From the first moments at the burning bush, Moshe (Moses) was reluctant to face Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He lacked confidence as an orator and didn’t expect anyone to listen to him.
In this week’s Torah portion, we again read of Moshe’s self-doubt, this time, supported by experience. Pharaoh is indeed not impressed; the Israelites indeed aren’t interested. “And Moshe spoke before God, saying, Behold, the children of Israel didn’t listen to me, and how will Pharaoh listen to me, and I have difficulty in speech!” (Exodus 6:10).
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out a subtlety in this verse: “This time, Moshe spoke not to God but before God.” He writes, “Moshe says this not to God but to himself. … It was the perfectly natural feeling and the perfectly natural doubt that involuntarily escaped him.” Perfectly natural.
For Rav Hirsch, this human side of Moshe is a big deal. When the following verses seem to digress into a genealogical list, emphasizing the family of Moshe and Aharon, Hirsch argues the point is to “establish their parentage and relationships so that for all time their absolutely human origin … should be firmly established.” In the ancient world, he explains, human heroes were sometimes seen as godlike or even as gods. In contrast, “people knew (Moshe’s) parents and grandparents, his uncles and aunts and all his cousins, knew … his perfectly ordinary human nature, subject to all failings and weaknesses …” He and Aharon “were men, like all other men, whom God selected for His great work.”
On a similar note, he writes in Genesis 12:10: “If (biblical heroes) stood before us as the purest models of perfection … their virtues would seem to us the outcome of some higher nature, hardly a merit and certainly no model that we could hope to emulate. Take, for instance, Moses’ (humility). Did we not know that he could also fly into a passion, his meekness and modesty would seem to us to be his inborn natural disposition, and lost to us as an example.”
So, we perhaps should not be surprised that Moshe doubted himself – or that God kept him in the job despite his challenges. Moshe was human, like any of us; he had doubts, like any of us. But God knew he also had tremendous potential.
Moshe’s struggles, and God’s insistence on him, serve as a model for us to see through our own doubts and realize that we too might be selected by God for great work, flawed and uncertain though we might be.
Sarah Rudolph of University Heights is a writer and editor, Jewish educator and director of TorahTutors.org, editor-at-large for Deracheha: Women and Mitzvot and learns online with students all over the world through WebYeshiva.org.