Self-Awareness Sets Us Free

Sh'mot, Exodus 1:1−6:1

D'Var Torah By: Rabbi Jen Gubitz

“I’ve never been good with words,” he said.
“I wouldn't know what to say.
I wouldn’t know how to say it.
I wouldn’t even know who to say it to - 
I’ve just never been good with words.”

The anxiety swelled up in Moses’ chest.
Who am I to be the one that must speak?
I’ve never been good with words.
I’m a man of action, not speech.
Come on - there are scores of midrash stories about my lisp.
Everyone knows that I have a speech impediment because I ate hot coals as a baby.
Clearly, God knows I can’t do this.
I am slow of speech.
Slow of tongue.
I’ve never been good with words.  
It was ostensibly a New Year in Egypt.
A new chapter, a new book, with a new Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.

We find ourselves on the banks of a river.
We catch a glimpse of a baby boy put into a basket, raised up in the Pharaoh’s palace.
We watch him discover his people.
We see his first attempt at responding to injustice.
We see him flee into the desert.
We see him see a burning bush.
We are privileged to see the journey that is Moses’ maturation.
But we don’t hear much from him.
He was never good with words.  

But what he does say – speaks volumes.  
Hineni, he answers God at the thornbush burning brightly.
Here I am.  
I am present.  
I am listening.
I am witnessing this moment, God.
Hineni, here I am.

And then:
Mi Anochi? Who am I? he asks God.
Who am I to go to Pharaoh? 
A moment of humility or a moment of low self-confidence?

וְהֵן֙ לֹֽא־יַאֲמִ֣ינוּ לִ֔י וְלֹ֥א יִשְׁמְע֖וּ בְּקֹלִ֑י׃/V’hen - lo ya’a’minu li; v’lo yish’m’oo b’kol’i - 
What if they do not believe me?
What if they do not listen to me?
As if to say, why should they believe me?
Why should they listen to me?

And finally - 
אֲדֹנָי֒ לֹא֩ אִ֨ישׁ דְּבָרִ֜ים אָנֹ֗כִי/Adonai, lo Ish d’varim anochi - 
God, I’ve never been good with words
vad lashon anochi'ch'ved peh'u'ki'ka /כִּ֧י כְבַד־פֶּ֛ה וּכְבַ֥ד לָשׁ֖וֹן אָנֹֽכִי׃ 
I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.

Moses, a reluctant prophet.  
(They all are at first.)

Here I am, he says.
But who am I?
Will they believe me?
Will they listen to me?
I’ve never been good with words.

Beyond reluctance, however, Moses is a model of self-awareness.
He knows his shortcomings.
He states them openly.
He stands before God unadorned, slight of speech, of few words -
declaring over and over his humanity.

It was this vulnerability upon which Moses and God developed over time a relationship
that created a safe space for terms of engagement, declarative acts of commitment, accountability, and deep promises.
Each layer of their relationship was fraught with raw emotion.
At times God was furious.
At times God was loving and protective.
And Moses, in all his humanity, was, well... human.
He made mistakes.
Moses struck rocks.
He was angry.  
And again, he was human:
He mourned losses. 
He was persistent. 
And together Moses and God shared disappointments and joy.

What would it look like to say to another:
“I’ve never been good with words.”
Or, “I’ve never been good with whatever it is you’ve never been good at.”
What would it mean to share with another those shortcomings?
What would our relationships look like if we shared with another our anxieties, our fears, our pain?
What would our connections feel like if we shared our successes, our growth, our moments of pride?
Richer, I’m sure. Therapeutic, perhaps.
Fraught with emotion and vulnerability, of course.
Fulfilling, absolutely.

When we are aware of our growing edges, or shortcomings, or weaknesses, 
when we are conscious of how they play out in our daily life, 
and when we name them, and perhaps share them with trusted others - 
we, like Moses, learn to navigate difficult paths. 
We learn to sing new songs even if we think we sing off key. 
We learn to say new things we never would’ve said before...
even if we’ve never been good with words.

And so it is for Moses, our sweet son of Israel, 
who with his slow tongue, humble reticence, but trust in God.
So it is with Moses who had never been good with words, 
who so feared his inability to communicate,
his inability to give voice, 
who was so aware of who might hear him and how they might hear him.
So it is for Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher, 
who says three of the most important words ever uttered in the story of the Jewish people:
Shalach Et Ami
Let My People Go.

From Moshe Rabbeinu, we learn that self-awareness literally sets us free.

Originally published: