When I was a youth worker, the best part of my job was enabling teens to grow and succeed as leaders. For each event that the board planned, deadlines were set to manage preparation work, including turning in a list to me of supplies that needed to be purchased. Before one event I received the list of supplies needed, not the agreed upon deadline of a week in advance but only a few short hours. When I was not able to get these supplies, the teenager was presented with an obstacle and what resulted was the nourishment of a leader – someone who became confident in thinking on his feet and planning for the unexpected as well as being much more organized. Yes if I had asked a coworker these things probably could’ve been purchased but what would he have learned from this? Surely not organization, creativity or self-assurance.
In Parashat Shemot, just like this teenager, Moses has an opportunity to learn from a challenge, in the case of Moses, being sent to Egypt to free the Jewish people. When God tells Moses that this is his duty, Moses all but laughs at what he feels is a ludicrous notion. In response, Moses says , mi anochi ci elach el pharaoh v'ci oat'zi et b'nai yisrael mi mitzrayim? Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and free the Israelites from Egypt?
Even after God reassures Moses that he will be with him, work wonders on his behalf and stretch out a mighty hand, Moses still does not believe that he is the man for the job.
Why does God continue to argue with Moses? Surely a candidate could be found that would not need as much persuading. There must be abilities that God sees in Moses, even if he does not see them yet in himself, that make him qualified for this seemingly impossible task.
Exodus Rabbah teaches that God appeared to Moses while he was tending his flock. When a young sheep wanders off, Moses follows and watches the lamb stop for water. The rabbis teach that Moses turns to the lamb and says “I did not realize that you had run off because you were thirsty, from this you must be tired.” And Moses lifts the lamb on his shoulder and carries it back to the flock. God then speaks to Moses and says” because of the compassion that you showed for even one animal, you shall become the shephard of my flock, the people of Israel”.
Much like a parent, and a teacher, God continually pushes Moses to grow as a leader. After much persuasion, Moses goes to Pharaoh and delivers God’s message to let the people of Israel go and Pharaoh’s initial response is further punishment on the Jews. As a result, the elders, who Moses had worked so hard to convince, turn against him in disappointment.
Despite all these hurdles, eventually Moses does succeed in freeing the Jewish people. If God knew that this was the plan, why not initially enable Moses to be successful? What was the purpose in causing all of these setbacks for an already reluctant Moses. I believe that God was teaching Moses a lesson in perseverance and confidence.
Moses responded to his challenge with Mi anochi? Who am I and why did I receive this plot? Anochi and not ani. In the torah, anochi is used in inquires with adonai. Similarly to Moses, in toldot, when Rebbecca is facing a difficult pregnancy she also pleads lama zeh anochi? Essentially, why me? The difference in these words is one letter – a chaf. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner teaches, the chaf suggests caf yadaim, palm of the hand symbolizes an awareness of what we can hold. God teahes Moses and Rebecca that they can handle these challenges. Chaf is the first letter of kavannah - God assists Moses in understanding his goal and how to act intentionally to reach it.
This year, many of us have already faced challenges that were taxing and difficult. Perhaps classmates sitting in this room have already learned solutions to problems that they have encountered. As we continue our education and embark on our careers as Jewish professionals, undoubtedly we will be given tasks that are demanding and test both our will and skill. What we can learn from Moses is how to use our experiences to guide us in our endeavors. Like Moses, we must be courageous enough to be in an environment that may lead to these challenges and when we face obstacles have the strength to preserver. The key to success is not necessarily the absence of obstacles, but knowing how to face them when they arise.