A number of months ago I took it upon myself to read the Torah portion of the day, or aliyah, as a part of my routine. Typically between the bustle of clients, mom-hood, and trying to maintain my home and well, my humanness, I sit down for a few minutes and keep up, whether it be in English or Hebrew. Oftentimes I’ll burst into my husband’s office, amazed by a new detail from the peshat, something I either hadn’t noticed before or was never taught when originally learning the books of Chumash. We will then discuss, sharing our views and exploring some commentary that fills in particular gaps or answers questions.
Over these past few weeks we have been discussing the challenge that Moshe Rabbeinu faced, and my husband noted how similar the themes in the Torah are to those I discuss and promote as a mental health clinician. In Shemot, Moshe Rabbeinu is told by Hashem that he will speak to Pharaoh and will ultimately lead the nation out of Egypt. Moshe responds to this message, to the display of God’s greatness—when Hashem transforms the staff into a snake—with fear.
His immediate response is essentially: I cannot do this; how could I possibly do this? His reaction comes from a sense of doubt within himself: Why would others listen to me, especially when I have difficulty with speech?
Hashem responds to Moshe, guiding him. Now, if this were a simple, inspirational story, Moshe would have gone to the nation and then to the ruler of Egypt and would have found an inner strength, spoken confidently, and the future Jewish people would have been allowed to leave, as per the request.
But that wasn’t the case. After Moshe spoke to Pharaoh the first time, more work was given to our ancestors, the burden increasing. And, as the story continues, Moshe must face Pharoah again and again, being rejected each time.
Of course there is so much more detail in terms of the events, the themes and the lessons regarding the exodus from Egypt. I highlight this aspect of the events to note just how much Moshe overcame in his journey toward becoming our leader, Rabbeinu. It was not that he was commanded and just seamlessly entered the role. It is not that he pushed himself and that he was received with open arms—quelling his anxiety and the fears that he had about communication and leading. No, he was rejected; the people were given more work; and he had to continue showing up again and again and again. He needed to be challenged to learn his greatness.
So often we hope for the “Cinderella” story; we believe that opportunities will arise and everything will click into place. We’ll audition for that role and just like in the movies, we’ll wow everyone and somehow we’ll know exactly what to do. Real life typically includes rejection. Falling down. Sometimes we fall and it doesn’t seem that others are around to help pick us up. We must pick ourselves up and amidst the rubble and chaos, hurt feelings and disappointment, we try again.
And this may include trying to unlearn what we have convinced ourselves we are incapable of, or rather, learn that we may have more strength than we believed. It might mean that we need to try dozens of times, noting the ongoing discomfort, because of the end goal or because of the growth that will be a result of pushing ourselves. Or because it may simply be the right thing to do.
Moshe’s journey can teach us about perseverance and resilience, especially when we take into account the fact that it was a journey. When you are faced with doubt and struggle and disbelief in your capabilities, when you’ve tried but it feels as if you’ve failed and you wonder about the point in trying again—remember that trying is part of the journey. Recall your motivation. And know that your ability to grow may not come quickly or easily—but you do have inner strength. So keep trying.
Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 18 and older in New York and New Jersey who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness, and a Metro-New York supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, please visit www.temimah.com.