The Writ of Heaven (speech)

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I’ve decided to publish my speech in Synagogue from last week. It was well received, so perhaps you might enjoy it…

As children we read the story of Yetziat Mitzraim (Exodus from Egypt) in a very simple way:

Hashem (G-d) chooses Moshe (Moses).

Moshe ate a bunch of coals when he was a kid.

So ,Aaron shows up as Moshe’s sidekick and the two of them make the big bad Pharaoh let the people go.

It’s a fun story.

But there’s a whole lot more going on.


Let’s all of us do something together.

Let’s stop for a moment and pretend the story ended where it did today, with the plague of hail.

Pretend we don’t know the conclusion of this story.

Pretend it is a cliffhanger, drawing us into the next movie in the trilogy.


Stop here. What kind of Moshe do you see?

I can tell you what I see.

If I had to use one word to describe Moshe – at this point – it would be ‘reluctant’.


He doesn’t want to carry out the mission Hashem chooses for him.

He resists.

Then he delays.

Even when he finally comes to Egypt there are issues.


When he first speaks before the people, they fail to listen because of Kotzer Ruach – shortness of spirit.

The Torah doesn’t say who lacks spirit, but perhaps it is Moshe.

He seems to lack conviction.


And his reluctance continues.

In ancient Egypt, a prophet would speak the words of the god they were representing, without a filter.

When Moshe complains that he has uncircumcised lips, he is saying that he cannot speak with conviction.

His channeling of the divine is impeded.

The people will not listen to him.

And so, neither will Pharaoh.


And when it comes time for the plagues, Moshe not only begs Pharaoh not to resist, he prays again and again for Hashem to lift the plagues themselves.


Moshe sees destruction and he does not embrace it.

Moshe does not yet understand the greater story.

He does not yet understand Hashem’s plan.


Moshe is in the middle of the story.




I find this idea deeply comforting.


We are blessed, all of us, in our ways.

But we all face challenges.

We all face loss.

And sometimes we have a hard time understanding why.


But just like Moshe,

We are in the middle of our story.


This Torah portion reminds us that even though we can’t see it, there is a plan.

This Parsha reminds us that even though we can’t see it, we too will have an Az Yashir (Song of the Sea).


There will be an Az Yashir Nat, an Az Yashir David, an Az Yashir Nick, an Az Yashir Kinneret, an Az Yashir Ilana.


Ultimately, there will be understanding.


[long pause]


It might be nice to stop there.

It might be nice to satisfy ourselves that answers will be given.

It might be nice to remain passive and faithful.

It might be nice to simply accept the writ of heaven.


But that is not our role.


I was at my parents’ house in rural Oregon this week.

I remember parking the car, getting out of it and then looking up at the stars. Those magnificent stars.

We don’t see stars very often. Not like that.

A few poke through here and there, but the ancient wonder of the skies is hidden.


When we see the stars, it is through telescopes or on the Internet.

In our world, we can no longer embrace the mystery of the skies.

In our modern world, we find ways to understand and control that which seems beyond us.

We Jews do not simply, fatalistically, accept the writ of heaven.

And we shouldn’t.


After all, Moshe was chosen despite being reluctant.

I would go even further.

I believe Moshe was chosen because he was reluctant – just as we are preserved because of our stiff necks.


We are not meant to be robots.

We are meant to be actors.

And we can do exactly that.


[long pause]

In the time of the Exodus, G-d alone could plan.

But today, we can plan.


In the time of the Exodus, G-d alone could act.

But today, it is our obligation to act.


Today, it is our obligation to give meaning to our own lives.


We are servants of G-d, but our Az Yashir – our song of revelation – is not dependent on G-d alone.


We can find this in the Chumash itself.

In Parshat Chukat, there is an Az Yashir Yisrael.

But it does not sing of Hashem.

Instead, it sings of our people and the miracles we will achieve.


And that is my blessing to you.

To me.

To all of us.


When we sing our Az Yashir, may we sing not only of Hashem.

When we sing our Az Yashir, may we sing of our accomplishments and our gifts to this world.

When we sing our Az Yashir, may we sing of the wonders of our lives and of the miracles we have wrought with the help of Hashem.


Shabbat Shalom.


Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Joseph Cox Author

Joseph Cox is the author of City on the Heights (, a thriller about creating hope from war.

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