May 29, 2024
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Changing Moshe’s Mindset

The conversation between Moshe and Hashem at the burning bush, which we will read this Shabbat, has always stood out to me, particularly as an educator. This is the first time in the Torah that we have a leader who, when charged by Hashem to do an important task, on the surface appears to be trying to get out of it by making excuses for why he is not be the best choice. When Hashem tells Moshe to go before Pharaoh and tell him to “Let My people go,” Moshe says things like “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” and “What should I say to them?” Each time, Hashem assures Moshe that He will be there to support and guide. Hashem even tells Moshe that his big brother, Aharon, will be by his side, and gives Moshe signs that will prove to Pharaoh that Hashem means business. Despite all of this, Moshe still says “I beg You, Hashem, I am not a man of words—not since yesterday, not since the day before, not from the time You first spoke to Your servant, for I am slow of mouth and slow of tongue” (Shemot Perek 4, Pasuk 10). Hashem responds to Moshe by saying, “Who has made man’s mouth or who makes one mute or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, Hashem? And now, go! I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Shemot Perek 4, Pasukim 11-12).

There are many interpretations of the conversation at the burning bush. Rashi explains that Moshe had a lisp or stutter, and we all remember the famous story of baby Moshe being tested by Pharaoh with the bowl of rubies and bowl of red-hot coals resulting in a burned lip and tongue. Rashbam suggests that Moshe had been out of Egypt for so long that he was no longer fluent in the language and that was why he was hesitant. Regardless of the reason, each time Moshe tries to get out of the task, Hashem takes away the excuse by offering support and encouragement. Yes, He gets angry at Moshe, and Moshe is punished for not immediately stepping up when asked, but Hashem supports Moshe throughout the task anyway.

There is an important message to educators and parents in this interaction. Hashem is telling Moshe very clearly, “I believe in you. I believe in you even if you don’t yet believe in yourself.” Each time Moshe argues and seems to say he can’t so please find someone else, Hashem comes back with “Yes you can, and you can because I know you can.” Hashem is asking Moshe to take a risk, to go outside his comfort zone and do something that he is worried he will not do well. Hashem doesn’t allow Moshe to back down, but rather reminds him that he’s not alone in the challenge, and the reward at the end will be great.

In essence, Hashem is trying to shift Moshe’s mindset—his preconceived notion of the likelihood of his own success or failure. Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck discovered the concept of mindset in her groundbreaking research on achievement and success. The concept of mindset is simple: they are beliefs one has about themselves regarding their intelligence, talents and abilities. People with fixed mindsets believe that their traits are facts. They have a certain amount of intelligence and talent; there are things they are good at and things they are not and nothing will ever change that fact. People with a growth mindset, however, believe that with hard work and practice they can develop and enhance their God-given talents. They recognize that nobody ever accomplished greatness without practice and learning. This doesn’t mean that someone who can’t carry a tune could one day become a famous opera singer; it simply means that each person has unique talents and skills that can and should be developed to their fullest.

How often in school do we encounter similar scenarios with our students? OK, so maybe there aren’t any burning bushes, and the fate of a people isn’t at stake, but the self esteem and mindsets of our children are. How often do we hear children say, “I’m just not good at math,” “I’m not a good reader” or “Ivrit is just not my thing”? I have often had children tell me that one subject or another is boring, but when pushed, more often than not those same children acknowledge that “boring” really means “hard” and they just do not want to attempt tasks they perceive as hard. As teachers, it is our responsibility to help shift those mindsets, to walk children through the process of pushing themselves beyond what is easy and comfortable and to give them strategies for doing so.

One way is to simply provide children with encouragement. State very clearly that you have confidence in their ability to succeed, and let them know that they might not succeed on the first attempt and that’s OK. When Moshe first said that he wasn’t worthy of going before Pharaoh, Hashem’s response was, “Yes, you are because I said you are. After all, I chose you for this task.”

Do not allow a child to use a challenge, whether real or perceived, to stop them. Practice together if necessary, break down tasks into smaller, more attainable steps, give him or her the right words to use if it helps. Moshe tried to get out of the task by blaming his speech impediment. Hashem’s response was clear: It is I, Hashem who makes each person the way they are, no one is perfect, and I will give you exactly what you need to accomplish the task, so no excuses.

Resist the urge to do the job for them. Hashem didn’t really need Moshe to speak to Pharaoh; He could have taken bnai Yisrael out of Egypt in a second. By having Moshe go through the process Hashem was setting Moshe up for future success, building up his confidence to take on more and greater tasks with less apprehension. Hashem talked Moshe through the action steps he would need to take when he went before Pharaoh and provided a support system, but insisted that Moshe be the one to deliver the message. In doing so, Hashem set Moshe up to be one of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people.

Every human has inside themselves the ability to accomplish more than they realize, though at times we let our fears and feelings of not being good enough stand in the way. The key is to ensure that the words we use build children up and instill in them the confidence they need to tackle any new situation. In this way, we are raising the next generation to be self-assured and ready for any challenge that comes their way. What an awesome and incredible privilege that is.

By Stacy Katzwer


Stacy Katzwer is the elementary school principal at Tenafly Chabad Academy. Katzwer has been in the field of education, both in the classroom and as an administrator, for over 20 years. Katzwer has extensive experience and training in working with children with learning challenges, has presented at professional development workshops and been involved in teacher training and mentoring of new teachers. She has a private practice in Teaneck and can be reached at
[email protected].

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