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


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?


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

Intervew with Brené Brown



Shemot: The Who of Who You Are

Authenticity is the act of openly and courageously seeing what needs to be seen, saying what needs to be said, doing what needs to be done, and becoming that which you are intent on being.                    

Scott Edmund Miller

Like most children, I was taught that lying is bad. People can be cruel and merciless, however, while patting themselves on the back for their so-called “honesty.” Hence the term – “the brutal truth.” Honestly, sometimes “honesty” can be a tad overrated. On the other hand, lying, especially to ourselves, ensures that we never unlock potential – the potential of our relationships, the situations we find ourselves in, and especially ourselves.  

The Search For Authenticity

These days, many of us search for honesty in the form of “authenticity.” We want to be true to ourselves, and also let people into our private world, and allow them to see us for who we are. For those of us who have worn their personae well, perhaps for decades, the thought of dropping the mask and authentically connecting can be scary, yet exhilarating with the promise of a new paradigm. Embracing the vulnerability of connection is treading new water for many.                    

But just who are we anyway? Who is the who of who we are? And is honesty or authenticity always the best policy? Speaking personally, some aspects of my character are far from polished and in fact, are not so nice. Whether it’s my sarcastic, judgmental, or impatient self, I am pretty good sometimes– at being a little awful. For better or worse, these qualities show up as part of my “authentic self.” So, do I lift the curtain to reveal the “whole enchilada” me?  Is authenticity nothing more than a challenge to “take me as I am”?          

The Three Prongs of Authenticity

 Authenticity is not a be-all and end-all concept; rather it is three pronged (authenticity, integrity, and servant/leadership) that comprise a state of “wholeness.” Thus, “wholeness” is not a disconnected and self-centered state of being. It is a unifying force based on connection and interconnection. So while we can manifest and lead from any aspect of ourselves, even the negative ones – and still be within the parameters of “authenticity” – “wholeness” asks us not to do that.  Authenticity tells us to look within. But wholeness asks us to consider the bigger picture and the external impact we are choosing to make. Authenticity acknowledges multiple authentic and sometimes incompatible realities. Wholeness asks us to choose which of those realities we want to make operational in any given moment.       

In “Shemot,” Moses famously encounters the “Burning Bush:”

The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.  So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” (3:2-3)

Some commentators focus on the fact that it was a lowly thorn bush, thus emphasizing the attribute of “humility,” marveling that God would appear in something so inconsequential. Others interpret the “blazing fire that does not consume,” to mean that even when our enemies try to destroy, obliterate and burn us, the Jewish people will never be totally consumed by the fire of hatred.

Incompatible Realities

These views focus on one aspect or the other of the Burning Bush.  What I find most fascinating, however, is the paradox of it, the exquisite harmony of totally incompatible realities – a burning bush – that is not being consumed.  Walt Whitman said, “I contain multitudes.” And thus, we are all “burning bushes.” We all contain within us the paradox of multiple and incompatible realities that form one holistic whole. Said Parker Palmer, “In certain circumstances, truth is not found by splitting the world into either-or but by embracing it as both – and.”                                            

If you are only a bush or only fire, then you are acting from only one perspective, and you are missing the wholeness of being a “burning bush.” Some situations call for quiet humility and some for blazing fire. It is all one authentic you, but the point is to know when to be what, and how you can act from your highest self. It is the prong of integrity.

The Power Of Servant/Leadership

 Moses wanted to serve God and, at the same time, he was also terrified that he was not up to the task. He had two authentic selves going on, two choices to make. Moses embraced his fear, acknowledged its authentic truth and then acted from the self that wanted to serve God. That is when he stepped into his ultimate power as servant/leader.    

And so authenticity is not about being an open book.  Nor is it an excuse for causing pain and suffering to others. “Authenticity,” says author Scott Edmund Miller, “is the act of openly and courageously seeing what needs to be seen, saying what needs to be said, doing what needs to be done, and becoming that which you are intent on being.”                

 So be authentic. By all means, be who you are in your full paradoxical and multitudinous self. But remember, that in the who of who you are, there is always a choice. In your quest for authenticity be guided by integrity and be inspired by servant/leadership. Be mindful. Be kind. And be whole.

Internalize and Actualize:

1.Write down five descriptions of yourself that you know to be authentically true. Do you feel these descriptions are positive or negative? Underneath that list, write down five descriptions that others would have for you, based on how you ensure you appear and come across. Then write down which of the five you know to be true about yourself are others aware of. And of the five that others see, which are actually true representations of yourself.

Five authentically true descriptions: positive or negative?
Five descriptions others have of you:

  1. List the people that you feel you can be completely yourself with and who know the five authentic descriptions of yourself (don’t worry if this is only 1-2 people…or no one for that matter). If there is someone that you can be 100% yourself with, do they also find the descriptions you find negative as negative? If not, how do they see that quality as something positive or with positive potential?

People you are authentic with:
How they see your “negative” and authentic qualities:

  1. Ideally you will reach a point where you no longer hide what you consider authentic about yourself and what others think about you will likewise be authentic. Write down a few ways that you can start to integrate the two. For example, if others see you as strong and a “powerwoman” but you see yourself as insecure and sensitive, how can the two work together to benefit you? Are there times where showing your vulnerability would help others see that you are not perfect and respect your strength even more? Write down how you think it would make you feel to be more honest and authentic with others and not need to put on a front.

Ways to integrate what you know and what others think:
How will this make you feel (and after you have tried, how does this make you feel?