Moses said to the Holy One: “O God, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and heavy of tongue.” Then God said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Holy One? -Exodus 4:10-11
When God calls Moses to leadership, he responds with a torrent of self-doubt, focusing on the part of himself which makes him feel most ashamed: his tongue. Again and again, Moses insists that he is not up to the task of addressing Pharaoh because of a speech defect that would expose his weakness.
To which God effectively responds: “Who do you think determined the way that you talk?” In other words, God has created the challenge, which Moses will have to wrestle with as an ultimate source of holiness.
Rabbi Yael Shy asks: What if this was true for the obstacles in our own life? What if the things we perceive as standing in the way of our success and our callings – like Moshe and his speech difficulties – were actually the clues and the signs that indicate what we are meant to do in this world? If we pause and “turn our head,” as Moshe did, and look at these obstacles in a different way, a new possibility begins to emerge.
“The desire does not reveal the obstacle,” psychologist Adam Phillips writes, “the obstacle reveals the desire.” In other words, you don’t discover your obstacles on the way to achieving your desire, you discover you desire by coming face-to-face with the obstacles. You can touch the deepest longings, the most powerful yearnings of your heart, and you can understand what you were put on this earth to do, by examining what it is that’s getting in your way.
Moses’s challenge lies with his speech. He insists that his brother Aaron serve as his spokesperson before Pharaoh. Yet forty years later, when the people finally arrive at the brink of the Promised Land, Moses delivers an extraordinarily eloquent oration that will come to constitute the book of Deuteronomy. His “obstacle” ultimately helps transform him into the greatest teacher and prophet the Jewish people have ever known. His life’s journey is a model for us all.
Conversation Questions: Consider some of the significant obstacles that you have encountered on your life’s path. What might they teach about your hopes, fears, and longings—and, perhaps, your essential role in helping to bring healing to the world? How might this “lens” change the way that you see those obstacles?