Last week, I had my bar mitzvah, the Jewish passage into adulthood. I had a large ceremony and lunch, on which I gave a speech related to the Torah portion of the week. Enclosed is my Dvar Torah, the speech that I gave.
Good Shabbos! This week’s parsha, Shemos, begins the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh issues harsh decrees against the Israelites, beginning decades of Jewish suffering and slavery. Moses is born and raised in the Egyptian royal palace. After killing an Egyptian, Moses escapes to Midian and marries. G‑d appears to him in a burning bush and demands that he return to Egypt to redeem the Israelites. Moses returns to Egypt with the intention of freeing the Jewish people.
Now, you may ask, why do we need to know this? The parsha, set like an episode in a reality TV show, chronicles the first 80 years of Moshe’s life. Moshe is born in an atmosphere of slavery, and then thrust into the world of Egyptian royalty at the age of twelve, according to the midrash. Without those fundamental first years of learning and establishing a strong Jewish basis in Moshe, he probably would’ve succumbed to peer pressure and abandoned his Jewish roots much like us today. According to Chassidic texts, he would then rise to become the overseer of Pharaoh’s palace, and then be forced to flee Egypt at the age of 18 in defense of his people to kingdom of Kush in modern-day Ethiopia. He would then serve in the army their and eventually reign as king for forty years. From there he continued on to Midian, where he married Yisro’s daughter Tziporrah and served as a shepherd. As a poor shepherd, God appeared to him in the form of a burning bush ad commanded him to become a leader once again, but this time of Bnai Yisrael, to take them out of Egypt and confront the same Pharaoh who he had to flee from sixty-two years ago. What would you do if you openly saw a direct miracle- a burning bush that was not consumed- and God’s voice came from it, commanding you to go to Egypt and free His people? You would do it, right? Not in Moshe’s case. In fact, the midrash tells us that it took Hashem a week to convince Moshe to take the leadership? Why would Moshe be so stubborn?
The answer is simple; humility. The very trait that Moshe was praised for was also his weakness. In his own opinion, he didn’t believe he was worthy of such a task; after all, he had killed a man! Moshe quietly suggested his older brother Aharon as a candidate for such a task; after all, he had already been a prophet for eighty years. Because of that outrageous suggestion, Hashem got so angry at Moshe that he took away his ability to be a kohen! It was Moshe’s humility that caused him to lose the priesthood.This shows that extreme humility like Moshe’s is not always a good trait; you have to believe in yourself to succeed. It also shows that we must have belief in Hashem because he always wants what’s right for us. He always has a great plan for everything in the world. That is why even if we stub our toe, we have to think to ourselves that there was a reason for this. What can I learn from stubbing my toe? Should I move the cabinet to a spot farther away from my bed? Should I wear socks in the house? We are supposed to learn from everything. Even the slightest change can make a big effect. Every one of God’s tasks that we should perform, we shouldn’t oppose it, we shouldn’t doubt it. And I’m even talking about mitzvahs today such as praying and keeping kosher. We shouldn’t try to challenge God; look what happened to those who built the Tower of Bavel! Rather, we should perform it with “bchol lavvecha ovchol navshecha ovkol meodecha”- with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our might, just like we say in the Shema three times a day. Just like the story of Moshe, we too must tackle the daily obstacles in our life with a clear mind and set heart- and to always remember that somebody up there is watching out for us. Good Shabbos.