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What you See Depends on Who You Are

December 28, 2018

“Moses, Moses!” – God.  “Here I am.” – Moses 


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 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 Torah, and the other, who committed one of the most heinous.    Moses, a man who served God, redeemed a nation and brought them freedom; Pharaoh, a “god” who served himself, committed genocide, and brought his people utter devastation.  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 of 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 of Joseph.”  It is patently impossible that any Egyptian ruler would not have known the history of his predecessor, who had invited the Jewish people to settle in Egypt in recognition for Joseph having saved them from famine, as well as enriching their coffers beyond imagination when the entire civilized world showed up on Egypt’s doorstep in need of grain.  It was, therefore, not a case of “not knowing;” but rather recreating a new historical/political narrative, which recast people who had been meaningful contributors to society, into a so-called threat to that very society. 


Interestingly, Rashi, the famous medieval Biblical commentator, says that it wasn’t a new ruler at all – it was the same Pharaoh as before, but with the death of Jacob, Joseph and all his brothers, Pharaoh felt free to shirk any sense of gratitude.  Free to create a new mindset – “Behold!” – Pharaoh now viewed the Jewish people as his enemy!   


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.  In order 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 the willful “not-knowing” a person’s good nature is an absolute relationship killer.   


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 some kind of consequence.   We come home late without a heads up and we blow away our upset partner for being “controlling.”  Our sense of time prevails; the thermostat is set at our comfort level, etc., since only our opinions or feelings are worthy of consideration. 


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 took off in 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 unusual about a common brush fire.  But Moses has 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 suffering, and when he observed a taskmaster 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.  We're usually in touch with our suffering, but seeing it in others is not so common.


But Moses had a history of “seeing,” and then taking acting on what he saw.  “I will turn aside now and look at this great sight – why will the bush not be burned?” At that moment, Moses had his famous encounter with God.  Significantly, God had not called out to Moses or tried to get his attention; rather, it was Moses’ “turning to look” – that caused God to notice Moses!    


The constant bombardment of news can numb us to distant events, and cause us to tune out to those close to home.    When we stand at our own crossroads, big and small, the decisions we make and the actions we take will lie somewhere on the spectrum of either of these mindsets.



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