3 Ways to Transform Curses into Blessings

“Love covers up all iniquity.”

-Proverbs 10:1

indexFrom a Curse to a Blessing

“How goodly are thy tents O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel.” “Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishk’notecha Yisroel.[i] This verse, which is this week’s Torah portion, Balak, is said upon entering a synagogue, is part of the daily Morning Prayer, and even if you don’t recite it, you may know it, as it is one of the most famous verses in the Torah.

And so, one would think that these words of praise were uttered by God, or by Moses, or at least by someone “very holy.” And yet, these words emanated from the mouth of a notorious Jew hater, Bilaam, who was hired by Balak, (the newly-appointed King of Moab), to curse the Jewish people in the desert.

Three times, Bilaam tried to curse the Jewish people, and yet each time, he blessed them instead. Prior to the first two attempts, Bilaam and God had a “conversation” whereby God either instruct Bilaam what to say or put the words directly into his mouth. Despite his pure hatred and single-minded intention to cause harm, Bilaam could only utter words of blessing and praise for the Jewish people.

Therefore, before the third and final attempt, Bilaam decided to take a different tact, since these “conversations” with God were not going his way. This time, Bilaam concentrated on the so-called faults and transgressions of the Jewish people, trying to discredit them so as to overcome God’s benevolence and whip up a host of spiritual negativity against the Jewish people.

A Godly Lens

And so, after he was all fired up, Bilaam lifted his eyes to blast the Jewish people once and for all with his “evil eye.” But when he raised his eyes and looked – truly looked – Bilaam noticed how the placement of the tents was designed for the utmost respect for privacy and dignity. He saw orderliness. He saw righteousness. He saw goodness. And he was moved. Incredibly, The Torah states, “He changed his mind to be like God.” And in so doing – even if it was a very temporary shift – Bilaam saw a new reality, a Godly reality, and his curses were transformed into blessings.

So, the question is, how could such words of praise come out of Bilaam’s mouth and of his own accord? It’s true but a not-funny joke, that if a notorious anti-Semite says something nice about the Jews – then it must be true. It’s just human nature – we have a hard time believing certain ideas when they originate from sources very close to us. After all, how credible is it when we sing our own praises? Thus, if a gentile praises the Jewish people, that’s good, but if a Jew-hater genuinely and effusively praises us? Wow – what could be better?

Loving Ourselves

Now let’s take a deeper look and find a lesson we can apply to our lives. Besides our tendency to discount positivity from close sources, I think that most of us have a hard time being kind and benevolent to ourselves.   When is the last time you checked in on the inner dialogue in your head and your running thoughts and feelings – about you? I decided to pay attention to my inner voice the other day, and I was shocked at how intolerant and cruel I can be to myself.

Many of us have a hard time liking ourselves. We think it’s selfish and egotistical. But if I don’t like myself – why should you like me? If I don’t value or love myself – why should you?   We are also afraid that if we have self-compassion or like ourselves, we would never change because we mistakenly think shame is the best impetus for growth. And so, we can become our own Bilaams – in effect, cursing ourselves. I can assure you, however, with 100% certainty, that shame and blame are never the paths to sustained change or growth. Ok, you may ask, so what is?

When Bilaam decided to “change his mind to be like God,” that’s when the transformation happened. That’s when the curses turned to blessings. I believe that’s the key. In our Morning Prayers, we acknowledge that the soul God placed in us is pure. Further, we are made in the image of God, and we have Godly souls. When we don’t judge ourselves favorably, we are insulting our Creator.

Seeing is Believing

Ponder this. The more I love myself – my real self, my Godly self – and the more order, righteousness and good that I see when I look inside, the more I will naturally align my actions to be congruent with that vision. So, may I suggest the following:

Step One: Notice the toxic inner talk. But please don’t criticize the inner critic or you’ll stay in the same loop. Have compassion and understand that it’s a habituated form of thinking. Don’t get hooked – it’s not you. Rather, it is a bad and unconscious habit, and increasing your awareness of this bad habit will help you break it

Step Two: Counteract the negativity with positivity – lots of it. In Five Steps to Better Relationships, I wrote about the Losada Principle and the Gottman Relationship Ratios. In a nutshell, we weigh negativity more than positivity, and so to maintain loving and benevolent and thriving relationships, we must offset critical or negative comments with three to five positive ones – or suffer the consequences. I never realized that it applies to our own self-talk as well! And so, every time you hear yourself making a negative comment to yourself, offset it with three to five positive comments that are constructive

Step Three: Give yourself permission to see yourself with Godly reality. As Marianne Williamson has says, “Maturity includes the recognition that no one is going to see anything in us that we don’t see in ourselves…. Joy is what happens when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”

And when we can live from this joyful place, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. Imagine a world where all curses were transformed into blessings, where we looked with inner and outer eyes that only saw order, righteousness and good – and not for a brief inspired moment – but as the natural state of continuous connection to our Source. Let’s start now.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. Using the steps above, every day this week write down every negative thought you had about yourself. At the end of the week, look in the mirror and read them aloud. Pay attention to the language you use and the way you speak about yourself. If you wouldn’t say these statements to someone else, then stop saying them to yourself.

 

  1. Look through the statements you wrote down from the week. Take one that kept repeating or that was the harshest. Now counteract it with three to five positive statements. Write them below. Ideally, do this for every negative statement you made during the week.

 

  1. This one may be hardest as this may not yet be your reality. But the more you start to envision it, the sooner that shift will change. Write down how you want to see yourself and to do so, envision that you are speaking to yourself as a soul and not who you are in your body. If you could speak to your essence before you even came into this world, in your perfected state, what would you see and say?

 

 

 

 

 


[i] Bamidbar/Numbers 24:5.

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Shelach – 5 Steps to Better Relationships

“In youth, one learns to talk; in maturity, one learns to be silent. This is man’s problem: that he learns to talk before he learns to be silent.”

– Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

But…

 Have you ever been on the wrong end of an unwanted question, such as, “Will you marry me?” Or, “Will you be my date for the prom?” Or something less serious, such as, “Hey, can you do me a huge favor?”

 If the answer is “no”, there is going to be a “but” somewhere in that sentence, such as, “I really love you – but – I’m just not in love with you.” Or, “you’re such a great guy – but – I’m already going with Mr. Wrong.” Or, “I’d love to help you out, but I think I have to do my colonoscopy prep that night.”

 And no matter how nice or apologetic or convincing the first part of the sentence is, for the listener, it’s only what comes after the “but” that matters, because that’s where the truth of the message lies.

 And so, it’s hard to believe – but – this one innocuous word, “but” is responsible for the downfall of the generation that left Egypt and it caused them to be condemned to die in the desert.

 If you don’t know the story, the Jewish people had just left Mount Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments and were poised to enter what was then known as the Land of the Canaanites. The people were nervous and didn’t know what they were up against, and so they asked Moses to appoint a group of men to go spy out the land.

 After forty days the spies returned and issued a glowing report. “It’s a land filled with milk and honey. Here are its fruits.” And then they said the word “efes” (which means “but”) after which they painted such a negative picture of the land, that people were scared stiff and wept through the night, thus sealing their fate that where not only would they not enter the land, but future calamities (such as the destruction of the First and Second Temples) would occur on the anniversary of that date.  

The Weight of Criticism

We often mix compliments with criticisms and wonder why the listener is offended.

I gave my son a compliment about his appearance, but I ended the sentence with criticism.   “Mother giveth and Mother taketh away,” he said. And I was surprised. After all, I said something nice – also – so why the drama?

 Plain and simple, it’s what follows the “but” that counts. And we can’t neutralize or offset a criticism with a compliment. It’s not an even wash because we don’t hear or care about the compliment. Evolutionists will explain that we are wired to focus on negativity because the negative carries valuable information about possible danger.  

Whatever the reason, a ratio of 1:1 (compliment/criticism) will destroy the quality of your relationships as surely as it destroyed that generation of the Jewish people. So can we ever criticize? Of course we can, and sometimes we must, but there are ways to do it without harming the relationship.

 In a business setting, there is something called the “Losada Principle,” which tells us that unless a negative or critical remark is offset by at least three positive comments, the work environment is considered toxic, and employees will not thrive and be productive.

 In personal relationships, the ratio is a bit higher. A critical or negative comment needs to be offset with 3-5 positive comments. Dip consistently below that ratio in your marriage, and your relationship is in peril, because you are statistically headed for a divorce.

So here’s my advice:

  1. If you must say something critical (and sometimes you must) make an effort to offset it with multiple positive remarks.
  1. If you must say two contradictory things, switch the order so that the nice comment follows the “but.” For example: “You did a great job cleaning your room, but the bathroom is a mess” – versus – “The bathroom is a mess, but you did a great job cleaning your room.” Do you hear the difference in those approaches?
  1. After you get the hang of that, try to stop talking after the compliment. “You did a great job cleaning your room.” Full stop. The bathroom is another conversation for another time. Don’t ruin the compliment.
  1. Don’t ruin the compliments you receive. When I get a compliment about a meal I prepared, for example, I often would deflect it with a “but,” such as “but the chicken is too dry.” Don’t diminish yourself and make the person giving you a compliment feel silly for doing so.
  1. And finally, consciously transform the “but” from “destructive” to “constructive.” “I hear that your teacher is a demanding perfectionist, but it’s going to make you up your game.” Or, “I don’t know how I can deal with this, but I know it’s going to make me stronger.” Use the “but” to focus on the positive aspect of a challenging situation.

If only the spies could have read this blog, Jewish history could have been completely different! Let us not make the same mistake in our lives, and instead, pay attention to the “but” and infuse our relationships with conscious kindness and create a legacy of positivity.

Internalize & Actualize

  1. Think about a recent argument you had. What could you have said differently that would have changed the outcome of that interaction? What can you say now to help rectify it? 
  1. Think about someone you are likely to criticize. Now write down five positive attributes or compliments you could give that person that would be sincere. This week say one of those compliments daily and then write down any changes you notice from that person.
  1. The way we talk to ourselves is just as critical as the way we talk to other people. Using the 3-5 compliment ration per criticism, write down something negative you often think or say to yourself. Then following that, write down 3-5 compliments you can give yourself (without a “but”) to help offset the damage from that negative statement.