D’var Torah for January 4, 2019

This week we will be reading from Parashat Va’era. It is a continuation of the Exodus narrative where God reaffirms the covenantal promise to Moses. God then sends Moses to remind the Israelites of this same promise and that God will redeem them. “But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.”[1] Following this rejection, God told Moses to try speaking to Pharaoh instead. Moses replied, “The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, me – who gets tongue-tied!”[2]
The fear of rejection is a powerful motivator. As is noted in Psychology Today, “The fear of rejection is one of our deepest human fears. Biologically wired with a longing to belong, we fear being seen in a critical way. We’re anxious about the prospect of being cut off, demeaned, or isolated. We fear being alone. We dread change.”[3]
We can feel these emotions in Moses’ words. Already a reluctant redeemer, Moses has been rejected once already, how much the more so, he does not wish to feel that emotion again. It is fascinating that he fears rejection more than the possibility of Pharaoh simply killing Moses for his actions against the taskmaster so many years before.
It is as if the Torah acknowledges this by taking a break from the narrative to teach us about the ancestral heads of the tribal clans followed by an examination of Moses’ and Aaron’s heritage. Then the Torah does something quite curious when it states, “It is the same Aaron and Moses to whom the Eternal One said, ‘bring forth the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop. It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt to free the Israelites from the Egyptians; these are the same Moses and Aaron.”[4] This leaves us with a lingering question of why the repetition of the fact that it was the same Moses and Aaron?
According to Rashi, “they remained always the same in carrying out their mission and in their integrity from beginning to end.”[5] Or to put it another way, lest we think someone else stepped into their place, Moses overcame his fears and went and insisted upon the release of the Israelites. “Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they made their demand on Pharaoh.”[6]
Overcoming the fear of rejection is one of the most difficult obstacles we face as human beings. We are very good at playing out scenarios in our own minds, often creating the worst possible outcome. And yet, if we are able to learn from Moses and carry out our mission with integrity from beginning to end, then rejection is merely a minor stumbling block on the pathway to become our most true and authentic selves. Or as the Torah is teaching us: don’t fear rejection, embrace it, so that we can overcome it.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff
[1] Exodus 6:9
[2] Exodus 6:12
[4] Exodus 6:26-27
[6] Exodus 7:7