Confidence and Reassurance – Shemot 5784

D'var Torah | Exodus

Back in the 1960’s, a publisher told Sylvia Plath she didn’t “have enough genuine talent for us to take notice.” Ernest Hemingway suffered a worse rejection. The submission of The Sun Also Rises elicited the following editorial response: “I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive…I daresay my young son could do better!” Virginia Woolf was told that “self-publication may be your best hope.”  Rudyard Kipling was bluntly told by the editor of the San Francisco Examiner that he didn’t “know how to use the English language.” After considering the publication of Moby Dick, an editor asked Herman Melville: “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?”  One publisher told William Golding that Lord of the Flies was “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull”

What all these literary giants shared in common is their perseverance. Each refused to be diminished by the rejection of so-called experts, empowered to make decisions about their potential. Their perseverance was born of an inner self-esteem and confidence that fueled the refusal to take criticism as the final word on their talent.  Some people, however, lack that confidence. Such was the case with Moses.

Moses – reluctantly – takes on the task of speaking truth to power. God sends him on a mission to demand the freedom of Hebrew slaves from the most powerful ruler on earth. Moses is already dubious of his selection. After all, he has trouble speaking in public and suspects that the mighty Pharaoh will hardly give credence to anything a lowly shepherd might say. Moses’ worst fears materialize. Not only does Pharaoh reject his demands, the latter increases the slaves’ workload while decreasing their supplies. Moses, reflecting on his failure, sees no prospect of success. But this is not the end of the story. God reassures Moses that although Pharaoh rejected the initial demand to free the Hebrew and instead hardened their lives, Moses will ultimately prevail (Exodus 6:1).

Interestingly, the Torah portion (as opposed to the Christian system of chapters and verses) includes the first verse of a new chapter as the last verse of the episode to emphasize how reassurance can help erase doubts. Offering support to those suffering from emotional lows is what is needed to boost confidence in those who lack it.

Categories

Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rabbi Allen on Twitter