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What caused Moses' speech impediment?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


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The Midrash1 relates an interesting tradition: Moses was an exceedingly handsome baby; whoever saw him could not take their eyes off him. Pharaoh would kiss and hug [Moses], and [Moses] would remove the crown from [Pharaoh’s] head and place it on his own—much as he was destined to do in the future…

The Egyptian sorcerers were present [when Moses donned Pharaoh’s crown] and they said, “We are concerned that this [child] who is removing your crown and placing it on his head shouldn’t be the one whom we have foretold will seize the reins of monarchy from you.”

[As is the nature of children,] he shoved his hand - together with the coal - into his mouth, and his tongue was burnt
Some of them were advising to behead him; others advised to burn him. Jethro [Moses’ future father-in-law] was sitting among the advisors. He argued that the child had no intelligence [and no omen should be associated with his harmless child’s-play with the crown].

“Test him,” he said. “Bring in front of him a plate of gold and glowing coals. If he reaches for the gold, that is a sign that he has intelligence, and we will execute him. If, however, he reaches for the [bright and glowing] coals, then he is without intelligence, and is not deserving if death.”

They brought [the plate] in front of [Moses], and he immediately reached for the gold. The angel Gabriel came and pushed his hand, and he grabbed the coal. [As is the nature of children,] he [instinctively] shoved his hand – together with the coal – into his mouth, and his tongue was burnt. 

From this Moses became “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.”2

[Ed. note: Also read "Why did G-d give Moses a speech impediment?"]


  • 1. Midrash Rabba Exodus 1:26.
  • 2. Exodus 4:10.


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[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Moses' father-in-law.