Most of us want something to change in our lives. We need to lose a few pounds. We hate our jobs. The same anxieties and worries that accompanied us last year are still there, gnawing at our edges and eating away what’s essential about us.
But change is hard, so we put it off, or we blame others because they don’t want us to change. This is convenient, actually. We forgo opportunities to change because we don’t believe change is possible, or we don’t want to walk into the risky challenges that change brings.
Even though we want change, we resist it.
One of the greatest barriers to walking into a new beginning is not the resistance you face from others; it’s the resistance you yourself (consciously or unconsciously) bring to bear.
There is a very human scene in the life of Moses, at one of the most famous intersections in history. Moses was born a Hebrew, then given up by his mother because the Pharaoh ordered the murder of all baby boys under the age of two. He grew up as an Egyptian in the Pharaoh’s palace, a prince who was drawn out of the water by Pharaoh’s daughter (who incidentally broke the law by disobeying the King, her father).
One day, Moses went out to see how his brothers (fellow Hebrews) were being treated. Once honored guests in Egypt, they were now slaves. What he saw threw him into a blind rage, and he murdered an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew. Then he ran into the desert, where he stayed for forty years, an exile that didn’t know who he was, where he was from, or where he was going.
One day, Moses sees a bush that is burning, but is not consumed, and God speaks to him. God tells him that God has heard the cries of God’s people, and that God is going to rescue them. God was going to send Moses back to Egypt, to demand that the most powerful leader on planet earth destroy his own economy by letting his slaves – the Hebrew people – go. God promises to go with Moses, and promises that everything God says will happen, will happen.
And then something delicious happens, because it’s exactly what you and I would do. Moses challenges God on every level. Moses questions everything God says that God will do. Moses resists. This is one of the reasons I find the Scriptures so believable and so compelling, because of the ridiculous and beautiful questions Moses has for God in Exodus 3 & 4.
Who am I to confront Pharaoh and lead these people out of Egypt?
If they ask who sent me to demand the release of these slaves, who should I tell them sent me?
What if they don’t listen to me? What if they don’t believe you sent me?
I don’t speak very well. I stutter. I am slow of speech and tongue. I will mess it up for sure.
Send someone else, I beg you.
Avivah Zornberg is a scholar of Torah and rabbinic literature, and she was recently interviewed by Krista Tippett on her radio program, On Being. During that interview, Zornberg notices that the word that Moses uses to describe how he’s slow of speech is kaved, which means heavy. Moses literally says he has a heavy mouth. Later in the same story, we read that Pharaoh’s heart is hard, and the same word – kaved – is used. Kaved means heavy, but it also means resistant, impervious, or closed off.
So both Moses (at least initially) and Pharaoh are kaved – resistant – to the change that God wants to bring about in the world through these two men. There is a resistance to God’s desire to set people free that isn’t just being harbored in the heart of Pharaoh, but it’s being harbored in the heart of Moses, and perhaps even in the hearts of the slaves. Something needs to happen in the hearts of Moses and Pharaoh and the people, in order for freedom to happen.
“Moses is very sensitive to the problem that he has and that he senses the people also have. So the whole situation as I understand it as the story begins is not a simple one of a cruel, persecuting Pharaoh and poor, helpless victims. It’s poor, helpless victims who will need in some way to arouse within themselves the capacity to be redeemed, that is to open themselves to relationship, to communication. I’d like to suggest that the whole story really is about the need for the people to be more than an object that has to be yanked out of Egypt. But for the people to become, to acquire the kind of life and openness and communicability that makes them want to emerge from that place of death which is Egypt.”
In order for the change that God wants to bring about to actually come about, Moses would need to acquire the kind of life and openness that makes him want to emerge from Egypt. And if he does not acquire that kind of life, he will not be able to lead those people into a new life.
I believe God is inviting us to do all kinds of good in the world, and in order to move towards those good things, we may need to move towards an openness to God, and an openness to each other, that for some reason, we are resisting.
So what do you want? What would make you want to emerge from whatever place of death in which you are currently enslaved? What needs to open which is now closed off in you?
In it together, friends.