges the Almighty to send a leader who will sweep the people in his speech and respectfully represent the people of Israel and the Almighty to Pharaoh:
יאמר, שלח נא ביד אדם מדבר צחות שיהיה כשר וראוי לשליחות נכבדת כזאת, ואל תשלח ביד כבד פה וכבד לשון ותהיה עם פיו בדברו אל פרעה, כי איננו דרך כבוד ומעלה להיות שלוחך ערל שפתים, כי לא ישמעו כל העמים בדברו אל המלך, ויהיה זה גרעון בעיניהם:
"…send with, someone who can speak eloquently who is appropriate for this honorable task. And don't send someone who cannot speak well, who you will have to talk for. Because it is not a way of respect to send someone who has problems speaking, no one's going to listen when you speak to the king and it will be disgust in their eyes". (Ramban 4:13)
Hashem's response reflected the fact that this was a Divine choice in the first place: “Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, Hashem? (Shmot 4: 12)
Taking his difficulty into consideration, Hashem puts Aaron to his side. It must be assumed, that when Moshe and Aaron came to Pharaoh, Pharaoh considered Aaron the speaker to be more important and perhaps saw Moshe only as his vicar and advisor, whispering to his ear from time to time.
Why did G-d choose a leader who had difficulties with speech, and not Aaron who is well articulated?
It can be said that with this choice, Hashem sought to set the priorities between the visibility and the essence and between the content of things and their form of expression: "And in addition, *Harav Nissim of Gerona (1) wrote in his sermons that every eloquent speaker can sweeten unimportant things to become pure sayings to the audience's ears. But for someone who cannot speak well, the sayings themselves must be honest and true in order to be received." (Chomat Anach for the Hida Shmot 3:11)
Thus, G-d sought to establish for generations that content goes on top of the ladder and has priority over the form of expression and rhetoric. Even more, developed rhetoric can become demagoguery. It can cover up the lack of content and truth of things through beautifully spoken and appealing words.
This has a more general statement about the attitude to Moshe and his mission, and in general to the degree between essence and visibility: the essence – Moshe Rabbeinu's special character and his spiritual virtue, is greater than the image and visibility - from the way his words are presented and his expression.
When Moshe and Aaron stood before Pharaoh, it truly seemed that Aaron was the main character and Moshe was just the counselor and assistant, however in essence Moshe was the leader and principal character.
We live in a time when visual media has been improved to enhance the visibility even though it has often come at the expense of essence. The rhetorical expression at the expense of the essence of things. To convey messages at the expense of their design and their authenticity. A kind of modern demagogue and brainwashing.
Public relations systems have evolved very much and are working to create a certain marketing image and external shell for the public figures, that often does not match their true character.
The professional techniques of what to say and how to behave have become very sophisticated and their impact is evident. They artificially design glittering 'brands' although they have no advantage over the rest. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness that this has the potential to mislead and divert the individual and the public’s opinion.
This is especially the case during elections where there is a struggle for public opinion and a desire to make a quick and absorbing influence. Let us not go after the beauty of the outer shell that does not reflect any content or essence.
(1)*Harav Nissim of Gerona- was an influential talmudist and authority on Jewish law. He was one of the last of the great Spanish medieval Talmudic scholars. He is also known by his Hebrew acronym, the RaN (ר"ן), as well as by the name RaNbaR (רנב"ר), the Hebrew acronym of his full name, including his father's name, Reuven (ראובן), and also by Nissim Gerondi.