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Dvar Torah - Shemot

Our society constantly speaks about fate and destiny. We are led to believe that we are born with a certain potential and that potential matches a mission that G-d has in store for us. It is upon us for the rest of our lives to work hard, to improve, to grow into the role allocated for us. This idea is comforting and deeply meaningful to many. It is so meaningful that we find echoes of it in our most ancient sources.

The Torah says that when Moshe was born, his mother, Yocheved, saw that he was good. Our Rabbis seize on the linguistic similarity between this statement and the description of each of the seven days of creation, that "it was good," and tell us that when Moshe was born the entire room filled with light, as though the light had just then been created and separated from the darkness. Moshe was born with a mission, to bring light back into the world and separate the Jewish people from the dark drudge fo their day-to-day existence as slaves and redeem them.

The perspective given above about Moshe's birth is obviously true. Moshe was born with both a mission and the ability to fulfil it. And yet, this telling omits what is perhaps most important about the story. Moshe did not become the leader of the Jewish people and the one human being to discourse with G-d face to face because it was his destiny. He reached those commanding heights through both choices and hard work. As we learn later in the Parsha, Moshe could not bear to allow any innocent to suffer. He needed to help others. In addition, he worked on himself and improved himself until he was not able to allow even a single lamb to stray unguarded. Moshe was not appointed because of who he was, but because of who he fashioned himself to be.

In our own lives, we sometimes feel like we have no control over our destiny. We feel that life is a river carrying us towards an inevitable end which we can neither dictate nor affect. However, the truth is that we are masters of our own destiny. We choose the people we become. We can be as good or as bad as we want, or as we need. It is our choices, not our innate abilities, which will define us for the rest of our lives. This empowering thought is an important message to learn from the life of Moshe, and a crucial one for the beginning of the secular year when so many are looking to make changes in their lives. It is particularly important at a time when many feel like they have even less control than usual. Let us use this time to settle on what is important to us and on what we want to make of ourselves, in the finest tradition of Moshe Rabbeinu.

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