Be who you have to be – Parashat Shemot

Having fled Egypt, found succour with Yitro and living a measure of tranquillity, Moshe famously encounters Hashem at the burning bush. After being informed of his impending role as redeemer, it is important to appreciate to what lengths Moshe went to initially to refuse the responsibility, whether questioning the wisdom of using him as an emissary, the Jew who grew up in the Egyptian Palace, to casting aspersions on the likelihood of the People believing him.

Hashem’s answer to the latter reason is puzzling: “What is in your hand?” “A staff”. How is this staff connected to the belief and trust of the People? Rav Moshe Tzvi Neryah, of blessed memory, suggests the following answer.

When an individual who has the capacity to be a leader remains cloistered within his own concerns and personal space, he not only does damage to others by his absence, but also to himself. It is for that reason that Moshe is instructed to place his hand inside his clothing to bring it out stricken with tzara’at. Those who does not develop awareness for others and do not help when it is in their power, damage and desensitise themselves.

The staff, when thrown on the ground turns into a snake, and when picked up returns to its original state. A collective that lacks leadership of a spiritual nature will remain “cast upon the ground”, unrecognisable from its original state. When the leadership steps up, and takes previously untended matters in hand, we see that newly-found clarity derives from the involvement and conduct of the leader.

Rav Neryah goes on to deliver a cri-de-coeur: those involved in Torah learning and education must always remember that their learning is not just for themselves, but is undertaken to be disseminated and taught as widely as possible. Chaza”l expound from a pasuk “Many corpses have been lost…”, referring to students who never developed the capacity to teach and give over their knowledge. The end of the pasuk, “…And those who are killed are numerous,” refers to those who have developed the capacity to teach but do not.

Ultimately, we must learn to appreciate the enormity of our potential and our actions. We allow ourselves to be deterred and distracted by factors which we cannot change and settle for mediocrity instead. Moshe’s encounter with Hashem teaches us most of all not to let talent and opportunity go to waste.

About the Author
David Gross was born in Geneva and grew up in London. He graduated from UCL in 2010 with a B.A. in Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He has previously served as Southern Fieldworker of Bnei Akiva UK. He has studied and taught in Yeshivat HaKotel, and currently teaches in Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. He will be starting an MBA at Bar Ilan in the coming academic year.
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