Failing to see who you are by Rabbi Benny Berlin
We read in this week’s Parasha, Moshe initially refuses to accept the mission assigned to him by God to confront Pharaoh and demand that he free Benei Yisrael. At one point in his conversation with G-d, Moshe expresses his fear that Benei Yisrael would not believe his claim that he was sent by the Almighty to free them (4:1).

“Moses answered and said, “Behold they will not believe me, and they will not heed my voice, but they will say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’ “

In response, God endows Moshe with supernatural acts that he would perform to prove his authenticity.

These included Moshe’s hand becoming leprous, and then being instantly healed (4:6-7). “And the Lord said further to him, “Now put your hand into your bosom,” and he put his hand into his bosom, and he took it out, and behold, his hand was leprous like snow.

And He said, “Put your hand back into your bosom,” and he put his hand back into his bosom, and [when] he took it out of his bosom, it had become again like [the rest of] his flesh.”

Rashi (4:6), based on the Midrash Tanchuma, famously viewed Moshe’s leprosy as a form of punishment. Moshe doubted Benei Yisrael’s faith, assuming that they would disregard his prophesy and deny his claim to have received a prophetic message. These allegations constituted a form
of lashon hara (negative speech) which is punishable with tzara’at, and Moshe’s hand contracted leprosy.

” It is for this reason that He struck him with tzara’at, just as Miriam was struck for speaking slanderously.” Rabbi David Silverberg presented a powerfully different way to view Moshe’s “punishment.”

We find two instances in Tanach where tzara’at served as a punishment for placing oneself on too high a pedestal, assuming a position of stature that he or she did not deserve. Miriam contracted tzara’at for challenging Moshe’s unique status and insisting that he was on no higher a level than she was: “Did the G-d speak only with Moshe? Did He not also speak with us?” (Bamidbar 12:2). Centuries later, king Uziyahu was stricken with tzara’at after assuming for himself the right to serve as kohen gadol and offer incense in the Beit Hamikdash (Devarim Hayamim II 26:16-21).

The common denominator between these two instances of tzara’at was that the victims failed to accept their real positions and assumed for themselves a higher stature than they rightfully deserved. They were therefore stricken with tzara’at and forced to live in isolation, symbolic of the lowest possible level of prominence.

Rav Silverberg noted that Moshe here failed in the precise opposite direction. He assumed he was incompetent for the job assigned to him, that he could not possibly serve as God’s prophet and convince the people of the divine message. Whereas Miriam and Uziyahu saw themselves on a higher plane than where they really were, Moshe viewed himself on too low a plane.

All three were stricken with tzara’at because they all failed to see themselves as they truly were. Moshe, of course, received a far lighter punishment. Only his hand was afflicted, and only for a brief period of time. Selling oneself short and failing to recognize one’s capabilities is not as grave an offense as the arrogant presumption of greatness.

Nevertheless, we may learn from Moshe’s tzara’at that just as we must not see ourselves as something more than we are, we must also not see ourselves as something less than we are. We should try, as much as possible, to evaluate ourselves and our abilities with sheer honesty and objectivity, so we neither try to do that which is beyond our level. However, we also should not avoid striving to achieve that which
is well within our reach.