Parshat Shemot: Owning Our Purpose

Path that lays ahead (Snappygoat)

Life is the greatest gift that we’ve all been given. Each of us is imbued with a unique, divine purpose in this world, something only we can do, a change only we can make; life gives us the opportunity to live it. However, too often, we allow insecurity and self-doubt to wash over us, convincing us that change may be needed and there’s work to be done, but it’s best not to come from ourselves. In Parshat Shemot, we see Moshe Rabbeinu — the greatest leader of the Jewish People — grappling with such a debacle as he begins the journey of liberation.

The parsha details the devastation facing the Jewish People in Egypt: back-breaking enslavement, male babies murdered, and no end in sight. Moshe, however, is one baby who survives and is raised by Pharaoh’s daughter in the palace. As he grows older, he finds an Egyptian attacking a Jew, and roused by his sudden sense of justice, Moshe kills the assailant. After his actions are discovered, Moshe flees from Egypt. Eventually, as Moshe’s living his life a shepherd, Hashem appears to him and tells him that he will free the Jewish People from Egypt. Then, the Torah tells us, “And Moshe said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?’” (Shemot 3:11).

It’s striking to hear this from Moshe, a figure who embodies the very notion of leadership. However, he continues with this approach, offering four more objections to Hashem’s insistence. As the parsha continues, Moshe begins to step into his role, assuming the responsibilities that were laid out to him, but his initial resistance, and ultimate acceptance, touch upon an existential truth we all find ourselves facing.

“All people must understand that they are being called to serve in a way that is unique to their intellectual and emotional personalities, according to each person’s unique root soul,” Rav Kook writes. “In this world, which includes infinite worlds, one must find the treasure chest of one’s life… Indeed, when one walks down this secure path, one’s own unique trail, in a way of righteousness that is unique to oneself, one is filled with the strength of life and the joy of spirituality” (“Shmoneh Kevatzim” 4:6).[1]

Thinking about Rav Kook’s words as they relate to Moshe Rabbeinu, we can suggest that the Torah’s depiction of Moshe struggling to find confidence in himself was him struggling to understand the unique way he was being called to serve in the world. This is best exemplified in his final plea to Hashem, “Please, O Lord, make someone else your agent” (Shemot 4:13). Sforno understands as much, commenting that Moshe wished Hashem would select one who was “naturally gifted” for the task, unlike him who had a speech impediment.

It’s inconceivable to imagine what the story of our freedom would have looked like had Moshe not been the one who led us out of Egypt, through the desert, and at the edge of Eretz Yisrael. Yet, in our own lives, we often devalue the significance we each have, the capabilities and potential woven into our upbringings, experiences, and talents. Every heartbeat, breath, and moment is a sign that the world needs us. Hashem calls upon each of us in our own ways to bring goodness into the world, to make the change that only we can make. We each have a unique path and purpose that’s paved just for us; it’s only waiting for us to walk through it.

[1] As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 18

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying International and Global Affairs at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, specifically on the weekly parsha.
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