Parsha_Push for Shemot
Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg
Many times, our life experiences affect our ability to deal with new challenges.
Our parsha tells us that when God turns to Moshe to appoint him to undertake a mission, Moshe refuses: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?”. Many have addressed the meaning of Moshe’s refusal, contemplating whether his refusal is emotional and based on a certain modesty, or whether it is logical and based on a reasonable assessment of reality. We may add another point of view, pondering the connection between Moshe’s refusal and his past experiences. Reading between the lines we may detect an echo of the first time Moshe tried to save a fellow Hebrew from the hands of Egyptians.
When Moshe protected his fellow Hebrew from the Egyptian oppressor, he received two responses. The first response came from the Hebrews themselves, who rejected Moshe’s help: “Who made you chief and ruler over us?”. These words did not only express the Hebrew offender’s wish to get Moshe off his back, they were also a rejection of Moshe’s attempt to help his brothers. The fact that this incident also forced him to flee Egypt in fear of retaliation did not contribute to his failing confidence. Moshe has learned his lesson, and next time he is asked to step up, he prefers to step down.
Rashi also connects these two stories. On Moshe’s realization: “then the matter is known!” Rashi comments that now Moshe understood why the People of Israel were still enslaved; They deserved it! This is also how Rashi explains Moshe’s refusal. Moshe is not only wary of his abilities to free the People of Israel, he is wary of whether or not they deserve to be freed.
Moshe’s past experience of trying to help his fellow brothers has taught him that they don’t want, or don’t deserve, his help. And yet, God expects him to ignore the lessons he has learned, to let go of past trauma, to reject conclusions based on incidental experiences, and do what is right. Salvation is based on the belief in change – the ability of individuals to change, or a people to change and therefore the belief in the potential of a changed reality.
These days, we pray we all can change. We pray we can shed constricting beliefs regarding ourselves and our fellow Jews. We pray that our leaders will re-evaluate the reality time and again, and that they believe in Israel’s potential and abilities – they must make sure they don’t stagnate, but learn to move forward toward our joint goals. And we pray to God to bring us salvation, changing our reality for the better.