“According to most studies, people’s number-one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Jerry Seinfeld’s morbid joke aside, studies do indeed show that many people are deathly afraid of public speaking.
This week’s Torah portion begins by saying “These are the words (“devarim”) that Moshe spoke to all of Israel.”
In and of itself, there is nothing noteworthy about this verse. After all, with Moshe having been the devoted leader of the Jewish people for forty years, there is nothing extraordinary about him delivering a farewell address to his beloved nation.
But knowing Moshe’s history, this speech seems almost miraculous.
Forty years earlier, when G-d called Moshe to take a leadership role, he begged off, saying, “I am not a man of words” (“devarim”). And indeed, he wasn’t – he had a speech impediment. But G-d didn’t take no for an answer. He first chastised Moshe, saying that it is He, G-d, that gives all mankind the ability to speak, and if He says that Moshe should speak, no doubt he will be given that ability. G-d then gives Moshe a concession – Moshe will give over G-d’s messages to his faithful brother Aharon, and Aharon will be the public spokesperson. Indeed, this seems to have been a successful protocol; together they worked wonders and delivered the Jewish people from Egypt.
Fast forward forty years. Aharon is now gone. And Moshe gives over a month’s long series of speeches, speeches so powerful that they are incorporated as a large part of an entire book of the Torah.
The Rabbis teach that this is a lesson for all of us. Sometimes we are called upon to do an important job but find all sorts of reasons why we are not up to the task. And, like Moshe, sometimes we may initially need someone to lean on. But we all have a moment where we will be called to step up, on our own, and stretch beyond what we thought we were capable of doing. At that moment we have to realize that we are never alone. If G-d gave us that moment, that challenge, it is because He believes we are up to it, and He is there holding our hand.
Believe in Him. He believes in you, “stutter” and all. So, step up, go out of your comfort zone and give the “speech” of your life. G-d Himself will join in the roar of applause.
Rabbi Yitzchok Oratz is the Rabbi and Director of the Monmouth Torah Links community. Shortly after receiving his semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Bais Medrash Govoha, the famed Lakewood Yeshiva, Rabbi Oratz, along with his wife Toby and family, moved to Marlboro, NJ where they co-founded the MTL community in 2001. Aside for his “Devar on the Par” that he writes for MTL, his writings have also been published on Aish, Times of Israel, Seforim Blog, Hakira, and in various Rabbinic journals. Rabbi Oratz looks forward to continuing teaching Torah in a way that is timely and timeless, and sharing meaningful Jewish experiences with the amazing MTL community.