Refusing Greatness at the Burning Bush — By Ben

Photo by Earsaregood

I was recently working with a Bar Mitzvah student on a speech for Shemos, when we started discussing Moses and God at the burning bush. God calls on Moses to be His representative to confront Pharaoh and lead the Jewish people to freedom and salvation. But Moses declines… five times. It’s quite the chutzpah.

In considering the whole event in relation to the student who would soon be taking on the profound responsibilities of Mitzvot, I realized that there was a parallel between the student and Moses. I’ve written about these five refusals before. But that post dealt with God’s responses to Moses’ hesitations. Now, I am seeing it as a perfect template for the responses behind the refusals to take on responsibility. Whether that is becoming bar mitzvah or taking on a new duties at work or life, it’s universal.

Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt? (Shemos 3:11)

The very first response is the quintessential question, “Why me?” Taking on responsibility is scary. We may not understand what we’re getting ourselves into or how we’re going to accomplish it. To a bar mitzvah student, so much is being thrown at them, they are questioning whether they can handle the preparation for their big day, let alone the rest of their life. They cannot see their potential nor do they have the experience to see how those like them have been in their same situation and gotten through it. Now, I’m not sure there were many people ever in Moses’ exact position, but if God didn’t think Moses could handle the charge, I’m pretty sure He wouldn’t have called him.

“I am going to come to the Children of Israel and say to them, “The God of your forefathers has sent me to you.’ They will ask me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I answer them?” (Shemos 3:13)

As scary as our insecurities about ourselves may be, our insecurities about the task may be even bigger. Can you ever read enough books on fatherhood before your child is born? Was there ever a president who was ready to effectively govern on day one? To a bar mitzvah student, the question of “What is God’s name” has particular significance. Who honestly understands the meaning and significance of the ritual to lead a prayer service? Certainly not a 13-year-old boy. But does anyone ever really understand God enough to speak for him? The answer to all of these are that we learn as we go. The answer God gives regarding his name is, “I will be what I will be.” In another words, “it is what it is.” Don’t let the fear of what the task will be stop you. It will be what it will be.

“They will surely not believe me nor heed what I say, for they will say, “The Eternal did not appear to you.'” (Shemos 4:1)

Photo by Sam Williams from Pixabay

Where Moses fears being called a false prophet, a bar mitzvah student doubts their training or their ability to utilize that training and will be called out, corrected, or worse. Fear of being a fraud doesn’t just plague a novice. At all levels of success, people feel inadequate, unprepared, or that they are just getting by day to day. In fact, as many as 70-75% of professionals have experienced the “imposter syndrome” including celebrities such as Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. The point is, even when we have achieved success, accolades, and prominence, many of us still fear criticism, rejection, and failure. Why else would Moses care that the Jews might say, “God didn’t appear to you” when Moses is literally speaking to God at his present moment?

“Please, Hashem, I am not a man of words… I have difficulty speaking.” (Shemos 4:10)

Everyone has a weakness or a struggle. There will always be a reason for you to say, “I am not capable of doing it.” But if paraplegics have raced in the NYC Marathon, and a deaf musician can compose his 9th Symphony, there’s a good chance your hardship can be dealt with. The question is, do we let our obstacle define our limits, or do we overcome that obstacle to reach new heights? Moses’ “difficulty speaking” not only didn’t stop him from standing up to Pharaoh, he spoke the entire final book of the Torah to the Jewish people on his dying day.

“Please, Hashem, send now with whom You would usually send.” (Shemos 4:13)

Photo by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

Finally Moses says what, in truth, is what all of us say when we’re confronted with unwanted responsibility, “Can’t somebody else do it?” Interestingly enough, this connects to something earlier in the Torah Portion, when Moses kills the Egyptian task master to save an oppressed Hebrew. “He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” (Shemos 2:12) In that situation Moses saw something that needed to be done, saw no one else was going to do anything about it, so he acted. Why is he now reluctant to be that man of action?

Let’s say you come across a child drowning in a pool, God forbid. So you jump in and save them from drowning, even if you’re not the greatest swimmer. But after that, how far will you go to make sure a gate is built around the pool and properly locked? Will you investigate who was responsible for the pool’s security? What about why the child was left alone? For that, you may be less likely to follow through. Why? Another child could drown and that time you probably won’t be around to save them.

When a problem is clear, present, and urgent, we’re far more likely to act. We can see “there is no man” to solve the threat. But when that same problem is important but not urgent, we’ll wait for someone else to take care of it. In fact, one line of reasoning for not getting involved is, “Why isn’t anyone else doing anything about it?” We’re waiting for that wise driven authority figure (“whom You would usually send”) to step up. However, because most people have that same reluctant attitude, the problem doesn’t get addressed until it becomes dire.

It’s one thing if an individual is wanting honor. For that person, hesitancy would be better. But when the concern is about getting something done, it’s better to adopt the mentality of Pirkei Avos 2:5, “In the place where there is no man, strive to be a man.”

Rising to the Challenge

Whether we’re getting promoted, becoming bar mitzvah, or leading the Jewish people to freedom, new responsibilities are scary. And they should be. As Spider-Man has said countless times, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We should exercise care and caution for the new powers awarded us. But at the same time, we have to trust that we’re more capable than we think we are and can rise to the challenge. Moses didn’t know he would become the greatest prophet of the Jewish people, nor did Abraham Lincoln know he’d become one of the most impactful presidents of all time. No one who ever achieved true greatness knew how far they would go. But they did step up when they saw a lacking or injustice that only they could solve.


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