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?
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kedoshim -Authentic Freedom

The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.

                          David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest

There is a difference between being “free” and having a “free-for-all”. Having left Egypt, the Jews were no longer slaves and were “free”. But what does freedom look like?The Egyptian Pharaoh was considered to be a “god.” He could enslave a nation, decree genocide, act outside of all reason, and he answered to no one. In being “free” to act with impunity, Pharaoh nevertheless brought widespread death and destruction to his country. So, is that what “freedom” looks like? If so, then really, what’s the point? Surely, it must mean something else.

A New Paradigm of Freedom

In liberating the Jewish people from slavery, God had to teach us what freedom – true freedom – looks like. Without a paradigm or model to go on, God had to teach us from the ground up. The kind of freedom God wanted us to embrace was a certain kind of freedom, the freedom of being “congruent”.

Being congruent means that the actions of your external self are consistent with the values of your internal being. Essentially, it means being authentic and true to yourself. The question is, however, as we can see from the example of Pharaoh, who was evil inside and out, is which self are we, and what kind of person do we want to authentically express?

Having been slaves in Egypt for over two hundred years, how could the newly- liberated Jew know what his or her real self was? How could a newly-freed slave understand his or her potential much less how to actualize it?

The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim”, which means “narrowness” or “constraint.” Leaving Egypt for the desert was going from a place of constricted boundaries to a place of no boundaries. To avoid the external chaos of a “free-for- all”, as well as the internal panic of being in a state of “free-fall”, God had to teach us what being a truly free human being looks like, and how to create our internal controls.   So the Jews had to learn both “how” to be as well as “what” to be.

One of the main themes of this week’s Torah portions, “Kedoshim”, deals with the laws of prohibited relationships. Previously, it was the laws of proper speech – what comes out of your mouth. Before that, it was the laws of kosher animals – what goes into your mouth. Laws, laws and more laws. It seems that there is no part of our lives, our relationships, our behaviors, even our bodies, which is not governed by Torah law.   That is because Judaism is an inside/outside religion.

So is this just a new form of slavery? After all, when we were slaves in Egypt, Pharaoh certainly controlled us.   In so doing, however, Pharaoh wanted to crush us, to break us down utterly. In total contrast, God wants to build us up, to cultivate our character so that we understand who we truly are – a holy people.

The Freedom to be Holy

 For us to be holy, however, we must be “whole”. We must be congruent. We must be holy both inside and out. In governing all of the myriad aspects of our lives, God is teaching us that Judaism is not compartmentalized, but is a seamless integrated holistic way of being.

Therefore, we can’t say – “This is for God, but that is not.” We can’t say, “Before, I was on God’s time, but now I am on my time.” We can’t say, “What I do or say over here matters, but over there it does not.” And we certainly can’t say, “Well, this is just business…”

And so whether it’s governing what we eat, how we speak, how we conduct business, how we treat others, how we conduct our intimate relationships, etc. etc. etc.… it ALL matters. In an integrated seamless holistic life, everything HAS to matter. And therefore, we can look at each law that God gives us as another nuance and refinement, another pathway and connection, to help us close the gap between the external being and the internal selves that represent our true godly essence.

When we were delivered from Egypt, we were given the gift of freedom. To stay, free, however, is another story. Staying free means embracing freedom as a responsibility to be earned, integrated and owned – in other words, being congruent. When we can do that, no one and nothing can ever enslave us again. And that is what freedom – true freedom – really looks like.

Things To Ponder:

  1. Is there some area of your life where you are not congruent? If so, what one step can you take to close the gap?
  2. When and how will you do it?
  3. Why is this important to you and what will be different in your life – and about you?
  4. How will you know when you are being more congruent?
  5. How will other people in your life know that you are being more congruent?
  6. How does having more congruence enlarge or empower you?