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Torah:  Exodus 1:1 to 6:1;
Haftarah:  Isaiah 27:6 to 28:13 and 29:22-23, or Jeremiah 1:1 to 2:3.

Quite a lot happens in this Torah reading: Moses' early life, his exile, his call by God, his return to Egypt and the first conversation with Pharoah. For the moment, though, I want to focus on a single scene: the conversation between Moses and God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1 to 4:17).

(Remove your shoes and tiptoe past the orange burning bush for more.)

We are told in Numbers 12:3 that "Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth." This declaration seems a little strange if one holds the viewpoint that the Torah was written exclusively by Moses (does a truly humble person think they're humble?) But the conversation between Moses and God in Exodus 3-4 does seem to confirm this statement.

What would you do if you suddenly found yourself having a conversation with God? Ask for stuff (money, a bigger house, a better career?) Demand an explanation, like Job, as to why God permits suffering and evil in the world? Start negotiating with him, like Abraham often did? (I know what I'd do: ask questions!)

Moses does none of these things. Instead, he argues with God, who has just told him he must go to Pharoah and ask for Israel to be freed. "You've got the wrong person. Please don't pick me. I'm not capable of liberating my people. I can't even speak in public!" (One would think that arguing with God would be far scarier than speaking to Pharoah; but then again, it's often said that people fear public speaking more than death. And Moses doesn't entirely seem to realize, at this point, who he's dealing with here.)

In any case, an odd choice for God to make -- one might think. Why pick this man who is obviously so lacking in self-esteem? Why not pick a great leader? An eloquent, riveting speaker? Someone who is confident and self-assured, who knows exactly what to say and without hesitation or doubt accepts God's mission? Why pick this unsure, hesitant, timid man who is "slow of speech and slow of tongue?"

I am reminded of this passage from Paulo Coelho:

"Warriors of light always keep a certain gleam in their eyes. They are of this world, they are part of the lives of other people and they set out on their journey with no saddlebags and no sandals. They are often cowardly. They do not always make the right decisions. They suffer over the most trivial things, they have mean thoughts and sometimes believe they are incapable of growing. They frequently deem themselves unworthy of any blessing or miracle. They are not always quite sure what they are doing here. They spend many sleepless nights, believing that their lives have no meaning. That is why they are warriors of light. Because they make mistakes. Because they ask themselves questions. Because they are looking for a reason – and are sure to find it."
And this, by the poet W. B. Yeats:
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
Moses is certainly not "full of passionate intensity." He lacks all conviction -- particularly in himself. He has certainly made mistakes and was forced to flee Egypt after killing an Egyptian in a rather naive attempt to help his people. (One is reminded of the "shoot-'em-up" mentality of many video games: just kill the "bad people" and our problems will be solved, right?) He likely sees himself as a coward and a failure: once a prince in Egypt, now a shepherd hiding out in Midian; a "stranger in a strange land." A nobody. A loser. Someone whose once-promising life now holds no meaning.

Until God speaks to him.

I am also reminded of the character of Frodo from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Frodo is certainly not a great warrior or wizard. He's not strong, not powerful and not even particularly wise, though he is perceptive and imaginative. Yet it is, oddly, Frodo who the One Ring comes to; and it is Frodo, for all his longing to give up the Ring and return to the Shire, who volunteers to bear it to Mount Doom. Not because he feels he's the perfect one for the task. But simply because there is nobody else wiling to do it.

In a recent diary, I mentioned a friend who wishes to help others and change the world, but admitted to me that he "feels powerless." Many people in our society share this feeling of hopelessness: what chance does a single person have against the system? All the corporations and politicians and special interests eagerly working to exploit our fellow human beings and destroy our world?

What chance did Moses have against the thousands of Egyptian taskmasters and nobles and Pharoah himself: this massive economic and industrial system based on unpaid Israelite labour?

And yet, with God's help, he was able to free his people.

In the same diary, I also discussed how I'd led a protest in my own city as part of the "Connect the Dots" Day of Action to raise awareness about climate change. I certainly didn't enthusiastically volunteer to lead a protest. I didn't feel "qualified" or "capable". I had no experience.

But I did it -- because nobody else was going to.

As I (and Moses) found, nobody is going to change the world but us. "Ordinary" people. "Unqualified" people. "Uncertain" people. Not always the rich or qualified or powerful.

Humble people. Who, because of their very humility, keep open minds and are wiling to think outside the box. Who are not convinced that their way is the "right" way. Who don't think they already know everything.

People who are willing to listen to -- and even, sometimes, argue with -- God.

Shabbat Shalom!

Originally posted to Street Prophets on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 01:42 PM PST.

Also republished by Elders of Zion.

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