Parashat Sh’mot

Who am I in this New Year?
January 13, 2023Rena Lubin

This week in Parashat Sh’mot, God appears to Moses in the burning bush and demands that he see Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt. Naturally, Moses’s response to this otherworldly and unexpected instruction is “Who am I that I should go?” (Exodus 3:11). Who wouldn’t respond with: “Why me?” or “Are you sure that I’m the right person?” or “I don’t know if I’m exactly qualified for this position.”

Now that we are starting a new calendar year, it is the perfect time for some resolutions: to eradicate self-doubt and acknowledge our greatness, accept new challenges and take on responsibility, and do the best we can with the power we have been given in this life.

Rabbi and commentator Hezekiah ben Manoah translates this excerpt from Exodus as Moses asking “what distinguishes me?” Instead of asking what makes us qualified, know we would not have been asked if someone did not see something in us that we may not see ourselves. It is easy to get bogged down by our own negativity bias, the easily incessant nature and power of negative self-talk. Let us flip the switch this year, combating unfounded self-critique and affirming the fantastic qualities we all bring to the table. Step up to the plate this year knowing that each and every one of us—including ourselves—is deserving, for we are miraculous, resilient, intelligent, and talented.

As we work to finally see ourselves in the way others look up to our successes and talents, we shall accept responsibility and take on new challenges. The unknown or the possibility of failure may remain scary—this is a natural instinct—but let us fall back on our impressive strengths this year and remember that we can and we will always be okay. When Moses asked, “why me?” God responded with “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). While we may not be able to get verbal reassurance from God like Moses did, we carry with us an inspiring and reassuring history of strong, capable Jewish women—of which we are also a part. Success may not come easily or be guaranteed, but by taking on more responsibility, accepting positions of leadership, and carrying on despite the challenges ahead, we will grow into ourselves, expand the knowledge and skills we already have, and learn from any potential failure. This year, let’s remember that we are up to the task; and not only are we up to it, but we are also incredibly capable of tackling the unknown.

As we fully embrace our greatness and capacity for responsibility, let us do our best and bring more good into the world this year. In Parashat Sh’mot, Moses was ushered and encouraged to change the course of history by “go[ing] to Pharaoh and free[ing] the Israelites from Egypt” (Exodus 3:11). Many Jewish women in history have used their talents and influence to bring good to their sisters and the world around them:

  • Emma Goldman - an activist and organizer who rallied for freedom, birth control, and education
  • Bella Abzug - a leader of the women’s rights movement in the 1970s who helped to pass the Equal Rights Amendment
  • Emma Lazarus - whose outstanding ability with words fought for justice and became engraved on the Statue of Liberty
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg - former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, who never stopped fighting for equality and women’s rights 
  • Hedy Lamarr - who not only advocated for female sexual empowerment but was also a multi-talented, genius inventor 
  • Hannah Szenes - she helped to evacuate Jews from Hungary during the Holocaust

One day, our names and the names of our sisters may be remembered among those of which we have heard their legacy. Hannah Szenes once said: “There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living . . . They light the way for humankind.” If we have not done so already, let’s spend this year becoming as radiant as those stars and as brilliant as those we remember. Let’s find confidence in ourselves, supported by the history that precedes us and the world we will leave for those we love. Let’s seek opportunities to bring good into the world and light the way for others.

While we embark on this year of assuredness, confidence, and responsibility, may we remember the words of activist Gloria Steinem: “Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood.” As Women of Reform Judaism, may we remember to support one another as we invest in ourselves. Let us encourage each other to behave like full human beings and be emboldened to be our full selves this year.

Related Posts

Parashat Vayechi

January 6, 2023
It is often said that we learn by example. We watch our elders – parents and grandparents, extended family members, teachers, public figures, and other exemplars in our lives–and try to emulate them. Sometimes though, when these exemplars engage in negative behavior, hopefully we will be astute enough to learn from them by negative example. We and those who come after us need not doom ourselves to repeating the mistakes and bad behavior of generations past. All of us have the power to improve–to do better. This is a core value and belief of Jewish life.

Parashat Mikeitz

December 23, 2022
What really stood out to me as I was reading the Contemporary Reflections in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary by Judy Schindler was her reminder of Joseph’s children’s Ephraim and Manasseh becoming part of our tables for generations – the Sabbath Prayer. “May you be like Ephraim and Manasseh.” It reminds me of the many Shabbats I spent hearing the Fiddler on the Roof version of the Sabbath Prayer at Henry S. Jacobs Camps. I remember how comforting it always is to hear, “May the Lord protect and defend you.” After hearing, “May you be like Ruth and like Esther,” I am instantly taken back to wearing white and sweating (it is hot in Utica, MS!).

Parashat Vayeishev

December 16, 2022
Over the years, I have heard so many stories of women who had big dreams for themselves, their families, and yes, even their women’s groups, but had let them go because they were told to be realistic and get their heads out of the clouds. They were told that their dreams would never come true. During those conversations, I encouraged those women to revisit their dreams. I told them that, as with our friend Joseph, dreams could be connections with God and our most authentic selves, and we owe it to ourselves to try to make them come true.