Well here we are at Exodus and how Moses was born; saved by Pharaoh’s daughter from the Nile; grew up as a prince of Egypt; saw an injustice to a Hebrew and killed the Egyptian that did it; was going to be “outed” for his act by another Hebrew; escapes to Midian where he marries and has children; and then is summoned by G-d to go back and take the Hebrews from slavery to freedom.
I tried to encapsulate the beginning events of Exodus for all of the questions that it posed to me. As I have expressed in the past, I am not fond of Midrashim because I don’t see how they are based on fact as presented in the Torah. A great example of this is found in the Second Aliyah. It starts out as follows: “A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi.”
First off, when last we had any direct communication from the Torah, there were seventy family members of Jacob that made the sojourn to Egypt. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but this grew to approximately 500,000 fighting men and with wives and children the number could have been four times that amount. I realize that this is conjecture, but suffice it to say by the time Moses was born there were hundreds of thousands of Hebrews that had been enslaved. I know I have gone on a tangent from the quote above, but the statement from the parshah speaks of inbreeding, which is never really dealt with and then leads me to where I want to make a comment as it relates to interpretations of what is in the Torah.
The parshah itself never really gives a name to Moses’ mother. We are told from somewhere other than the Torah that it was Yocheved who was the daughter of Levi, Jacob’s son. This alone is mindboggling to me. If the crux of the events is correct, I believe when Moses was born, three hundred and fifty years had elapsed from when Jacob and his family first went to Egypt. (I concluded this by taking the age Moses was when he led the Israelites out of Egypt, 80, and subtracting this from 430, which was the number of years the Hebrews remained in Egypt.) If I am correct in what I have read, Yocheved lived for at least 300 years in order to become the mother of Moses, which is tough to believe given the ages of all the others mentioned from Jacob on.
I want to state that the wonders of this parshah as written are not what I am concerned about, but going on with the theme that I have presented as it relates to a midrash, let’s look at the Fifth Aliyah and some of what it has to say specifically: “Moses said to the Lord, "I beseech You, O Lord. I am not a man of words, neither from yesterday nor from the day before yesterday, nor from the time You have spoken to Your servant, for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue."
From what I have read, “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue” had different interpretations ranging from stuttering to a lisp but a midrash that I was told as a child comes to mind and leaves me with the thought that it was more a lisp than a stutter. It is the following:
“Once it happened that Moses was playing on King Pharaoh's lap. He saw the shining crown, studded with jewels, and reached for it and took it off.
Pharaoh, who was superstitious like all his fellow-Egyptians, and who in addition was always afraid of losing his throne, asked his astrologers and counselors the meaning of this action of the infant.
Most of them interpreted it to mean that Moses was a threat to Pharaoh's crown and suggested that the child be put to death before he could do any harm. One of the king's counselors, however, suggested that they should first test the boy and see whether his action was prompted by intelligence, or he was merely grasping for sparkling things as any other child would.
Pharaoh agreed to this, and two bowls were set before young Moses. One contained gold and jewels, and the other held glowing fire coals. Moses reached out for the gold, but an angel directed his hand to the coals.
Moses snatched a glowing coal and put it to his lips.
He burned his tongue, but his life was saved. After that fateful test, Moses suffered from a slight speech defect. He could not become an orator, but his words were to carry weight with all, for it was G‑d's words that were spoken through his lips.”
Again, there is nothing in the Torah that can corroborate this and there are other interpretations such as his Hebrew was limited because of his time within the Egyptian house of Pharaoh where he was highly educated in the “Egyptian way and language” but assuming there is some validity to the theory of a lisp, however it developed, I have a basic question as it relates to how Hebrew is spoken today. The letter “s” in Hebrew is “ת”, which is found in the word שַׁבָּת which more times than not in English is pronounced “Shabbat”. Could this be because of the way Moses spoke? Why is it that it is not pronounced Shabbas, which is the way I heard it as a child? Maybe this could even evolve into a midrash to be studied by future scholars. Before you think about this too much, let me tell you how a “midrash” from another culture evolved.
If you study Spanish long enough, sooner or later you'll hear a tale about a Spanish king who supposedly spoke with a lisp, causing Spaniards to imitate him in pronouncing the and sometimes the to be pronounced with the "th" sound of "thin".
Modern day commentary states that this has been debunked by many as a great story, but it's just that: a story. More precisely, it is concluded that it's an urban legend, one of those stories that is repeated so often that people come to believe it. Although they indicate that like many other legends, it has enough truth—some Spaniards indeed do speak with something that might call a lisp, the story might be believed but there is no concrete evidence to prove this.
The conclusion drawn is that the reason for difference has nothing to do with a long-ago king; the basic reason is the same as why U.S. residents pronounce many words differently than do their British counterparts. The fact is that all living languages evolve.
The above might sound logical to those that don’t want believe that the “elite” of Spain are not carrying on the tradition of following their king’s pronunciations of words, which would sound silly if true, but I was always taught that Spanish is a completely phonetic language, so how does z or c that has an s sound to most wind up being pronounced with a th?
Is it at all possible that those close to Moses wanted to emulate whatever he did to the point of imitating his lisp? If not why is the letter “s” in Hebrew “ת” sometimes pronounced as a “t”. There are two letters in Hebrew that sound like a “t” the first being “ט” and the second being a letter that looks like a “ת” but has a dot in it and looks like this “תּ”.
Why don’t the Hebrew letters of our Sabbath contain the dot? In reading about how our language has “evolved”, I came across the following as it relates to the two letters:
“Note that the final two letters, tav and sav, were differentiated. This is how it is done by Ashkenazi (European) Jews. In Modern Hebrew, however, they are pronounced as tav, even when there is no dagesh (point) within the letter.”
I am from an Ashkenazi background and was taught that the letters were the equivalent of “s” and “t”. What caused the dagesh to become irrelevant?
Maybe the next time you throw a midrash at me as an explanation of why something happened, you can think of what I described above and proceed with caution or at least explain which midrash you are referring to. It seems that we go with the ancient rabbi that we most agree with but how do we evolve as a religion today if we are stuck in what was said more than two thousand years ago?
I will leave you with a question I have from the Seventh Aliyah wherein the following is stated:
“So Moses returned to the Lord and said, "O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me?”
“Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people."
“And the Lord said to Moses, "Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a mighty hand he will send them out, and with a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land."
While I realize the "O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me?” was stated after Pharaoh made it even tougher for the Hebrews to make their bricks to please Pharaoh, the overall question to me still is why were the Hebrews enslaved for over 400 years in the first place? G-d does not answer that question although you may respond with some midrash. All G-d says to Moses is that he will now see how powerful G-d as it relates to the non believer Pharaoh.
Again, you can proceed with caution with a quote from some midrash or you can give me your own thoughts on the subject.
You may be surprised to know that I am also not a great admirer of midrashim, but in their defense, they are difficult to read in English. In Hebrew, the intuitive leaps that enjoying Midrash requires are much easier to make.