Step into the Light of your true self

The beginning of the Book of Exodus, parashat Sh’mot, begins the returning path of uncertainty for our people: the descent into slavery, not knowing when or how it will end; entering the desert, not knowing where the journey will lead or how it will resolve.  As well right now in my own life, I am in a state of flux, a surreal moment as to how my upcoming medical issues will turn out or resolve.  I can only hope and pray that I am on a path to something greater by moving, than by just staying where I am.

Here are the helpful lessons that I have gleaned from this week’s parasha, to get through the crises of our lives.

  1. Fear causes us to act foolishly. [Exodus 1:9-10 – “And Pharaoh said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us.  Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.’”] Let go of the fears that hold you back, that paralyze and bring on unwise and reckless judgment.
  2. Do everything to safeguard what is important to you. [Exodus 2:3 – “When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile.”] Moses’ mother love for her son and worry for his safety were her motivation, without any knowledge of how the events of their lives would unfold. Yet, we would not be here centuries later without her simple act of love. Every act has a liberating potential of which we may be yet unaware.
  3. Stand up for those around you, closest to you, in need.  The size or magnitude of the need is not important; your connection to the person is what matters. [Exodus 2:12 – “He – Moses – turned this way and that, and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”]. Moses came to the defense of that Hebrew slave being beaten – someone he did not know, but who clearly existed in the human strata of his daily world.  As Jews, we speak out, we stand up, we act; it is in our DNA, like Moses.  Start small, with what you encounter every day, with the people around you. Bring compassion, heal their suffering – with this, you will bring healing to yourself.
  4. Everywhere you stand may be hallowed ground. [Exodus 3:5 – “And God said, ‘Do not come closer! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground!’”]. Remove your shoes – remove the barriers to connectedness, put aside that which obstructs the potential flow of love and holiness in your life. Even in the wilderness, even while tending sheep, even while at the grocery store, even in the carpool line, be ready.  God shows up when we are ready.
  5. Embrace your true self. [Exodus 4:11-12 – “And the Eternal One said to Moses, ‘Who gives humans speech? Who makes them dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Eternal? Now go, and I will be with you as you speak and will instruct you what to say.’”]. We each have gifts; our limitations are also our strengths.  For Moses, what he believed to his limitations of speech made him inquisitive and humble.  How can your perceived limitations bring you strength in time of need?
  6. Despair is easier than faith.  Be faithful anyway. This portion is replete with moments of despair and doubt from Moses – about his own capabilities, about the path he should take, about what he sees transpiring in front of him.  He has to learn to look past the moment into eternity.  Too often, despair beckons us, tempting us with her deceivingly comforting arms.  It is a place of false comfort, for it doesn’t embrace the potential in each new moment.  Don’t give in to despair or fear – dive in to living.

May the Source of Life, God’s presence that that makes for healing, bring blessing to all who are in crisis, be it spiritual or physical, spreading a canopy of strength and courage, hope and faith, compassion and peace.

 

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“Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht – We plan; God laughs.”

[On Parashat Vayigash]

How often do you hear someone say, in the face of some difficulty, challenge or crisis, that ‘it is all part of God’s plan, so I accept it.’?

This week in Torah, we find that is exactly Joseph’s sentiment. Genesis 45:4-5 reads “Joseph then went on to say to his brothers, ‘Come, draw near to me!’ so they drew near. He said, ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold to Egypt. And now, don’t be troubled; don’t be chagrined because you sold me here, for it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.’”  Joseph repeats this assertion two more times, in verses 7 and 8.

Can that really be what Joseph believes?  Is it just easier for us to put difficult things aside citing God’s plan for us, or is it a deeply comfortable belief that supports our faith?

I struggle with the notion that God has a particular plan for me, day by day. I believe that rather, what is important is what I do with what happens to me, how I respond. There is a measure of randomness in the circumstances of the world; I do not believe in a God that has either the time or the inclination to set everyone’s plan, day by day, minute by minute.  Don’t I have a hand in my own life? This paradox was captured centuries ago by Rabbi Akiba: “All is foreseen, yet [free] will is given.” (Pirkei Avot, 3:15).

I have been silent on this blog for a few weeks now, dealing with health issues and pain – ones that have kept me from work, from interacting at my best with those I love, from clarity of mind and from purpose of spirit.  I have been living a minimal life these last weeks, supported by family and friends, just trying to get by each day, through each minute.  Each year, I have accompanied Joseph in these weeks of Torah as difficulties befall him; he finds ways to live with what happens to him, to take hold of it and to transform it. That is my inspiration now.

These health challenges are not God’s plan for me. There is, though a bigger picture that I must look at, even as I take hold of my life, and act with free will in response to what happens to me. I am more than any one thing that happens to me. The question I ask isn’t ‘Why did God plan this for me?” but rather, “Where is God in this with me?” I just have to be open to God’s presence with me; I know am not alone.