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Feeling Like an Imposter  #762

01/20/2023 04:55:14 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Va'era: 
“The Israelites will not listen to me, then why should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech?”(Exodus 6:12)
Feeling Like an Imposter

Have you ever begun a new job, or accepted a leadership role within an organization, and felt like you weren’t up to the task?

A phrase, coined in 1978 by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, identifies a phenomenon known as the Imposter Syndrome.

The term means that sometimes “we aren't as competent or intelligent as others might thinkand that soon enough, people will discover the truth.”

Research indicates that up to 82 percent of us have experienced the Imposter Syndrome.

But research also tells us that despite these doubts, most of us rise above these fears and not only succeed, but usually evolve into good leaders and gifted teachers.

I was thinking about the Imposter Syndrome as I reflected upon this week’s Torah portion, Va‘Era (“And God Appeared…”), which reveals much about the personality of perhaps the greatest leader in Jewish history—Moses.

If there ever was a person within Jewish tradition who exemplified the Imposter Syndrome, it was Moses.

Can you blame him? 

It was a miracle that Moses was even born. When Pharaoh decreed that newborn Israelite boys be drowned, the Egyptian midwives made up stories about why Moses and other Israelites boys were spared. The fact that he lived was based on a lie.

He was surrounded by other untruths and contradictions.

Moses was adopted by an Egyptian princess and raised in a palace as a privileged Prince of Egypt, while the Jewish people around him suffered. His mother was brought in to nurse him, not as his mother, but as a nursemaid.

Some Sages speculate that Moses even imposed his feeling of inner wandering on his newborn son, who he named Gershom—“a stranger here.”

One story tells us that while in Pharaoh’s court, a young Moses burned his tongue on a hot coal.  Physically and spiritually, he can’t form words.

So, when God approached Moses at the burning bush and chose him as the leader to liberate the Israelites from slavery, Moses expressed profound doubts.

The Torah records Moses’ lack of confidence: “The Israelites will not listen to me, then why should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech?” (Exodus 6:12)

God knew Moses was reluctant to lead, calling his name twice before Moses responds with Hineni—”here I am." But he is obviously hesitant.

This is one of the most brilliant aspects of the Torah.

Rather than present perfect characters who exhibit traits that few of us have, the Torah portrays leaders like Moses as fellow human beings with similar struggles, flaws and even feelings of inadequacy..

During his early years, Moses is presented to us as that person with no fixed address—the stutterer, the anxious one, the imposter. It is a familiar thread that runs through many lives. 

According to the Talmud, before we are born, we choose our parents, our birthplace, and the circumstances of our upbringing to ultimately challenge and strengthen our souls.

Many people use life’s obstacles to justify why they never take a chance—never reach for something higher, never fulfill their potential.

In some cases, those who are born into unspeakable circumstances are justified in feeling this way. But Judaism teaches that each of us has a destiny to fulfill—one that only we can achieve.

For beyond the challenges and obstacles we experience, there is a spark of God and potential dwelling within each of us. God saw that spark of humility, social justice, hard work and loyalty within Moses.

That same challenge—feeling like the "other" or the imposter—has built within each of us “spiritual antibodies,” which have helped us become the individuals we are today.

Do you remember that first day on the job? Do you recall when you were put in charge of a project, or given a promotion?

Each of us can relate to Moses at that point he receives the divine call. Each of us can empathize with Moses feeling that he is not up to the challenge.

But we are. In a few days, I will assist a congregant and her family in celebrating what would have been her father’s 100th birthday.

She recently shared that sometimes since his passing, she has felt afraid when faced with challenges. But she has overcome these hesitations by remembering her father’s guiding words. “Just take the first step. You will find courage in the doing.”

So, this week, as Moses returns to Egypt to confront Pharaoh, he arrives strengthened by all that he has endured.

He also arrives with his brother Aaron at his side. Where would we be without family to both challenge and encourage us?

It is sometimes easy for us to feel like imposters. But each of us has the potential to be a Moses.

At home, at work, within the organizations we serve. We are not imposters. We are sparks of God loaded with potential.

As he returns to face the mighty Pharaoh, Moses inspires us to consider that there are no challenges or obstacles that we cannot overcome.

We are not imposters. Rather, each of us is blessed with the spark of potential to contribute and repair this often challenging and imperfect world.

Indeed, we can find courage in the doing.

Each in our own way.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784