In watching the inauguration, so many of us were captivated by Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. History. As riveting her ability to transform history into lyrical song, I was just as moved by her poise and gift in commanding the attention of the watching world. She offered not just a poem, but an experience, engaging us in an urgency to see ourselves in the continuous building of this beautiful country.
I learned that this poet spent years overcoming a speech impediment. Amanda would self-edit her poems to exclude words she was unable to accurately pronounce. But ultimately, she decided to accept invitations to public poetry readings. Despite the impediment, she would speak, knowing her best was more than enough.
Perhaps most importantly, following in the footsteps of Maya Angelou who was mute as a child, Amanda learned that we are defined not by any one thing. Rather, all of abilities shape our character. Not one ability has the power to hold us back. Someone else’s perception of an ability stands no weight in comparison to our own.
When we begin to characterize Moses, our greatest Jewish prophet, rarely, do we bring up the fact that he had a stutter. The Torah explicitly highlights Moses imploring God to choose someone else, primarily because he believes Pharaoh will dismiss him because of his speech. And yet, this is the man that becomes a beacon of light for the children of Israel, using his words and spirit to lead a nation towards freedom. This is the same man of which the Midrash explains, quoted the entire Torah in seventy different languages. Meaning, a speech impediment was not going to hold Moses back from actualizing his heavenly mission.
How many times do we focus on what seems like a flaw, allowing one thing to prevent us from grasping that which we are meant to achieve in this lifetime? We are blessed to have role models, both Biblical and present, that teach us to create goals not defined by just one piece of our puzzle. Role models that urge us to take pride in the entirety of who we are.
What defines you? Take every gift bestowed by God and step forward. You, every piece of you, are meant to change this world.
Rabbi Guzik’s post is also available through our partnership with The Jewish Journal.