Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vaera

I recently read an anecdote that I knew I would have to use at some point to illustrate Torah. I had no idea that the opportunity would come only a week later (this week). As I read the Torah portion, a textual anomaly struck me.

God instructs Moses to appear before Pharaoh prepared to wow him with “miracles.” God predicts that Pharaoh will instruct Moses, “Find for yourselves a sign or wonder.” (Ex 7:9) I had to ask, “I thought the sign was for Pharaoh.” It was in this moment that I thought of my story.

P.T. Barnum was a master showman who made a living convincing people that the impossible was possible. This story is about an exhibit involving a lamb standing peacefully in a cage. Two lions walked around, within feet of the lamb. He hoped the exhibit would attract lots of people wanting to witness the Biblical passage of the lion and the lamb come true. Barnum harnessed the power of the Messianic Age.

A friend was amazed at the display, knowing that there was some gimmick – we were not at the Age of Peace yet. He asked, “How long do you think you will be able to maintain this exhibit?” Barnum shrugged his shoulders, smirked, and replied, “as long as my diminishing supply of lambs holds out!”

We see the charlatans posing as Holy people who perform miracle cures. I remember watching a Howard Tilton instructing us to write the check to his ministry and then touch the tv screen to be healed from all our woes. I remember Creflo Dollar (what a name for a minister) praying to his minions for $60 million in order to buy a jet to take him to all of his followers. I remember the rabbi who, having been convicted of hiring a hitman to kill his wife, sked for leniency in sentencing – on account of his being a rabbi. Of course, we remember the famous line from the Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Moving from the sardonic, I watched an episode of the Flash tv series. At one point, the superhero lost his powers. Physiologically, there was no detectable change before and after the event. A close friend suggested that the problem was not his physiology – it was his lack of faith in himself. He could not perform because he did not believe he was worthy of having the power of speed upon which the show bases his character. Of course, trauma happens, and when he can only react and not think about reacting, his speed returns. In fact, he is faster and stronger than he was before.

My son was not an athlete. He tried to compete, anyway. In a year-end Cross-country race, he was running dead last – by a huge margin. He fell halfway through the race, after everyone else passed the finish line. My fear was that he fell to avoid having to finish. Spontaneously, every runner gathered and ran back to help him up and run with him the rest of the race. He crossed the line with a huge smile, running taller than he had the first half of the race. It as ok to be last, he was proud that he did the best he could – and thrilled that his peers lovingly taught him this lesson.

God instructed Moses to make sure he believed the signs and wonders – and power of God, as he stood before Pharaoh. Moses had already demonstrated his fear and insecurity. Having grown up in the court, he knew that Pharaoh’s magicians could replicate some of the magic – but they were tricks that could not sustain. Barnum’s Messianic Age ended when he ran out of lambs. Moses had to believe that his “miracle” was the real deal, or he would fail in his quest to free his people.

For a host of reasons, many of us walk through life (often successfully) insecure of our foundation, our talents, even our worth as human beings. We find, though, that when we are secure in our belief and our purpose, we perform better, with greater joy, and a greater sense of value. We really can accomplish miracles. We were born to accomplish miracles. The greatest obstacle we must overcome is our lack of faith in our charge and our ability. Look at whatever social malady plagues societal relationships – the stem from our insecurity, our failure to appreciate, our lack of faith in ourselves and each other. It’s time to renew – open our minds and our hearts – to see past our need to control others, our fear of our inadequacies, our failure to believe. We cannot be free from the chains that bind our souls until we first see that they have the ability to soar.

Shabbat Shalom.