Do we ignore the language differences interpreting Moses being not a man of words (לֹא֩ אִ֨ישׁ דְּבָרִ֜ים אָנֹ֗כִי)?

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶל־יְהוָה֮ בִּ֣י אֲדֹנָי֒ לֹא֩ אִ֨ישׁ דְּבָרִ֜ים אָנֹ֗כִי גַּ֤ם מִתְּמוֹל֙ גַּ֣ם מִשִּׁלְשֹׁ֔ם גַּ֛ם מֵאָ֥ז דַּבֶּרְךָ אֶל־עַבְדֶּ֑ךָ כִּ֧י כְבַד־פֶּ֛ה וּכְבַ֥ד לָשׁ֖וֹן אָנֹֽכִי׃

But Moses said to the LORD, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10, JPS)

When people watch movies such as the Ten Commandments, the differences in languages aren’t portrayed. While Moses’s mother probably taught him Hebrew, he undoubtedly spoke Egyptian in Pharaoh’s court, although his place subordinate to Pharaoh may have discouraged outspokenness. Then, he spent 40 years in Midian, away from all that. Midian may have spoken an Old Canaanite language much like Hebrew.

While the text states than Moses (מֹשֶׁ֣ה) was never “a man of words,” the lack of words may have also been related to the language barriers from being away for 40 years. Apparently Aaron, living all that time in Egypt, was fluent in both Hebrew and Egyptian. While we have basically interpreted "not a man of words" correctly, have we ignored the contribution of the different languages.

  • 3
    I don't understand what you mean by the question. Obviously, just as the movies show everything in English (or other local language) the Torah shows everything in Lashon Hakodesh so that we can understand what people are saying. Dec 6, 2020 at 18:29
  • If I understood you correctly, it seems not, because the text clearly says the Moshe was never a man of words - not when he was living with the Egyptians and not now in Midian.
    – Harel13
    Dec 6, 2020 at 18:36
  • I'll edit the question
    – Perry Webb
    Dec 6, 2020 at 18:38
  • 1
    Note also Moshe's words at the beginning of Parshas Va'era (6:12). He separately declares his difficulty in speaking with Israel, and in speaking with Pharaoh. I might myself have thought that his upbringing would make him expert at both, which may support what (I think) is the standard explanation that he had this defect by nature.
    – MichoelR
    Dec 6, 2020 at 19:09
  • 2

1 Answer 1


Both the Chizkuni and the Rashbam understoods the Posuk like the OP as meaning that Moshe was also saying that aside from his speech difficulty he forgot how to speak egyptian during the time he was away.

The Ibn Ezra makes a reference to those who understand that way (he doesn't say who he means) and says that they don't seem to be correct because (1) "slow of speech and slow of tongue" implies speech difficulties not lack of familiarity with languages and (2)the response Hashem gave him in the next Posuk refers exclusively to speech defects with no reference to difficulty with languages.

The Rashbam (who makes no reference to the Ibn Ezra) points out that the posuk in Yecheskel 3:5-6 also uses the words כִבְדֵ֥י לָשׁ֖וֹן - slow of tongue- in a content that clearly means not being fluent in their language and has nothing to do with speech defects.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .