In this week’s Torah portion, God tells Moses to go and speak to Pharaoh and the
Egyptians and tell them to “Let my People Go!” Moses says, “Who am I that I
should go to Pharaoh? I have a speech impediment.”
This verse is always striking to me, as it is so real. How many of us can think of a
moment when we were tapped for leadership and we thought, who am I to do this?
How many of us have wanted to stand up for others, to do something bold or
visionary, to take a risk, and we thought who am I to go up against power in that
way? At the moment when we need to find courage, insecurity rises and we focus
on what we do not have (like Moses’ speech) rather than what we do have (in this
case access and power).
As someone who works with young adults regularly, I know that this dialogue is a
constant one. Our rabbis taught: you should keep two truths in your pocket at all
times, “I am but dust and ashes” and “The whole world was created for my sake”.
There are times when we feel we can do anything, and times when we feel we can
This juxtaposition is core to my theology, my work in helping teach others how
Judaism can add meaning to their lives, and my pedagogy. As positive psychology
has emerged as a prominent field in education, I have found it reassuring to see in
research, that courage and leadership require vulnerability. Several great leaders
have written to this effect, Nelson Mandela, Mark Twain, and FDR. All saying
essentially, that courage is not the absence of fear, it is ability to channel the fear
to a greater purpose.
Two weeks ago, I went with our teens to the Religious Action Center for Reform
Judaism. It is always a highlight of my year to watch as these young leaders begin
the weekend unsure of their role and by the end of the weekend they are speaking
articulately about issues of concern in their Congresswoman and Senator’s offices.
They share personal stories, struggle with grammar and language that they may or
may not fully understand, and learn how to ask for support for bills coming up in
Congress. It is amazing.
I was even more struck, when one of our social justice leaders, shared with me this
week, that it has only been during the past two years, through our social justice
committee, that she had taken that step to go to her representatives and share her
thoughts about legislation. I myself went to Harrisburg the first time this past June.
Sharing your opinion of what should happen in our country to elected officials is
challenging. You may, like Moses think, who am I to do this? But, it is empowering,
it is memorable, and it is your gift as a citizen in a democracy. Who was Moses to
go speak to Pharaoh? He was the only Jewish person that could have exercised that
right because of his personal relationship. Each of us has been granted that right
with our citizenship.
This week there has been much in the news about democracy. While I sometimes
share opinions around Jewish beliefs and our national interests, there is one opinion
we all share, that we are blessed to be part of this democracy. As we read about
Moses this week, may you be inspired to take a step, to call a state or national
office and make an appointment to come in and share your opinions. If you need
help, I am here to guide you. We can feel insecure, and still empowered.