Voices of WRJ: Parashat D’varim
by Laurel Fisher
The bush is aflame, I hear the call
Like Moses, I hesitate
But through the journey, I find my voice
Yes, I am a leader
As this week’s Torah portion opens, I am struck by the power of words to develop and define a leader. Before we dive into D’varim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22), let’s first reflect back on Moses’ early conversations with God.
While out tending his flock in Midian, Moses comes across a bush burning unconsumed and he is given the instructions to return to Egypt and confront Pharaoh. Like many of us, Moses questions his ability to lead, partially out of modesty and partially out of fear of how he will be received and whether he will be successful. He has many concerns, most of which center around the ability to communicate: Why me? What should I say? What if they don’t listen to me? Moses’ final objection is voiced in Exodus 4:10: “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now… I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Now let’s fast-forward to this week’s portion. We find ourselves at D’varim, the beginning of the final book of the Torah, also known as the Mishneh Torah: the retelling. These stories are familiar to us, but this time we hear them from a different perspective: from the powerful voice of a leader. In this portion Moses has found his voice and uses his own words to give his final teaching to the children of Israel. In the retelling, Moses effectively uses his words to tell the story of the Exodus to a new generation, to build self esteem by affirming the progress they made over the forty years, to remind the people of their commitments, and to encourage them as they cross over into the promised land.
This portion also presents the challenge of leadership. Moses has served as the leader of the Israelites in every way: militarily, administratively, judicially, and spiritually, and they have not been an easy crowd to please. At times fearful, stubborn, and dissatisfied, the people have challenged him to be strong in his mission. D’varim 1:12 finds Moses asking: “How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!” Moses expresses the need for new leaders and calls for others to share the dangers, lessen the burdens and bravely face the challenges.
So what can we, Women of Reform Judaism, learn from the words of D’varim? For me, it is about finding your voice as a leader. Like Moses, I was reluctant when first called upon to serve: Why me? What should I say? What if they don’t listen to me? Over time, I’ve grown into the role and gained insight from experience. Through my words I have inspired others to follow. But I have also learned that it is important to find balance. If the leader is too strong, they run the risk of feeling the frustration that Moses felt. It is critical to inspire supporters and surround yourself with “wise, discerning and experienced [1:15]” colleagues. A leader can be successful by building an environment of partnership, accountability and responsibility. The next challenge is to inspire confidence in our community and to encourage and mentor new leaders. We can do this just like Moses did: by adding our voices and telling our stories.
Laurel Burch Fisher is a member of the Executive Committee of the WRJ Board of Directors, Recording Secretary of the WRJ Southwest District and a member of Temple Shalom in Dallas, TX.