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The Rabbi’s Rave, Parsha Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

The Rabbi’s Rave – Parsha Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

Whadda They Got that I Ain’t Got??

So…two deceased souls meet at the entrance to Heaven. They are waiting in line for the moment of their life review, which is required before they can enter Olam Habah, and be reunited with Mekor HaChayim – the Source of Life. One asks the other: “What is the bravest thing you have ever done?” The first soul says that when he was a teenager he went bungee jumping and jumped 150 feet off of a bridge. Unimpressed, the other soul responds: “I went to meet the King to speak after my son died in one of his wars. I marched into the king’s palace, right past his bodyguards, into his throne room, right up to his throne, looked him in the eye and slapped his face!”

“Oh, wow, when did that happen?” The second soul replied; “About 3 or 4 minutes ago!”

We have a Hebrew word for that kind of confidence, that sort of holy chutzpah: azut metzach, which literally means “hard-headed.”  It is different than the word for self-confidence: bitachon atzmi.

Now, self-confidence is a very important part of being effective in the world, but as we see in the Torah, our teacher Moses demonstrates repeatedly that self confidence is not a requirement for greatness. In fact Moses constantly questions his ability and authority, even when God tells him that he can accomplish whatever he sets his mind to and that the Holy One will back him 100%.

Moses at this point in our story was approximately 80 years old. His father-in-law Jethro was the High Priest of Midian and as his son-in-law Moses must have enjoyed some measure of distinction. He had a large flock of sheep and goats, had a beautiful wife, and children on the way. Life was good. He could have played it safe and gone around that strangely burning bush.

But, Moses did not simply walk by, He stopped, turned aside to look at this wondrous bush that burned but was not consumed, and his life was changed forever. All because he had the courage to turn aside. It was as Rashi teaches; Moses turned aside from what he was doing and began doing something new. He let go of his past to be come his future. He was willing to let go of his preconceived notions of who he was and how the world worked.

Much of the conversation with God at the bush consists of Moses whining, “but I can’t do that, I am not charismatic, I’m not articulate, no one would listen to me, I am not worthy!

But God convinces Moses otherwise.

And Moses walks away believing that he can fulfill God’s great plan, but to do it, to free himself and to free his people, he has to become more than he ever believed possible.

The holy Baal Shem Tov used this verse from the Torah to teach about tshuvah. This verse is about getting unstuck. It’s about movement and transformation. It’s not about arriving, but approaching. It’s not about where we are going, but rather how we’re getting there. It’s about the journey, it’s about the road. It’s not about achieving but being. To move from HERE and approach THERE.  This is the real meaning of T’shuvah, It is not really about sin, it is about change.

In this instant Moses attains the primary quality we must strive to emulate if we are to achieve our full potential. Courage.

One of the best pieces of rhetoric I have ever heard about the quality of courage comes from a speech delivered by the Cowardly Lion (brilliantly played by Bert Lahr) in the Wizard of Oz.

“Courage. What makes a King out of a slave? Courage.

What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage.

What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage.

What makes the Sphinx the 7th Wonder? Courage.

What makes the dawn come up like THUNDER?! Courage.

What makes the Hottentot so hot?

What puts the “ape” in ape-ricot?

Whatta they got that I ain’t got?

Courage!”   (E.Y. “Yip” Harburg composer)

But, like Moses, the Cowardly Lion finds his courage in a most unexpected way… through the power of love. His love for Dorothy and his friends, the Tin  Man, Scarecrow, and Toto too. Moses loved his people enough to take a chance.

Like the Cowardly Lion. Moses first instinct must have been to run. But Moses, our ancestor, saw in this bizarre apparition before him something new. He realized that here, no matter how uncomfortable it made him feel, was something that must be investigated. Something that must be experienced.  He turned aside and went forth to places he could not imagine. So our Torah teaches us that we cannot and must not fear change. We must not fear the journey even when we are unsure where we’ll end up.

The bush will not be consumed. So nothing is lost. But everything changes.

May this New Year of Twenty Chai (2018) bring you to be the change you wish to see in the World.

Rabbi Elhanan ‘Sunny’ Schnitzer 

Bethesda Jewish Congregation

Bethesda Jewish Congregation