by Daniel R. Weiss
Daniel R. Weiss is the Head of School at Bornblum Jewish Community School in Memphis, Tennessee.
Each of us has life-changing or life-altering moments. For some it was the birth of our children, for some it was the passing of a loved one. For many of us, it was the decision to send our children to Bornblum.
In last week’s Torah reading, we read about a life-altering moment for Moses, as he is confronted by the Burning Bush. Moses was not looking to become the leader of the Jewish people, yet this encounter changed his life and enabled him to impact so many others.
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, suggests that each of us must find the meaning in our life towards which we should strive. Frankl suggests it best – “it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”
Ross W. Greene, in his book The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children, suggests that “kids do well if they can.” It is when they don’t believe that the can, they exhibit rebellious behavior. What’s key here is not that the child can’t do it. It’s that they “believe” that they cannot.
Our sources teach that there was never a prophet as great as Moses and there will never again be one as great as he was. Yet, Moses did not see himself as great. Time and again he would bring up his greatest shortcoming, his speech.
In last week’s Torah portion, Shemot, as Moses is at the Burning Bush, he says to God, “Please, my Lord, I am not a man of words… for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of speech.” God responds, “Who makes a mouth for man, or who makes one dumb or deaf, or sighted or blind? Is it not I, HaShem? So now, go! I shall be with your mouth and teach you what you should say.”
In this week’s portion, VaEra, as Moses is about to speak with the Jewish people for a second time, he says to God, “Behold, the Children of Israel have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh listen to me, for I have sealed lips.” This is the second time that Moses has brought up his speech issues to God, yet each time, God tells him that the people will listen (in the second instance, God informs Moses that his brother Aaron will be his spokesperson).
I am struck by our greatest leader, our greatest teacher, our greatest orator, Moses, being one with a speech impediment. I am struck by how effective he was as a teacher and how not only did Moses overcome a major obstacle, but so too did his students. He spoke, and they followed. He struggled, yet they listened. This is Moses showing his vulnerability. Moses was unsure of himself. He felt that because of his “slow tongue” that he would not be the best spokesperson.
In one of my favorite books, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brene Brown, there is a discussion on the importance of vulnerability.
“When do you feel the most vulnerable?”
“When I’m in fear…. When I’m anxious and unsure about how things are going to go, or if I’m having a difficult conversation, or if I’m trying something new or doing something that makes me uncomfortable or opens me up to criticism or judgment.
“I feel it when I’m scared that things are too good. Or too scary. I’d really like for it to be exquisite, but right now it’s just excruciating. Can people change that?”
Brown goes on to say, “I have found that the most difficult and most rewarding challenge of my work is how to be both mapmaker and traveler…. Over the years I’ve learned that a surefooted and confident mapmaker does not a swift traveler make. I stumble and fall, and I constantly find myself needing to change course.”
We teach our children to put themselves out there. We want them to learn from who we are and what we did while at the same time teaching them to push who they are and who they will become. We do this by making ourselves vulnerable, by going outside of our comfort zone to provide them with all the skills, tools and teachings necessary to make decisions that are right for them. We do this, by realizing that we “can” even in the most difficult of situations. It can be excruciating, yet we do it because we know that it is the right thing to do.