Parashat Sh’mot

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

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.

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