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Two Minutes of Torah: Va'era - Asking for help

Remember the Titans is one of the great sports movies. It tells the story of a football team in a Virginia High School which was forced to overcome racial division, prejudice and animosity to try and achieve success on the field. Amongst the many elements of the film, one of the central storylines is about the relationship between the two primary coaches Herman Boone and Bill Yoast. Both had been head coaches, but in the newly integrated school, Boone was in charge, while Yoast was his number two. Unsurprisingly they bumped heads; but in one pivotal moment, as they faced their toughest opponents to date, Yoast approaches Boone and says: ‘I sure could use your help’ – and in that moment, as he asked for help, everything changes.

It is hard to be fully aware of one’s own shortcomings and limitations. Quite often we don’t like to admit out loud that we might not be good enough for something or up to a challenge. Asking for help should come naturally, but often we fail to find the right words.

Moses appears to be a man who was fully aware of his limitations. When God first called to him from the burning bush, in last week’s Torah portion, and instructed him to return to Egypt to free the Israelites, Moses responded: ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the people of Israel out of Egypt?’ (Exodus 3:11). His specific concern was about his lack of eloquence, as Moses said: ‘I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue’ (Exodus 4:10).

And this week after returning to Egypt, he still appears reluctant to do God’s work and stand before Pharaoh. Moses was demoralized after the Israelite response to his claim of representing God; ‘but they listened not to Moses because of their anguished spirit, and because of the cruel slavery’ (Exodus 6:9). And when told to approach Pharaoh, Moses says to God: ‘Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh listen to me?’ (Exodus 6:30). The concern is the same, and it demonstrates Moses’ self-awareness, but what is striking is God’s response.

We read: ‘And Adonai said to Moses, “See, I have made you a god to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet”’ (Exodus 7:1). God accepted Moses’ need for help and support, but it is the language used, which is interesting. Moses will be a god to Pharaoh, and the Hebrew is unambiguous, using the world Elohim, which is used to refer to the one God throughout Torah. But he will still need a prophet. Even a god needs the partnership from a prophet to ensure that the people hear the message. Despite elevating Moses to the highest level possible, God still accepted Moses’ request for help and support. Admitting his shortcomings did not disqualify him from the job, if anything it demonstrated that he was the right choice.

It was only in partnership with his brother Aaron, that Moses was able to approach Pharaoh, and ultimately lead the children of Israel from slavery to freedom. And if a man, chosen by God, was able to accept his limitations and ask for help, surely it is something which all of us should be able to do.

And if you want to listen to this Two Minutes of Torah: [audio]

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