By Maureen Kendler, August 4, 2008

"These are the words that Moses spoke" Deuteronomy 1:1

Words, words, words, as Hamlet might have said when reading this sidrah and indeed the whole of the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). And delivering them all is the singular speechmaker, the eloquent, passionate wordmeister, Moses.

The same man who stood at the burning bush in Exodus and begged God not to send him to speak to Pharaoh -"Please, Lord, I am not a man of words"- this week becomes the man of words, to be remembered for eternity for this astonishing swansong which completes the Torah.

Can we track a certain irony from the man who pleaded not to be sent to Pharaoh because he was too inarticulate? He stated it so beautifully in the Exodus passage: "I am not a man of words, neither yesterday nor the day before - nor since you spoke to your servant!"

His expressive answer somewhat undermines his own case. And God did promise Moses at the start of this journey that "I will be with your mouth and I will instruct you what to speak."

When Moses is first called by God, He calls him twice, "Moses, Moses." According to a midrash, "he was Moses before God spoke to him and (the same) Moses after God had spoken to him". Always humble, Moses does not alter.

But another reading of Moses's story would reflect enormous changes. The opening 30 chapters of Devarim comprise a formidable and inspirational farewell address. Richard Elliott Friedman, a contemporary American scholar, calculates it would have taken about three hours to deliver. Truly God was with Moses "in his mouth"- serving as a reminder to all teachers to watch the quiet ones.


Last updated: 10:56am, August 4 2008