Chaverim Yekarim,

Hundreds of years ago in the Middle Ages, the rabbis gave human beings the nickname ha’midaber / the one who speaks, highlighting that crucial distinction between humans and other living creatures. It is that ability to speak that allows us to rise up from our bodies and aspire toward holiness and partnership with God.

We think about this as we begin a new book of Torah, and encounter yet another flawed biblical hero. Continuing in the footsteps of our ancestors in Genesis, Moses reveals himself to be as relatable as he is imperfect. His own vulnerability and apparent weakness allows us to have compassion for our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Moses suffers from a speech impediment and is reluctant to heed God’s call for his leadership. At the burning bush, he protests ”lo ish dvarim anochi / I am not a man of words. God challenges and motivates him, saying ”I will be with your mouth.” This promise is what enables him to break out of the mold he had created for himself and accept his fateful challenge.

Let’s stop for a moment and imagine that. Imagine that God were with us with every word we utter. Imagine Jewish values informed and inspired our speech at all times? Would that change how we utilize this amazing gift of speech, that which distinguishes and elevates us from other living beings?

This fascinating new book of Torah corresponds with our entrance into a new secular year. As we step into 2019, may we do so boldly. May our words capture the best of our eternal people and may they build new worlds of understanding, love, and compassion.

Shabbat Shalom, and blessings for a happy and healthy 2019,

Rabbi Natan