Nothing Left to Say
One might think that with all my heartfelt convictions and passionate opinions that I’d be bursting with an overflow of words between one article and the next and that I could hardly wait to pick up my ink tipped sword to fight the next holy battle. How I wish it were true. Any writer will tell you that there is no enemy more threatening to their resolve than the blank white page that stares you down like a condescending mocking adversary immobilizing your start button. We writers are fully stocked with self-doubt, confusion and distractions. But with words and inspiration, I fear the seven-year famine every time. And this time is no different except that this week I should be more ashamed than usual in the shadow of last week’s Torah reading in which Moses beseeches God to find another messenger for his divine mission because he is “not a man of words.” But it turns out not having words, even as God’s chief spokesman, is not a disqualifier. And so God tells Moses: "Who gave man a mouth, or who makes [one] dumb or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? So now, go! I will be with your mouth, and I will instruct you what you shall speak.” And so now I’m praying as I sit down to write, after two days of dodging impediments choreographed by Satan, that the Almighty will instruct me as well what to say, that is, if I’m meant to serve His purpose. And though I’m no Moses, I find faith in the fact that when God has a greater good in mind He even put words into the mouth of the prophet Balaam’s donkey. And so, hee-haw, here I go.
There is a belief in Judaism that each person is allotted a certain number of words in this lifetime and thus it’s incumbent upon each of us to use them wisely, keep them clean of slander, gossip and curses. “For behold, He… declares to man what his speech is.”[i] I actually got a small taste of the distaste of hearing our own words played back to us. I’m a big fan of my Amazon Echo, which more often than not serves my requests satisfactorily. I prompt it with the word, “Alexa” and then put in my command. But on those few occasions where the machine didn’t perform, I called Alexa, all in jest of course, an idiot and a moron. How was I to know that Google fashions itself a God and records our interactions too. When I played it back, I felt ashamed. I didn’t sound like the person I view myself to be or want to be. As always, I’m grateful when God gives me a chance to see myself objectively and to do better. And then there is my mother, the strongest, kindest, classiest women I’ve ever known, who since having a stroke three years ago has adopted a vocabulary that is in serious need of censoring. And so I’m terribly pained that Wednesday she went to sleep, ever laughing but with expletives upon her tongue, and Thursday she awoke having lost her ability to speak. She bounced back from a first such episode last week, but this time she is still mumbling her words as I’m here typing away and stammering over mine. And I can’t help but be filled with a sense of dread realizing that in life, at any moment, at any time, God can take away our ability to repent, to say I’m sorry, to change course, to change curses into blessings. How terrifying to be locked into a destiny. And just as I’m no Moses, my mother, my precious yiddisheh mameh, is no Pharaoh. But the concept of being locked into a destiny leads me to this week’s Torah reading.
Moses proceeds to do what God has asked of him despite his initial pleas to defer the responsibility to someone else. But Moses is not successful at first and his efforts to convince Pharaoh to liberate the children of Israel fail. After each brutal plague, Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to let them go. On each occasion Pharaoh exercises his free choice and refuses to do the right thing for his country and his people, and for himself. His ego could not submit. He fashioned himself to be a god and in posturing himself as a deity, he would not yield to the God of Moses. When the plagues were heavy upon him and his country, he was of one mindset, but when relief came, his arrogance prevailed. How often in our own lives do we acknowledge it’s time to change our behavior and turn to God for answers, to submit to His will and commandments when we are going through our own plagues of “darkness” and hardships. But when things get a bit better, we forget our moments of vulnerability, those moments when God seemed to be our only refuge and soon resume our overconfident stance that we’ve got it all under control. But God tests us again and again if we don’t pass the first few times, as He did Pharaoh. And then something terrifying happens:The free choice is eventually taken out of our hands.God Himself hardened Pharaoh’s heart because it comes to a certain point when repenting becomes impossible. For sin begins as a guest but then proceeds as the host. Five times the Egyptian leader spurned God and Moses even after acknowledging God and his own sins: “God warns a man once, twice, and even a third time, and he still does not repent, then does God close his heart against repentance so that He should exact vengeance from him for his sins.”[ii]