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Thursday, 31 December, 2015 - 1:53 pm

You know the story: Old Jacob is lying on his bed, very ill, waiting for his final breath.

Suddenly he whispers: "Judith, my beloved wife ... are you there?"

"Yes my beloved husband... I am here by your side," Judith says.

Old Jacob whispers again: "Isaac, my son... are you there?"

"Yes, father... I am here with you," is the answer.

Old Jacob breathes heavily and goes on: "Sarah, my beautiful daughter-in-law... are you there?"

"Sure I am here by your side", says Sarah.

Old Jacob breathes one more time, waits a few seconds and whispers: "What about little Billy? Are you there, my grandson?

"Yeah grandpa, I am here too by your side," says little Billy.

Old Jacob breathes one more time, waits a little while and then open his eyes, looks around and says "Family, if you are all here, who is taking care of the shop?!"

Some people are never ready to move away from their own orbit.  In this week portion Shemot we find that unlike his brothers suffering in slavery, Moses had been raised in the palace of Pharaoh and by Pharaoh’s own daughter, Batyah. A favorite of the king, as a child, he was not spared luxury. Moses could have easily chosen to isolate himself in the aristocratic life of a prince, oblivious to the hardship and suffering of the Hebrew race, targeted for abuse and annihilation. But not Moses.

Moses left the palace and chose to spend his time comforting and bringing relief to his brethren, the slaves.  He could not to stand idly in the face of injustice. When he saw an innocent man beaten senselessly by his Egyptian taskmaster, Moses interfered, killed the vicious master, and then, to escape capital punishment, fled to the quiet lands of Midyan. There, he married his wife, Tziporah, the daughter of one of the wealthiest and most influential men in town, Jethro, and settled down into the favorite biblical occupation, shepherding.

It seems that life has worked out for Moses. The horrors of Egypt are a thing of the past. True, Egypt is a place of unspeakable crimes against humanity, but what can Moses do about that? Moses’ life in Midyan, hundreds of miles away from Egypt, is now secure, domesticated, and peaceful. He builds a family and grows old.

Moses is now eighty years of age. By all means, time to retire…

But then everything changes. One day, Moses shepherded his father-in-law’s sheep, and suddenly witnessed a bush, “burning with a heart of fire” yet the bush was not being consumed and was not transformed to ash. Moses was puzzled and asked  “Let me turn aside, and see this great vision! Why is the bush not being consumed?”

The Torah describes the following scene:

“G-d saw that Moses turned to see, so he called out to him from amidst the bush. ‘Moses! Moses!’ And he said: Here I am.”

G-d tells Moses that I have heard the pain and screams of the children of Israel in Egypt, and I have decided to save them. Now it is you, Moses, who I will send to Pharaoh, and you will take my nation out of Egypt. Moses became  the greatest leader of all times, liberating a people from oppression and giving the world the Torah, paving a road in the jungle of history. The rest  is history.

But Moses is not easy to convince. He argued  with G-d: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? Who am I that I should take the Jews out of Egypt?” And when G-d persevered, Moses tried a different approach: “But the people, they won’t believe me; they will ask me ‘who is this G-d in whose name you speak!’”  Finally, Moses begged,  “Please G-d, send in the hand of the right person.” G-d got frustrated with Moses and promised him  He will be with him throughout the mission. Only then does Moses finally accept his mission. Once he accepted it, he never looked back again. The story of redemption begins.

This is true in our lives too. There are three major handicaps that prevent people from finding themselves and living their lives to the fullest.  There are three reasons and rationalizations why we shirk our greatest responsibilities; there are three forms of paralysis.

Moses first says “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? Who am I that I should redeem the Jews?” in our vocabulary this is the response of  insecurity. We are afraid, we feel inadequate to meet the challenges of life. I am helpless, I am incompetent, I am a victim, I stutter, I can’t communicate.  Nobody likes me, I am a small guy, a nobody. But G-d does not accept: To shy from responsibility due to feelings of inadequacy is not an act of humility, but one of cowardice, because it excuses inaction, avoids accountability, and most importantly it allows you to remain mediocre and for a people to remain enslaved. How can you allow your mediocrity to stop suffering of innocent people?

Another approach is not to blame ourselves, but to  blame everyone else. In the words of Moses, “But the people won’t believe me! They will say who is this G-d in whose name you speak; what will I respond to them?” We often claim that we are ready, but what can we do, the world is not ready for us! We blame the world—our spouses, our in-laws, our family, our community, the media, the government, the masses, the celebrities—for being unresponsive. We blame our families for being unappreciative and our communities for not respecting us. We blame everyone but ourselves.

Finally there is a third excuse:  Perfection. If I can’t be perfect, then I don’t want to be anything at all. This is encapsulated by Moses’ last argument: “G-d! Send in the hand of the right person.” Moses, says the Midrash, was referring to Moshiach, the one intended to redeem us conclusively, permanently, and for all of eternity. Here Moses is saying, “I know that I am capable of fulfilling this mission to the fullest, and I know that the people will be responsive and will heed my call, but if my redemption is to be temporary, then I don’t want to bother with it at all! It is either all or nothing! I don’t want to waste my time.”

But G-d, once again, disagrees. Perfectionism, when abused, is not a strength, but a weakness. It is the enemy of growth and activity.

How do I know where my unique mission lies?

The answer, again, is in the thorn-bush. The call to Moses did not come from any burning bush; it came from a thorn bush. Thorns represent pain, where I was pricked, where I was hurt, where I have been left scarred. Many times it is specifically that area where I have been hurt deeply but have persevered, where I struggle the most, where the inner battle rages most intense, that can become my unique strength and contribution. My ‘heart of fire’ rages within and grows out of my own inner private thorn-bushes.

A Taiwanese man Chao Mu-he made headlines in June 2009 when he got his Master's in philosophy. Normally philosophy degrees don't make the news – but Chao was  98 years old. He is the oldest college graduate in recorded world history.

Born on July 4, 1912, Chao was asked why he decided to pursue a graduate degree so late in life, Chao said he wanted to encourage one of his friend’s sons, who was reluctant to go back to school and so he proposed they study together in graduate school. As Chao was living in Kaohsiung, he had to commute to Chia­yi by bus to attend classes, but he was proud to say that in his two years of study, he had never missed a class, proof that you're "never too old to learn", as his supervisor put it.

You, and only you, are equipped with your unique mission to open hearts, to help people remember what is important, and to move people to action.  Use your inner strength to remind people of gentleness, to soften people's edges, to keep people from losing hope and to help people forgive themselves.  Catch the moment  to help people laugh at their humanity, to save a soul, kindle a heart, to touch a to inspire a nation, and to spread goodness and kindness.  Share the light of Torah and Mitzvot with people around you, and help make this world a better place.



Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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