Qāla Rabbi-shrah lī sadrī
He said, my Lord, expand my chest for me.
(Sūrat Taha, No 20, Āyat 25)
When Prophet Mūsā ‘alayhis salām is given the mission of conveying the message of God to Fir‘awn (Pharaoh) he asks God for help. For, apostleship was a big responsibility. To convey the message to Fir‘awn and his people, to rescue the Banū Israel and to manage their affairs was a task that needed certain abilities. He supplicates to God after being given the responsibility. The first request he makes is for expansion of the chest. The word sharh means to open and widen. This is a metaphorical allusion to the fact that the heart which lies in the chest is like a vessel that expands or contracts. In a beautiful Hadith, the Prophet (s) says: Allah, most High, has receptacles on the earth, and surely these are the hearts. The most beloved of hearts to Allah are the softest, the purest, and the most firm, those that are the softest to their brethren, the ones most pure from sins, and the ones most firm on the path of Allah (Mīzānul Hikmah, H. 5300, Kanzul ‘Ummāl, H.1225).
What is understood with the mind must find a place in the heart. If the heart is not big enough to receive it the understanding does not sink in and cannot be implemented in life. Expansion of the chest can denote a big heart, noble thinking, self-control, and wisdom. Prophet Mūsā (a) understood the heavy responsibility of the mission given to him. He was cognizant of the arrogance of Pharaoh and his people and of the power Pharaoh held over the people. He knew that it would not be an easy task to preach to him. He was also aware of the weakness of the Banū Israel and their ignorance. It would be difficult to lead them. Moses was also fully aware of his own weaknesses; his intolerance for oppression and the stammer in his speech. Keeping all that in mind he asks God to expand his chest so his tolerance would increase, and he would be able to bear the difficulties of his mission.
Despite knowing how heavy the responsibility was Mūsā (a) is not reluctant to accept it. Instead he asks for help in handling it. That is the response of a believer who knows he has to bear something for the sake of Allah ‘azza wa-jall. He does not flee from the difficult task. Rather he seeks help so he may perform well. His request also reveals his humility and awareness that the skills of real success can only be granted by Allah (swt). Anyone who leads others, or even has some form of authority over others, needs tolerance to be successful. In fact, it is an asset in carrying out any responsibility. It helps make the task much easier. Imam Ali (a) says: The means of acquiring leadership is a big heart (Nahjul Balāgha, Saying 176).
Recite this verse often and inspire yourself to have a bigger heart. Tolerance is necessary in all of life’s interactions and possessing that quality will ease many of life’s everyday challenges. Pray for it every day; it was what made the Prophets successful.
Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; ww.alketab.org