by Rabbi David Silverstein, Orayta S’gan Rosh Yeshiva
Before I began the Semicha program at Yeshiva University, I spend a brief stint working as a corporate analyst at an investment bank. One day, a group of senior employees decided to take the junior analysts out for a special lunch. Knowing that I observed the laws ofkashrut, the senior members of the group reassured me that we would be going to a glatt kosher restaurant in the center of Manhattan. Since the lunch outing took place during the nine days, we were greeted at the restaurant by large signs announcing a special “nine days” menu. Immediately upon our arrival, one of my co-workers leaned over to me and innocently asked “what are the nine days?” I tried to give a superficial answer to the question but my friend was insistent; she wanted to know more about the Temple that we were mourning.
As I left work that day, I began to reflect on my experience and wondered whether my attempt at providing a superficial response to my co-worker’s question reflected my own superficial relationship with the Mikdash itself? Did I really yearn for its restoration? If so, why was I hesitant to talk about it?
In this weeks’ Parsha, the Torah begins with a formulation that is unique to the biblical narrative. Classically, Parshiot open with God issuing a directive to Moshe. In Parshat Devarim, however, it is exclusively Moshe who is doing the talking. The image of a highly verbal Moshe seems to be contradicted by Moshe’s own famous assessment that he is “not a man of words” (לא איש דברים אנכי). In fact, the Midrash Tachnuma depicts a cynical nation openly questioning Moshe’s sudden verbosity. Rabbi Yitzchak (cited in the Midrash) answers the peoples’ cynicism by noting that Torah study can serve as remedy for speech difficulties. In Moshe case, by learning the entire Torah he was able to cure his own verbal limitations.
However, a further investigation into the Moshe’s own assessment of his speech problems in Sefer Shemot indicates that there was something far more complex underlying Moshe’s psyche when he uttered these words. Initially upon hearing God’s commission to serve as a divine agent, Moshe hesitates and responds that he is not worthy of such a task (מי אנכי כי אלך אל פרעה…). After receiving divine reassurance that God would accompany him on his mission, Moshe reformulates his refusal to serve as a divine agent by claiming that his mission is doomed for failure since the people of Israel will not believe his claim (והם לא יאמינו לי). God responds by demonstrating His ability to perform supernatural activities thereby reassuring Moshe that God’s presence will be clear to all. As a last attempt to evade responsibility Moshe appeals to his limitations as a communicator.
What becomes evident is that Moshe’s inability to communicate is based on his own theological and existential doubts about his mission. At his core, he fails to understand that human beings are all messengers of God. He doesn’t realize that his unique set of talents allow him to serve as the appropriate leader who could take a group people out of bondage. Philosophically, he lacks the confidence in God to believe that his mission will be a success. In fact, God’s anger is most evident when Moshe still refuses after receiving divine reassurance that God, the creator of speech, will instruct him what to say. His last attempt to convince God about his own inadequacy is based on his previous two attempts. Had he been confident in himself and more importantly, God, his speech limitations would not have been an issue.
From this analysis, it becomes clear that a person’s inability to express himself stems from much deeper issues affecting one’s confidence in the subject that he cannot express. If we are unable to talk openly and articulately about the Mikdash, then we have to reexamine our own belief and relationship with its rebuilding. However, the aforementioned Midrash also teaches us that engaging in learning and discourse about our own insecurities can help restore our confidence. The goal should be to use Shabbat Chazon as an opportunity to learn and discuss the values and intricacies of the Beit Hamikdash in order to ensure that lessons of Tisha B’av will be internalized appropriately.
 Admittedly, he does try one last time to evade responsibility in verse 13. However, in that verse no argument is presented, only a direct attempt to avoid the mission.