Vayechi, Shemot, Exodus 1:1-6:1, Parshat Hashavua for Shabbat, January 7, 2023

Perhaps our greatest task in life is to learn who we are, our authentic selves, and to then live our lives accordingly. This is the basis of teshuvah, the Jewish concept of repentance, which is closer to “return” than to repentance. In other words, in Jewish religious thought, we are supposed to live  in alignment with our authentic, God-created self. This Shabbat we begin the Book of Exodus. In Hebrew it is called Sefer Shemot (The Book of Names) as it begins, “These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob” (Exodus 1:1). There is a midrash (a rabbinic story) based on this verse that says that one of the reasons God found the Israelites worthy of liberation from slavery is that they never forgot their Hebrew names. In other words, despite their oppression and suffering at the hands of the Egyptians, the Israelites never forgot who they were; they clung to their identity, symbolized by their Hebrew names. At the end of this week’s Torah portion Moses meets God at the Burning Bush and God commands him to be God’s agent and help free the Israelites. Moses responds by explaining that he has a  disability, “Please, O my Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10) Moses knows his authentic self too, his weaknesses as well as his strengths; though perhaps he over emphasizes his disability, for God responds, “Who gives humans speech? Who makes them dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, ADONAI?” (Exodus 4:11) From this we learn that each of us, with our particular gifts and weaknesses, has a part to play in God’s world. The key is to know who we are and then live in the world guided by that knowledge. Imagine what our world would be like if we all lived that way and embraced the uniqueness of each individual.