Parashat Sh'mot

A Burning Within

We must find the causes that make us most passionate--and work for change.

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But he takes action nonetheless. He honors his burning bush within, his heart of fire. He realizes that his drive to liberate Israel will never abate, and although he lacks confidence that he will succeed, he is confident that he must try.

This is our paradigmatic tale of a "calling," yet it challenges the conventional definition of this term as something that one was born to accomplish. Moses' epiphany is not that he is destined to complete a mission--God does not promise success. Indeed, Moses' fears and insecurities persist throughout his revelation.

Rather, Moses' profound realization is that his passion was present all along--he should honor his heated heart and begin. Perhaps callings reveal more about drives than destinies.

Just as Moses was called to fight for Jewish liberation from slavery, my friend CJ was a young teen when he learned about the sex slave trade. He felt a burning need to protect the dignity of the victims in this vicious business and to bring the propagators to justice. He recognized the fire of his own reaction. He felt driven to oppose these abuses against women.

Today CJ passionately and tirelessly addresses this very issue in Washington. He does not draw strength from a belief that this is the most important fight in the world, but from a sense that it is his most important fight. This self-knowledge enables him to persevere in his work, to continually choose to respond.

Each of us must ask ourselves: What is my burning bush? Which injustice in the world makes me cringe, cry, scream? These are the causes for which we are most equipped to act, as overwhelming as they may seem.

The inevitable waves of nervousness and self-doubt cannot deter us from action. We cannot wait until we feel completely ready, for that time will never come. Rather, we must draw strength from the everlasting flames in our own hearts--the burning that will never stop.

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Sam Berrin Shonkoff is currently the Jewish student life coordinator at Stanford Hillel. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from Brown University and has also studied in Jerusalem at Hebrew University, Pardes Institute, and The Conservative Yeshiva.