> Weekly Torah Portion > Parents & Kids > Family Parsha

Overcoming Weaknesses

Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

Nobody's perfect. We all have something about ourselves that we don't feel good about. The question is: what do we do when we are forced into a situation where our weakness will become obvious? In this week's Parsha, God appears to Moses and tells him that he must go and speak to the Jewish people and Moses refuses. He tells God, "I am orel sfatayim," which means, "I have a speech defect." Moses refuses another time, but God insists that he is the man for the job. In the end, God sends Moses' brother Aharon to help him, but Moses is still called upon to address the people on many different occasions, and succeeds, despite his defect. When we keep a positive attitude, and trust that God can give us the strength to overcome our weaknesses, we can accomplish more than we could have ever thought possible.


In our story, a girl learns to positively confront a challenging situation and succeed.


"Mommy," said Miriam, as she put her school bag down on the kitchen table. "In two weeks we're supposed to be having our physical fitness exams in gym."

"Oh?" said Mrs. Siegel. She knew this was a sore spot for her daughter and so waited to hear what she would say next.

"We have to do everything: chin-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, and the hardest - a broad jump. And we have to do everything in front of the whole class. Mommy, I can't do any of those things. What am I going to do?"

Mrs. Siegel looked thoughtfully at her daughter. At age 10, her height had not quite caught up to her weight yet, and the effect was sometimes very disheartening, especially when it came to her daughter's number one obstacle: gym class. Mrs. Siegel always knew it was gym day, when Miriam would wake up complaining of a stomachache or sore throat. If that didn't work, she'd somehow manage to stub her toe on the way out the door ... anything for a legitimate excuse to miss gym. Now Miriam was trapped because she had to pass this test to graduate.

"Here you go, Miriam. Why don't you sit down and eat lunch, and meanwhile we'll try to figure out what to do."

But the girl balked. "Mom, if you don't mind, I think I'm just going up to my room for a little while." When she felt like this, Miriam just couldn't talk to anyone, not even her mother. She felt miserable. "Why do I have to have this stupid body that doesn't do what I want it to? Why am I always the slowest and the last one to be picked for anything? It's not fair." She threw herself on her bed and stared hard at the ceiling.

Suddenly she felt her eyes being pulled toward a photo in a small frame on her bookcase. There she was with her arm swung around the shoulders of her best cousin, Karen, whom she loved dearly. Karen was the happiest, most life-loving person she knew, even though ever since the illness that changed her life, Karen had plenty of good excuses not to be.

Miriam sat up in her bed and took a deep breath. She felt like God had shown her that picture to send her just the message she needed. Her mind was made up.

The next day, Miriam began "Operation: Shape-up."

She forced herself to do sit-ups, push-ups, and even the seemingly impossible chin-ups. The girl bravely approached the daunting looking chin-up bar that her brother had recently put over his door, and climbed onto a chair. But even standing on the chair, she only managed to pull herself up about half an inch. How would she ever manage from the floor?

But her biggest challenge was the broad jump. Each year it was the hardest and most embarrassing moment of the whole test. She took her father's yardstick, and chalk-marked the minimum length of the required broad jump. Miriam first tried jumping off a stool to try to get the hang of it, and even then, she fell a good several feet short. Success looked very far away.

In school, all the kids were talking about how far they had jumped and how many sit-ups and push-ups they were able to do. Paula, the best athlete, sidled up to Miriam more than once with her amazing progress reports. "Miriam, I did 100 sit-ups and 75 push-ups." Her circle of friends around her oohed and aahed. "How about you?"

Miriam would just walk away, half hurt, and half determined.

The next week, things had improved somewhat. She'd managed five chin-ups (still standing on a chair), seven sit-ups and 10 push-ups. She's gained about a foot in the broad jump, but she was still plenty short of the line.

"Miriam, doll, I have good news!" Mrs. Siegel couldn't wait until Miriam sat down at the supper table. "Karen's coming for a visit this weekend! Her parents are going away and asked if we'd mind if she came. Isn't that exciting?"

Miriam panicked. "This weekend?" Her gym test was the following Monday. "Isn't there anywhere else she could go?" Miriam wanted to spend the time practicing, but now, with Karen coming, that would be impossible.

Mrs. Siegel understood immediately. "Miriam," she said softly. "I think Karen being here will only help you."

As she was making up the bed for Karen, Miriam thought of her mother's words. "She's probably right. I know she's right, but how am I going to be able to pass the test now?"

Still, Miriam was excited to see her cousin. She'd known Karen since they were little girls. They did everything together, that is ... until everything changed. She stood at the doorway as the van pulled up in the driveway. Karen's dad jumped out, smiled and waved, and ran to the back and pulled something out. It was Karen's wheelchair, a permanent fixture since Karen got sick.

As the girls chatted, Miriam revealed her anxiety about the coming gym test. As usual, Karen responded with enthusiasm. "I'm so glad I came this weekend! I'm sure you'll do great, especially with me encouraging you every second. Come, show me what you can do already and we'll take it from there..."

That was Karen. Nothing stopped her from enjoying life, even if it meant encouraging others to do what she herself could not. Little by little, as the girls worked together, Miriam felt not only her muscles growing, but also her confidence, inspired by her special cousin.

The day of the test arrived. Miriam stood nervously in line to take her turn at the broad jump. Finally she reached the front of the line. As she swung her arms and prepared to jump, she felt scared, but then she thought of Karen, and how much she had accomplished in spite of her challenges. Maybe she could too!

The girl bent her knees and gave it her all. As Miriam touched down, way past the marker line, all the kids who had been watching her gasped. She heard Paula's voice in the background. "Did you see Miriam Siegel's broad jump? I can't believe it! She jumped the furthest from the whole class. I just can't believe it!"

Miriam whispered a quiet thanks to God, and smiled a secret smile. There were all kinds of weaknesses, she realized. But the worst one is believing that they can't be overcome.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Miriam feel when she first though about taking the gym tests?
A. She was really upset, was sure she would fail, and wanted to give up.

Q. How did thinking about her cousin Karen help Miriam to feel better? A. She remembered how much Karen could do, even though she couldn't walk. This made Miriam believe that she could do a lot too.

Ages 6-9

Q. How should a person react when he has to face something that is really difficult for him?
A. The most positive approach is to realize that although it may not be easy, we should strive to put in our best effort, while turning to God for help. We will often find that we can do much, much more than we thought.

Q. How did Karen help Miriam to succeed?
A. Miriam found Karen to be an inspiring role model. Here was a girl with a much bigger challenge than Miriam herself had, yet she had persevered and managed to live a happy and fulfilled life. This helped give Miriam the confidence that she could also overcome her challenges - and she did!

Q. Can you think of an obstacle you have overcome? How did you do it? Did you ask the Almighty for help?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Do you think that limitations are more the product of a situation, or an attitude?
A. There are certainly situations that lend themselves to being more limiting than others. If Miriam were 6'2", trim and athletic, she probably wouldn't be sweating the broad jump as much. But then that Miriam would have other limitations to overcome. Limitations are, more than anything else, products of our minds' attitudes. Some people have much more ability in a given area, but their feelings of inadequacy hold them back from accomplishing as much as others who have much less to work with. A positive, can-do attitude is often the most crucial factor needed to make things happen. And realizing God is always there to help enables us oftentimes to achieve what we didn't think was achievable.

Q. How do you think that being challenged to overcome our limitations can improve our relationship with God? A. When life is a breeze, it is very easy to write God out of the picture. But when we are forced to face a situation, or part of ourselves in which we feel limited, we are better able to abandon the illusion of self-reliance, and realize that we need to turn to God if we hope to succeed. This serves to open us to the spiritual reality that even the things that seem to come easy are also only gifts given to us from God. At this point, our relationship with Him jumps to an entirely new, higher plane.

Q. Can you think of an obstacle you have overcome? How did you do it? Did you ask the Almighty for help?



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