Serving the Moment Versus Serving Oneself: Which Mindset Are You? – Parshat Shemot

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You have a decision to make.  Before you, lies a conflict you haven’t been able to resolve, or a new reality that is causing anxiety and stress.   Or maybe something in your life is asking you to take a leap of faith, change your perspective, or become a bigger version of yourself.  Are you willing to open up to new possibilities?  Or will you shut down and stick with what you know? Are you searching for truth, or defending an agenda?  That choice may depend on how you define yourself, your mission in life – and what you are willing to see.

In the second book of the Torah, Shemot, we read about two polar opposite personalities – Moses and the Pharaoh – one who committed one of the most transcendent actions recorded in the Torah, and the other, who committed one of the most heinous.  One was a servant of God, who brought redemption and light; the other a “god” who served his own agenda and brought destruction and darkness.  Yet, they shared something in common, the word, “Behold!”  Each of them had a paradigm shift and then set into motion world events consistent with their respective visions. 

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

In Shemot, we see in Pharaoh words, the blueprint for anti-Semitism.  In fact, it is said that Hitler modeled his propaganda machine after Pharaoh’s strategy.  The Torah introduces us to Pharaoh as a “new king who did not know Joseph.”  It is patently impossible that any Egyptian ruler would not have known the “Joseph Story,” that the Jewish people were invited to settle in Egypt appreciation for Joseph having them from famine, and enriching Egyptian coffers beyond imagination, as the entire civilized world showed up on Egypt’s doorstep in need of grain.  For someone like the Pharaoh, who considered himself all-powerful and divine, it was mortifying to feel indebted to the Jewish people – and their God.  With the death of Jacob, Joseph, and all his brothers, Pharaoh shirked off any vestige of gratitude.  It was, therefore, not a case of “not knowing;” but rather, creating a new historical/political narrative, which recast people who had been meaningful contributors to society, into a so-called threat to that very society.  As any despot knows, the shortest road to power is to create an enemy and then dedicate yourself to its destruction.

Relationship Tip:  This is an important point – we cannot simultaneously hold two divergent views of a person. If we are in touch with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for someone, we cannot at the same time see them through the lens of a negativity bias.  To maintain a state of complaint or anger, we have to shut our minds to what is good.  So, if you find yourself trapped in a negativity spiral with a loved one, you can stop it in its tracks.  Consciously recalling the times that person has been there for you, or the many ways that person has demonstrated love, kindness, and consideration will switch you back into a positive mindset.  The “what have you done for me lately” mentality, or turning a blind eye to the good kills relationships.   

The Process of Dehumanization

“Behold!  The people, the Children of Israel are more numerous and stronger than we.  Come, let us outsmart it lest it become numerous and it may be that if a war will occur, it, too may join our enemies, and wage war against us and go up from the land.”  To refer to the Jewish people as an “it,” is to dehumanize them.   

Brené Brown defines dehumanization as “the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.  Once we see people on ‘the other side’ of a conflict as morally inferior and even dangerous, the conflict starts being framed as good versus evil.”  Thus, we are free to “behold” any perception or narrative we want to create, and nothing is off the table – oppression, subjugation, slavery, genocide, etc.  

My Way or the Highway

What this can look like in a relationship is the “my way or the highway” attitude, an ultimatum to “take it or leave it” where the other person must conform or suffer the consequences.   In asserting our absolute autonomy, if we come home late without a heads up we may blow away our upset partner for being “controlling.”  Our sense of time prevails; the thermostat is set at our comfort level, we make unilateral decisions, etc., since we don’t see other people’s opinions or feelings as worthy of consideration.   In marriage, this is a divorce waiting to happen.

The Moses Way

While tending the flock of his father-in-law, Moses noticed one of the sheep was missing.  Concerned for its safety, he was in hot pursuit when he came upon an unusual sight: “Behold! The bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed.”  That in itself required a level of awareness, for Moses could easily have been too preoccupied with looking for the sheep to notice that there was something very peculiar about a common brush fire.  But Moses had a history of “noticing.” 

The first time we meet him as an adult, Moses is the “Prince of Egypt.” Removed from the confines of the palace, he witnessed the suffering all around him, and when he observed a taskmaster viciously beating a Jewish slave, he took action and killed the man.  Fleeing Egypt, Moses arrived in Midian, and when he saw a group of women being tormented by shepherds, he came to their rescue.  While we’re usually in touch with our suffering, seeing it in others is not so common.  God did not call out to Moses until Moses made a point of showing his willingness to enter this unknown territory – “to turn aside and look.” Then, God summoned him, “Moses, Moses!” to which Moses replied, “Hineini, Here I am.”  This pivotal moment was built on a lifelong pursuit of truth, no matter where it led.

Behold!  For everything in life asks for our attention. That’s the challenge. It is a struggle to remain open and not grow numb when negative news pounds our psyche daily, but there is a price to pay for not seeing the suffering of others.  Says neuroscientist Rick Hanson, “You miss information about the nature of life, miss chances to have your heart opened, miss learning what your impact on others might be.”  And closer to home, “Small issues that could have been resolved early on grow until they blow up. People don’t like having their pain overlooked.”

As a servant of God, Moses was always ready to serve the moment, whether saving a lost sheep or an entire nation. “Here I am.”  By being selfless, he had everything!  In contrast, Pharaoh served only himself – and he wound up with nothing.  Behold! The moments of life ask for your response. Says Anaïs Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”  What will you see?

References:

Shemot/Exodus 1:8-10, 3:2-3

http://www.rickhanson.net/recognize-suffering-in-others/

Intervew with Brené Brown

 

2 thoughts on “Serving the Moment Versus Serving Oneself: Which Mindset Are You? – Parshat Shemot

  1. Sara Brejt says:

    Hanna, I love the way you (consistently!) harmonize Torah wisdom with “modern” psychological concepts. Keep up the great flow of ideas.

  2. Jacqueline Brown says:

    Sometimes feelings never change, but, our maturity and perception are tempered. We have a ‘cooling off’ time and with a positive, not negative reaction, GOD will show us our path.

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