Va-eira: Language and Translation

Exodus/Shemot 6:30-7:1

And Moses said before the LORD, “Look, I am uncircumcised of lips [ani aral sephataim], and how will Pharaoh heed me?” And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have set you as a god to Pharaoh [elohim l’pharo], and Aaron your brother will be your prophet [n’vi-echa].” — Alter*

Moses appealed to YHVH, saying, “See, I get tongue-tied [ani aral sephataim]; how then should Pharaoh heed me!” YHVH replied to Moses, “See, I place you in the role of God to Pharaoh [elohim l’pharo], with your brother Aaron as your prophet [n’vi-echa]. — [Hebrew characters for God’s name], TWC (The Torah: A Women’s Commentary)*

Moses said before HASHEM, “Behold! I have sealed lips [ani aral sephataim]; so how shall Pharaoh heed me?” HASHEM said to Moses, “See, I have made you a master over Pharaoh [elohim l’pharo] and Aaron your brother shall be your spokesman [n’vi-echa]. — Stone*

Like its translation, Stone commentary does not read “elohim” as “god,” but focuses on Moses’ state of mind: “In response to Moses’ doubts of his chances for success, God tells him that he will now begin to exercise domination over Pharaoh and that Aaron will speak for him, so that Moses’ speech impediment will not be a factor.”

Alter and Rachel Havrelock, who wrote the commentary for this portion in TWC, remark on the “bold comparison” and “astonishing analogy”:

“…as a god to Pharaoh. The reiteration of this bold comparison may have a polemic motivation. Pharaoh imagines himself a god, but I have made you a god to Pharaoh.– Alter

: “…role of God to Pharaoh.” This astonishing analogy promotes Moses to the role of the Deity, lording over Pharaoh–who in Egyptian society was considered divine.”– TWC

Cassuto begins in a vein similar to the Stone commentary. He, however, goes on to consider the language of the two verses and link them:

…the Lord deals with his objections seriatim. He begins in a paternal tone….Regarding your first fear, that you are of ‘uncircumcised lips’, let me put you at ease at once: you have no need to do much speaking, for I have made you a god to Pharaoh. You will not only be a god vis-a-vis your brother Aaron (iv 16) — that is, you will instruct him what to say, just as God instructs His prophets — but I have also made you a god before Pharaoh. Although Pharaoh is himself considered a deity, he is nevertheless accustomed to hear the prophets of Egypt address hi in the name of their dogs; now you will appear before him as one of the divinities, who do not speak directly but through their prophets, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet, and he will speak your name to Pharaoh. These words possibly contain a bitter ironic reflection on the Egyptian deities who ‘have a mouth yet do not speak.’ [psalm 135] — Cassuto,* p.89

* Please see Source Materials for complete translation and commentary citations.


The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

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Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages, blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at and

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