Voices of WRJ: Haazinu

Did you know that glossophobia is the fear of public speaking? According to a recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health, about 74% of people have this fear, ranking it as the most common fear in the world. Does your heart start racing when it’s time to present a speech? Do your legs and hands begin trembling prior to approaching a podium? If so, you are not alone in the modern day world, nor in the biblical world.

We all remember when God appears to Moses at the burning bush. There Moses was instructed to lead the Jewish people out of slavery and into the land of freedom. However, Moses persistently responds with, "Please, O my Lord, I have never been a man of words (Lo ish d'varim anochi), either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant: I am slow of speech (k'vad peh), and slow of tongue (u'ch'vad lashon)" (Exodus 4:10). Here we have one of our greatest Jewish heroes humbly protesting and replying to God, no, I am sorry, I can not assist you, I am not a good orator, therefore I can not redeem the Jewish people. This is one great example of how strong the fear of public speaking can be for anyone.

Personally, I completely empathize with Moses. My youngest child did not speak until she was almost four years of age and that was the result of speech therapy intervention. Speaking, in general, was an issue for her—let alone in front of a crowd of people. But somehow, in multiple circumstances, she continually finds herself standing in front of crowds—hands quivering, trying to hold her printed speech still enough to read. Prior to starting college, Zaydie encouraged her, “No matter what, take a public speaking class because it is a skill everyone can benefit from and improve upon.”  She enrolled and completed said public speaking course developed this skill along with some courage to gather her words and deliver compelling messages, whatever the topic.

Moses developed this skill over forty years when he later delivers the longest monologue in all of Jewish history: the Book of D'varim. He clearly finds his voice. This self-doubting man who once claimed never having adequate words now launches the Book of Words, and it seems as though he can't stop talking. According to our Sages, the day Moses performs this prophetic poem of Haazinu (this weeks parashah), it is the day of his death. It is his last attempt to move and guide the Jewish people, with words—to shape them into the people they are becoming.

The parashah contains Moses’ words beautifully woven together into a full-length poem which is filled with advice and final words of wisdom. Imagine that you knew this was your last day on Earth. Who would you gather together? What would you say? Now, think bigger: what if someone close to you was to die today? What if it was their last day? Where would you take them? What you would say to them?

God leaves Moses with these words: “Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nebo… and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving the Israelites as their holding. You shall die on the mountain that you are about to ascend, and shall be gathered to your kin, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his kin; for you both broke faith with me among the Israelite people, by failing to uphold My sanctity among the Israelite people. You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter it- the land that I am giving to the Israelites.”

With the recent High Holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we must deeply consider this passage. On Rosh HaShanah the book of life is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed. Throughout these Yamin Noraim (Days of Awe), we reflect on the past year and repent for our sins. While Moses knows it is his time to depart, he approaches it with the understanding of his actions and the confidence to give one final speech. He recognizes his shortcomings, but also understands that over the time of his leadership, he has developed a great skill and bravely uses it.

While it took Moses a lifetime and my daughter a number of years—now YOU, have the chance to improve upon this important skill.  At the WRJ Assembly 2015, there is a unique opportunity to develop your public speaking ability. When you register for the WRJ Assembly, you may sign up for the additional Speaker Development Program on Tuesday, November 3 from 2–5:30 p.m. and Wednesday, November 4 from 8:30-11:30 a.m. [Act fast! Space is limited.]

Finally, Moses ends his speech with the words: “Set your heart unto all the words wherewith I testify against you this day; that ye may charge your children there with to observe to do all the words of this law.…because it is your life, and through this thing ye shall prolong your days upon the land.” Moses sets apart himself and delivers the following message to the people—follow the laws and you will live long in this land. Your travels may continue without me as your leader, but God will give you possession of this land. From a man who started off heistant, Moses becomes a man whose words become blessings.

In closing, I hope that you all are able to face the overwhelming fear of public speaking through the WRJ Speaker Development Program. Speaking of blessings, I pray that you are all sealed in the book of life and I want to wish you all a shanah tovah um’tukah—a good and sweet new year!

Published: 9/25/2015

Categories: Voices of WRJ