Who am I? What’s my potential?

People are built to believe and belong.  Shared beliefs and belonging make us safer.  Without them we feel malnourished.  Human beings “are religious animals” award-winning author Bari Weiss recently expressed.  “In the absence of God we’ll look to politics.  Or crystals.”

Religion is on the march in some regions.  In other sectors its decline is disorienting and disintegrating.  Unattached to God, human beings will fasten themselves elsewhere.

In this week’s portion of Torah, Moses learns who he is and what his purpose will be.  When he first meets God at the Burning Bush, two fascinating questions are asked.  First, he asks, “Who am I that I should go forth?” (Ex. 3:11)  Of course he is expressing humility.  Yet his question also has a familiar ring for our times.  It is an inquiry about identity.  Who AM I?  What is my essence and what most stirs me?  A second question is asked of him, “What’s in your hand?” (Ex. 4:2)  The staff in his hand is about to be transformed into a snake.  But this question can reach deeper.  What’s in your grasp?  What’s in your hands to achieve in life?  What is your unique potential?  As Moses discerns his identity and potential so do we.

Perhaps less important than what we believe is how we believe.  Do we carry our convictions in ways that are, at once, good for us and for others?

Consider the context of Moses’ self-discovery.  The setting for his commission is in the service of something larger than himself.  As he is called to a higher vocation so too are we.

The Torah designs Moses’ personal audience with God to be scalable and timeless.  Its questions are addressed to each of us.  Moreover, foundational questions like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What’s my potential?’ aren’t questions that get answered once and for all.  They must be asked again and again.  At different junctures in our lives different answers are offered and then lived.

May the way we carry our beliefs and belongings do more than keep dangers at a distance.  May they also generate joy, gratitude, and wonder for us and for those whose lives touch ours.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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