Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"The King's Speech" - and Moses'

I had the opportunity recently to see the excellent new film, "The King's Speech," detailing the struggles of Britain's King George VI to overcome a serious speech impediment as he asserted himself as England'a new leader just before World War Two. The movie was fascinating on a number of levels, not the least being the parallels to the story of Moses' speech-related struggles as documented in this past week's Torah portion, especially his comment that he is handicapped by "uncircumcised lips" (Exodus 6:12).

I put together a discussion packet which you can access here. We used the packet last week at services. The discussion was illumined by several speech and mental health professionals present. Included in the material I distributed is a collection of traditional and contemporary commentaries, along with a selection from Avivah Zornberg's masterful work on Exodus, "The Particulars of Rapture." Zornberg talks about the "Exile of the Word" regarding how divine messages are received - or not - by the people.

There is a case to be made that it is better for leaders not to be articulate, as it protects the people from succumbing to demagoguery. But at a time when King George needed to go toe to toe with Hitler, who used the power of speech to advance his agenda, the world didn;t have the luxury of a stammering-but-humble British King.

Zornberg brings in an Oedipal dimension to the disability and the parallels between Moses' desire not to displace his older brother Aaron and the crises in the royal family leading to King Edward's abdication are striking. Also we see the lonely struggle of the royal outsider (which Moses was too, as a child) trying to speak in a language his people can understand. The parallels abound. But in the end, kings, prophets, rabbis and all leaders need to find a way to distill the Cry of their generation, the divine imperative, into language that will inform and motivate, unite and galvanize, comfort and cajole, the people.

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