Parashat Shmot: Yes you can!

Beginning this week, we read about the generation of the sons – the generation that seemingly made a free fall into the depths of slavery and hard labor.

January 19, 2017 11:55
3 minute read.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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Last week, we finished reading the Book of Genesis, the book about the founding fathers, in which we read about creation, the choice of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, about their lives, their hardships, and their journeys. The end of the Book of Genesis told us about Jacob’s family settling in Egypt as a family so close to the rulers that they even got a special part of the land to inhabit.

Beginning this week, we read about the generation of the sons – the generation that seemingly made a free fall into the depths of slavery and hard labor, the generation whose babies are cruelly thrown into the Nile, the generation that sighs, screams and begs for God’s help.

When people call to God, He hears. He reveals Himself to Moses, who was residing in another country, and gives him a job that he will hold from now until the end of his life: Moses the leader, the redeemer – Moshe Rabeinu.

Moses does not take this appointment lightly. He hesitates and debates, and tries to pass the job onto someone else. He has many reasons to hesitate. He tries to “convince” God in many ways that he is not suitable for this huge role. But the choice is made and Moses embarks on a long route, one that will force him to deal with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and with the nation that was liberated from Egypt but did not easily break free of the psychological shackles of slavery.

One of the reasons Moses has for trying to get out of the job assigned to him is connected to a physical limitation. He says: “I am not a man of words… for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue” (Exodus 4, 10).

We don’t know if Moses stuttered or had some other disability that made speaking difficult for him, or perhaps he just lacked oratory talent. What we do know is this: Moses saw himself as someone who could not fulfill the job of leading the nation because that job has always entailed speaking and oration.

God’s answer regarding Moses’s claim can teach us a lot about limitations and abilities. This was the answer: “Who gave man a mouth, or who makes [one] mute or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? So now, go! I will be with your mouth…” (Ibid., 11-12).

Who is it who bestows abilities on man or takes them away? God asks Moses this rhetorical question and answers it: It is I, the Lord! You, Moses, were given a job. You were not asked to create abilities for yourself. It is God’s job to bequeath to man his abilities. You, a human being, do the job you were given.

Leave to God the concerns about suitable abilities.

But what must man do? He must work toward the right goal having faith that, even if the necessary abilities seem nonexistent right now, he must not worry. Our abilities are greater than they seem. We must have the faith that He who put us in a particular situation gave us the abilities to properly cope with it.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook (1865-1935), chief rabbi of the Land of Israel and among the great Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, said it beautifully. These are words that can help us internalize the fact that our abilities are greater and stronger than it seems.

“Human being, ascend toward the heights, because you are of mighty prowess. You have wings to soar with, wings of mighty eagles. Do not fail them, lest they fail you; seek for them, and they will at once be ready for you.” (Orot Hakodesh) 

The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

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