As was often the case, Loren arose before sunrise to walk by the ocean’s edge and greet the new day. As he walked along the sand, he focused on a boy off in the distance. He noticed the boy bend, reach and flail his arms as if he was dancing to celebrate the new day. As Loren inched closer, he noticed that the boy was not dancing, rather, bending down to sift through the piles that the tide brought in searching for starfish to throw back into the ocean. Upon reaching the boy, Loren asked the boy what he was doing to which he replied that he was returning the starfish to the sea since if he did not they would certainly die once the sun rose.
Loren began to survey the vast beach to notice hundreds of starfish cluttering the beach. Loren realized how hopeless the boy’s task was and he responded, “The amount of starfish are far too many for you to make a real difference. Why make the effort at all?” The boy paused, considered Loren’s comment and then bent to grab another starfish to throw into the sea. The boy turned to Loren and said, “I made a difference to that one.”
In this week’s Torah portion, פרשת וארא, we are introduced to the first seven of the plagues that Hashem afflicted the Egyptian people in an effort to force Pharaoh's hand and cause him to release the Jewish people. Many commentators argue as to the significance of why Hashem brought 10 plagues and not simply one mega plague. The Netziv and Rashi explain that each plague was set to attack a different element of Egyptian culture and society showing their inferiority in relation to Hashem. Other commentators explain that these plagues were meant for the Jewish people to relay Hashem’s greatness and, in turn, to support the Jewish people’s dedication to a Jewish way of life. I would like to suggest that there is another objective entirely - they were meant for משה.
It isn’t to say that the plagues were not multifaceted. They were. And, משה was in need of individual and specific support. After arguing with Hashem and attempting to gracefully turn down Hashem’s appointment to the leadership of the Jewish people, we turn to this week’s פרשה assuming that משה has moved on and accepted his calling. Clearly, that is not the case.
בֹּ֣א דַבֵּ֔ר אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֖ה מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרָ֑יִם וִֽישַׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאַרְצֽוֹ׃ וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר מֹשֶׁ֔ה לִפְנֵ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר הֵ֤ן בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֹֽא־שָׁמְע֣וּ אֵלַ֔י וְאֵיךְ֙ יִשְׁמָעֵ֣נִי פַרְעֹ֔ה וַאֲנִ֖י עֲרַ֥ל שְׂפָתָֽיִם׃
[Hashem says to Moshe] “Go speak to Pharoah, king of Egypt, that he should send the Jewish people out from this land.” Moshe says to Hashem, “If the Jewish people didn’t believe me, how would Pharoah believe me? Besides, I have a speech impediment!” - Shemot 6:11-12
משה could not see how the powerful Pharaoh, the king of the most established and advanced nation of the time, would listen to his measly request if the Jewish people, a broken and tattered nation, dismissed his callings of redemption and freedom. Besides, everyone knows that משה had his own limitations, he was unable to speak with pose, grandeur and presence. Hashem realized that משה did not have the self esteem and self worth to see his value and the value of one individual’s impact on a great whole even if he could not complete his mission alone.
Hashem spends the next few פרשיות to systematically show how little, weak and insignificant the Egyptian world power was in the face of Hashem. How did this impact משה? As we look at each passing plague, we see משה stepping further into the limelight, taking over the major roles from his brother אהרון and leaning into his strength and abilities as the future leader of the Jewish people. Hashem saw that משה was struggling and realized that a grand act was necessary to save just one person.
Each student that comes through our doors is a starfish washed up on the shore. They are looking for guidance, for direction, for meaning, for purpose and, for some, the skills to thrive in the environment that best supports them. They are all potential משה’s, leaders searching for the right person(s) to come along and take notice. It is our job to be more like the boy on the beach, searching for everyone's opportunity to make a difference.