The Road We Must Travel – Parshat Va’eira


Our mistakes and regrets are not barriers to becoming who we can be; they are a necessary ingredient.”  – David Schnarch

Thanks, But I’d Rather Own My Stuff

In the middle of writing this blog, I was solicited to purchase an expensive business development course, which promised to create a quantum leap in my coaching practice. When I admitted disappointment with certain aspects of coaching, the voice on the phone was quick to point out, “It’s not your fault.” No doubt, “the voice” was trained to say this, to establish a sympathetic connection, hoping I would be sobbing in grateful relief as I reached for my credit card. Instead, I bristled at the very idea. Buddy, I thought, of course, it’s my fault! Whose fault should it be? Should I blame my clients? My childhood? The universe? Because if it’s not my fault, then how in the world can I ever fix it? When we outsource the blame for a problem, then we are outsourcing the solution as well. And when we give up agency, the ability to make choices and see the causal relationship between our actions and outcomes, we undermine one of the highest faculties of being a human being.

The Jewish Journey – Leaving Home

The first directive God gave Abraham was an eviction notice: “Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Abraham’s journey was not merely physical but spiritual, where he had to transcend his external and internal influences and limitations, to awaken to a higher level of spirituality. In going from Haran, he left a place of constriction, but also everything that was known and familiar to him, to brave the unknown to journey to the Promised Land, where he would fulfill his destiny and relationship with God in a whole new way.

God also tells Abraham that in the future, the Jewish people will be oppressed as slaves for hundreds of years in an alien land, but that ultimately we would leave that land with great wealth. Ironically, Abraham’s first footstep of freedom set in motion events that would eventually cause the Jewish nation to become enslaved.

Coming Home

In Va’eira, we begin the process the most celebrated eviction in history, the Exodus from Egypt. Just like Abraham’s journey occurred in stages, God tells Moses that He will redeem the Jewish people in four steps: “I shall take you out from under the burdens. I shall rescue you. I shall redeem you. I shall take you to Me for a people.” The Hebrew word for Egypt, “Mitzrayim” means “narrowness” and “constriction.” Thus, the formula for growth is the willingness to leave a mindset or place of limitation to which you are attached. So here, on a national level, the Jewish people had to leave the place of bondage, which was all they knew, to brave the unknown in their journey towards the Promised Land, where they would awaken to their collective spiritual mission of establishing a loving relationship with God connected through Torah.  

What We can’t Control – God’s Business

When God took us out of Egypt, the Jewish people were at the penultimate depth of spirituality. Any further descent and redemption would have been untenable. If the endgame here was for us to become “God’s people,” then God intervened at the last possible moment before that kind of connection would no longer be feasible. The matter was urgent, and God wasn’t waiting for the Jewish people to work on themselves. If that was “The Plan” all along, however, both in becoming slaves and then being freed on God’s cosmic timetable, then we were passive entities on both ends of the stick. Where does that leave the Jewish people regarding personal responsibility and agency?

What We Can Control – Our Business

Many Jews have the daily custom of reciting the “Six Remembrances,” one of which is to remember for the rest of our days, the day that we left Egypt. And tradition tells us that in the future, the Final Redemption will be similar to the story of the Exodus. In the meantime, however, don’t count on God to airlift you out of your mess. In our daily morning blessings, we specifically thank God for not having created us a slave. And so every day is an invitation to look at our lives right now. If I am attached to my bad habits, if I refuse to admit that my behavior is problematic, and I defend my unexamined stories, then my relationships are going to suffer. Since my wellbeing depends primarily on the quality of my relationships, then my life as a whole is compromised. God didn’t create me this way; I enslaved myself.   But that’s OK; if I created my mess, then I can fix it.  

Relationships – People Growing Machines

In the beginning, God said that it was not good for man to be alone; thus we are created to exist in relationship. As a matter of fact, without connection, we don’t even exist, as all existence is contingent on there being a second something. Only God is a unity; we live in the space of relationship that exists between us and everything and everyone else. And so it’s more than just the quality of your life that depends on the quality of your relationships – you are the quality of your relationships.    

The Journey of the Heart

The willingness to break free of what enslaves us and to brave the wilderness of new possibility is to undertake the most magnificent journey of them all – the journey of the heart. Redemption is a process – a difficult and challenging one. Most of us are more comfortable with the devil that we know, and so even if we are suffering, we are surprisingly resistant to change. The challenges and tests we face in our relationships are nothing more than a reflection of who we are. When we stop defending positions, we can start to open our hearts, and by owing our stuff, we can let it go. Before we can leave Egypt, we have to be willing to go. But it’s so worth it. The Promised Land is love. You can go home.


Va’eira: Why Making Redemption a Daily Habit is Good for You

imagesOne sure way to make people avoid you is if you continue to live in the past and refuse to move on from a painful experience. Catching a cheating spouse will certainly garner sympathy, for example, but if it’s been years and the infidelity is still an on-going complaint, your circle of friends may whittle down to like-minded whiners. Even the Book of Ecclesiastes (3:1) urges us to move on. “To everything, there is a seasoncan be seen as a Biblical exhortation to “go with the flow.”  

Many Jews, however, recite daily the “Six Remembrances,” one of which is to “remember the day when you went out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:3).   For starters, I already have enough on my plate in the morning. Besides, we do this anyway at great length during the Passover Seder – so why ruminate about it daily?

In Va’eira, God tells Moses the four ways that He will redeem the Jewish people. So redemption is not a one-step process. Exiting the narrow spiritual confines of Egypt paves the way to go towards the expansiveness of connection and service to God.   Leaving negativity is not an end unto itself but a precursor to embracing positivity.

Nor is redemption a once and done event but rather an inquiry and reflection into the false mental constructs that enslave us for our entire lives. If you are having trouble making the positive changes you want for yourself and your relationships, it may pay to look at each component of the 4-step redemptive process as described in Va’eira:

  • I shall take you out from under the burdens.”

Commit to Stopping.

This refers to God stopping the hard labor. While the Ten Plagues occurred over a period of time, before the Jews leaving Egypt, the physical burden of slavery came to an end.

Select a negative behavior you want to shift that is challenging but doable. State your goal in the positive. For example, instead of saying you want to stop yelling at your kids, you would say that you want to show more patience and love. And you have to genuinely full-out commit to stopping the unwanted behavior and not repeating it. (Of course you won’t be 100% perfect, but you can’t merely be paying lip service to this and expect it to be effective.)

If you find yourself, however, unable to stop repeating old patterns, honestly check whether you have placed a high enough value on the change you want to see. How important it is and what would be possible for you and your relationships if the troublesome issue were handled? What could you “be” “do” or “have” in your life if you made this change? How would you feel? Take the time to imagine this as being real for you.

  • “I shall rescue you.

Avoid temptation and come up with an if/then strategy.

This refers to God taking us out of the very land of Egypt.

If you can avoid the place or circumstances that tempt you, you should. Weight Watchers has a great saying to help people avoid buying groceries that contain forbidden food items – “Don’t bring your enemies home with you.” But seriously, the key to adopting any new behavior is having a strategy for dealing with what inevitably gets in the way. Take time to think about the obstacles that trip you up – both externally and internally? Think about the ways you give yourself permission not to honor your goals, and how you justify yourself. And then make a plan, such as – if that thing happens to you to derail you, then what will you do or say to yourself overcome it?

  • I shall redeem you.”

Look under the hood.

This refers to the deeper levels of our mental schema. It’s one thing to take a Jew out of Egypt but quite another to take Egypt out of the Jew. The Jewish people had to be rebuilt from the ground up, to unlearn the internal constructs of slavery, “upgrade their operating system” and to understand what it means to be truly holy.

“Fake it till you make it” is a methodology whereby if you keep doing something externally, eventually it will become a valid internal reality. I’ve never had much luck with that. If you are having real difficulty in realizing your goals, you may need to get to the root of the hidden beliefs and the fears that are blocking you. Unless you tune into the whispers of your inner voices, you can get very frustrated and not even know why. So having trouble with making a positive change doesn’t mean you are a loser or incapable of change, but that you need to figure it out, and I stand for the proposition that it’s all figureouttable.

  • I shall take you to Me for a people.”

Step into your higher purpose.

If you saw the movie The Matrix, when the humans finally won the war against the machines, they all broke out into a frenzied delirium of physical gratification. And then what was supposed to happen?   Freedom is not the same as a free-for-all. God’s purpose in taking us out of Egypt was to give us the Torah and create a new relationship between man and God.

On my desk sits a framed quote by Thoreau: “Be not simply good; be good for something.” As you incorporate a new positive change in your life, it’s not a stand-alone idea. If your goal was to be more loving in a relationship, then see how many different ways you can make a person feel cherished by you. Look for the means to broaden and share your process and purpose. Allow it to evolve into higher and higher goals. Create a vision. Live with purpose. Make a difference.