Self-doubt,negative self-image, low self-esteem. These issues seem to surface more and more among adults and children alike today. When was the last time a new challenge or opportunity came your way and your first thought was “I can never do this”? Or when did you last look in the mirror and instead of seeing a beautiful and healthy human being,you saw only flaws and were quick to point out every imperfection? Our own negativity creates a vacuum in our incredible potential as human beings and leaves a void in its place. So why do we let our internal voices put us down?
Our parshah this week, parshat Shemot, which begins the second book of the Torah,illustrates for us how skewed our own perception of self can be. This parshah serves as the turning point between the leadership of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to that of Moshe. Shemot leads us quickly through the change in leadership in Egypt as a new Pharaoh who isn’t so keen on the Israelites decrees that all males born should be put to death. Thankfully the midwives ignore this decree,and Moshe is kept alive. As an adopted Egyptian, Moshe joins the palace but later learns he’s an Israelite. He flees out of fear for his life, marries a Midianite woman, and becomes a father. It takes an unusual interaction with God for Moshe to become a leader to his actual people and confront his former grandfather figure with the support of a God he has only recently learned about. Talk about a whirlwind series of events.
Moshe’s infamous call to leadership in the form of a burning bush, as bizarre as it seems, is still not enough to erase the doubts in Moshe’s mind. He is told he will be the leader of a nation of people and that his life will now be devoted to freeing that nation – his nation- from bondage. The Torah makes clear Moshe’s thoughts on this turn of fate: “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Moshe is begging God to pick a different leader. With his rock-bottom self-esteem, Moshe does not see himself as a leader and makes it a point to elaborate on his flaws.
But God, being God, doesn’t let up. “Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with you as you speak and will instruct you what to say.” It’s an interesting illustration of how it’s not enough for us to believe in God. God has to believe in us. God reminds Moshe that even with his perceived flaws, with God’s support, he will be successful.
Perhaps the Torah is trying to teach us that no matter what limitations we see in ourselves, God sees only the possibilities. And we can use that little bit of divine spark within us to prove to others they possess the same potential.