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Posted on January 11, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Moshe spoke before Hashem… “The Bnei Yisrael have not listened to me, so how will Paroh? And I have sealed lips!”[1]

Many have struggled with Moshe’s kal v’chomer/a fortiori argument. It doesn’t seem to hold water. We were told just a few verses earlier that the Bnei Yisrael did not take heed of Moshe’s message because of “shortness of breath and hard work.”[2] Paroh did not share that experience. It is understandable that the Bnei Yisrael might simply be unable to listen to an outsider trying to sell them some magical story of imminent redemption.

Also: How does Hashem ever respond to Moshe’s concern, whatever his argument was? Furthermore, Hashem responds to Moshe’s second argument, that he had “sealed lips” – an argument he repeats further on – with, “See, I have made you a master over Paroh.”[3] How does that address Moshe’s concern that he was not about to win any elocution trophies?

To begin, we need to examine this conversation in the context of the events that transpired just before. Moshe had appeared before Paroh, said his piece, and was shown the exit door. Moreover, Paroh increased the work load of the Jewish slaves. Moshe’s actions to this point did not win him any popularity. To the contrary, they caused resentment – and hostility to any further plans he had, lest they lead to even harsher treatment by Paroh.

Moshe therefore envisioned his next conversation with Paroh. He would demand that the people leave for three days of devotion to Hashem. Paroh might well respond, “Is that what the people really want? Why don’t we ask them?” Having been burnt once, the people would fear the consequences of upsetting Paroh if they expressed a desire to leave. Paroh would say, with a flourish, “You see? There is no reason to listen to your demand. It’s not what the people want!”

This, then, is what Moshe meant. The people are not going to listen. They’ve been traumatized by the shortness of breath and difficult labor brought on by my previous, failed encounter with Paroh. If the people themselves won’t say that they wish to take a three day furlough, why should Paroh listen to me? And besides, I’m not the world’s greatest orator.

Hashem responded first to Moshe’s first complaint. “Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon and commanded them regarding the Bnei Yisrael and regarding Paroh…to take out the Bnei Yisrael from Egypt.”[4] This implies that if necessary, they will be taken out, even against their will! (Indeed, this in fact is what happened. They had to be driven out of Egypt at the appointed hour. They did not march out of their own accord.) The reluctance and hesitation that you, Moshe, see in them will not make any difference in the end. When the time comes, I, Hashem will see to it that they leave.

Moshe’s second reason to resist his appointment is dealt with only later, after he repeats his argument that his speech is not elegant. “See, I have made you a master over Paroh.” Rashi explains “master” to mean “judge and ruler.” In other words, you, Moshe claim that Paroh needs some convincing, and you lack the communications skills to move him. Don’t worry. He doesn’t need any convincing; the Bnei Yisrael are going to leave even without Paroh’s consent. He is powerless to stop this. Speaking to Paroh means nothing more than dictating some harsh terms. You don’t need a Dale Carnegie course to do that. If he balks at your demands – no problem. I have made you a judge and ruler over him. He will have to listen to what you say!

Should you still argue that you cannot deliver even some short, threatening messages, I’ve taken that contingency into account. Aharon will go with you, and he most certainly can get the messages across.

The rest is glorious history!

  1. Shemos 6:12
  2. Shemos 6:9
  3. Shemos 7:1
  4. Shemos 6:13