Hebrew College is closed until May 1 for Passover. Chag Sameach!

Pluralistic PerspectivesMoses, Exodus and Being a Messenger of God

Dvar Torah for Congregation Mishkan Tefillah, Parashat Bo, February 3, 2017*

The Biblical teaching that we are created “b’tzelem Elohim”, in the image of God, is a cornerstone of Judaism. Often, we understand it to be a mandate of how we should act toward and treat each other. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik has another idea. He says is that each one of us is a messenger, created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. That is, we have a mission and a purpose which we are intended to fulfill while on earth. He writes, and I quote, “The fact that someone lives in a certain time, in a specific era, in a defined place and was not born in a different period and [in] other circumstances-[can be understood] … if we accept the essential concept that every human is a messenger [for God].” Each individual, with all the limitations and personal capacities, has her mission.

Clearly, that is true of Moses. Despite his lack of confidence in his ability to speak and his having been raised as a prince of Egypt, it very clear that he was to be God’s messenger. He was sent to lead the children of Israel out from their slavery in Egypt, to trek with them through the wilderness, and to lead them to Canaan, the Land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and to Jacob.

In the story of Purim, we read about another example of a messenger for God. Esther like Moses, was reluctant to embrace the role that she was intended to fill based on the time, the place and the circumstances in which she found herself. In her case, it was not God who made her mission clear, but her cousin Mordecai who told her that it was her responsibility to use her position as the queen of Persia to save the lives of the Jews. “You must be proactive on behalf of your people,” Mordecai said. “Do not imagine that you…will escape with your life by being in the King’s castle….And who knows, perhaps you have attained [your] royal position for just some time as this.”

Many of us are blessed to have good lives that are following, more or less, the plans we had laid out. Yet, we all experienced the unexpected. When that happens, we are blessed with the opportunity to look closely and figure out how we are supposed to respond to unforeseen and often unwelcomed circumstances. In that sense, Moses was lucky. Despite all his feelings of inadequacy and his reluctance to accept his mission, between the subversive actions of the midwives, the burning bush and his face to face communication with God, there was not a shadow of a doubt about what his life’s mission was to be.

With a wise and powerful message from Mordecai, Esther, at first reluctantly, was able to understand and to fulfill her unique mission as well.

Neither Moses nor Esther may have thought of themselves as having been created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. They probably wouldn’t have articulated that they had their own internal spark of the Divine that enabled them to work as a partner with God to fulfill the particular mission for which their lives were intended. It is likely that most of us also don’t think of ourselves in those terms. And it is probable that even now that the thought has been planted, our own Divine spark has been buried beneath all the routines and messiness with which we live our daily lives. Our internal Divine spark is so hidden that, even now, we may doubt that it exists.

Rabbi Shefa Gold tells a story in her book, Torah Journeys, about some jealous angels who are asked to hide the spark of the Divine [somewhere] in the world.

‘Let’s put it atop the highest mountain’, offers one.

‘No’, says another, ‘The human is very ambitious; he will find it there.’

‘Well then, let’s bury it beneath the deepest sea.’

‘That won’t work either,’ another chimes in. ‘The human is very resourceful. She will even find it there.’

After a moment’s thought the wisest angel says, ‘I know. Put it inside the human heart. They will never look there.’

>Help us remember never to forget that each one of us is created in the image of God. May we learn to embrace, to cherish and to trust our own internal Divine spark, so that individually and as a community we can fulfill the mission and become the messengers that we are intended to be.

*This d’var Torah was inspired by a teaching of Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz, entitled “Can collective groaning inspire personal mission?” 

Rabbi Ma’ayan Sands is a 2016 graduate of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College.