D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
“What if” gets you nowhere, “Yeah but” halts progress in its tracks, “If only” never came true.
At various points in our lives we are asked to do things we don’t want to do. Sometimes we just go ahead and do them but sometimes we make excuses for why we can’t or won’t do them. I forgot. I was busy. I had an emergency. I didn’t do it because “what if” I fail? “Yeah (I know I should do it) but” nobody cares about it. I would do it “if only” I had the skills to do it.”
Excuses help to disconnect us from responsibility, reduce our feelings of guilt and save us from admitting a personal weakness or failure. But excuses can also make us regret the road not taken and prevent us from growing and changing. As the old Yiddish expression goes: If you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.
In this week’s Torah portion, Shemot we begin the book of Exodus. The Egyptian Pharaoh has enslaved the Israelites and fearing a rebellion, Pharaoh decrees that all male Hebrew babies should be killed. While Moses is on that list, his sister Miriam finds a way to save him. She places Moses in a basket and floats the basket down the Nile River where Pharaoh’s daughter finds it and takes the baby to raise as her own child.
The next thing we know Moses is an adult who has killed an Egyptian he witnesses beating an Israelite. Forced to flee Egypt, Moses settles in Midian, gets married, becomes a shepherd and raises two sons.
One day while tending his flock Moses wanders a little bit further out than usual-- to Mt. Horeb in the wilderness-- where he notices a burning bush. As Moses begins to comprehend that the bush’s flames are not being consumed by the fire, he hears a voice call out to him. It is the voice of God who charges Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.
Moses responds with an assortment of excuses including: “What if I can’t speak clearly to them? After all I have never been a man of words.” “Yeah, but what if the Israelites don’t believe me?” “If only I was the right man for this task, but who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?”
Moses’ reluctance comes a place of both fear and inertia. But despite his doubts he is eventually able to take a leap of faith. In doing so Moses can finally comprehend that “What if” gets you nowhere, “Yeah but” halts progress in its tracks, “If only” never came true.