Posts Tagged 'Frankl'

Biblical Proportion: Making Meaning in Difficult Times

In these troubling times we find ourselves amidst a plague, governmental incompetence, and political unrest of biblical proportions. I find it hard not to connect to this week’s Jewish calendar and Torah portion in visceral ways. First we have the odds game with COVID-19 and the lots drawn on Purim sealing our fate as people. My family’s lack of patience waiting at home to leave voluntary quarantine and the Israelites’ impatience as Moshe to come down from Mt.Sinai. Moshe himself spending 40 days up on Mt. Sinai and the endless hours in the Zoom Cloud. In thinking about Ki Tisa, this week’s Torah portion, I am struck by  the interaction between God and Moshe after the GCI (Golden Calf Incident). 

While Moshe is up on Mt. Sinai getting the Ten Commandments the people are below sinning with the Golden Calf. Moshe comes down from Mt. Sinai and deals with his people.  And then we  read,

31 And Moshe returned unto the Lord, and said: ‘Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them a god of gold. 32 Yet now, if You will forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray of You, out of Your book which You have written.’ 33 And the Lord said unto Moshe: ‘Whosoever has sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book. (Exodus 32: 31-33)

If God does not keep God’s promise to the Israelites, Moshe asks to be erased. While Avraham confronted God at his destruction of Sodom, Moshe pulls off the ultimate Keyser Söze. As imperfect as they are, Moshe puts himself on the line and casts his lot with the people of Israel. One compelling reading is the Moshe breaks the fourth wall sharing with us the reader his consciousness of being the protagonist of our story ( see Stranger Than Fiction). 

Another understanding of this is that Moshe was opting into a life of meaning with his people and with there narrative. As Viktor Frankl said, “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.” Moshe is modeling for us what it means to opt into a life of meaning and allowing his narrative and our collective narrative to be one. In so doing, Moshe is the model for living a life of biblical proportion. Like Moshe, we can read ourselves into the narrative we can share our suffering and add meaning to our lives. 

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Eventually COVID-19 will pass and we will leave this quarantine. The next time I see a person wearing a mask I will just think of Moshe  descending Mt Sinai with his radiant face having to cover his face with a veil(Exodus 34:33). I cannot be the only one living a life of biblical proportion.

Rewriting Bites

In Chukkat, this week’s Torah portion, we learn that the nation of Israel was being killed by a plague of Snakes. The came to Moses to beg for the snakes to be taken away. There we read:

8 And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Make a  fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he see it, shall live.’ 9 And Moses made a nachash nechoshet– bronze snake, and set it upon the pole; and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of bronze, he lived. (Numbers 21:8- 9)

What is going on here with this this bronze snake? What is this magic?

In the Mishna in Rosh Hashanah 29a, we learn that it was not magic that saved them from the venom of the snakes.  The Mishna asserts that it was not the bronze snake that healed the Israelites, but rather their looking up and seeing the snake and submitting themselves to God that saved them.  The snake was just the inspiration. The Mishna explains that it was not magic and the reason the object was set high on a pole. But it still the Mishna does not explain why a snake.  Understandably, they asked  Moses to intercede and to get  God  to “take away the serpents”, the snakes were killing them. Why is it that  the cure came in the same form as the poison?

The exercise is not to remove the snakes that are killing the people, but rather to have them see the snakes in a new way. The Lubavitcher Rebbe used to say that the essential meaning of a word in the Bible comes from its first use. Where did we meet the nachash first? We first meet the snake in the Garden of Eden when it tempted Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. So while they might succumb and die as animals in the desert Moses was asking the people of Israel to see their creative divinity and be inspires beyond the limits of their animal beings. When we ate of the Tree of Knowledge humanity tasted the fruit of having to determine right and wrong for ourselves. We became mortal but also moral creatures. It would not have been enough to remove the snakes, they needed to rewrite their own story. They needed to return to Eden and see how the story would end this time around. In the moment of being inspired by God they return to the Garden. For a moment they are immortal and the venom of the snakes have no consequence.

Many times I have reflected on if choices I have made when I was younger. I believe that everything happens for a reason and with the duration of time we have the chance to reconnect and recommit ourselves. We always have a choice how to experience life.  ( See Victor Frankl here) Can you have a Gan Eden without the Nachash? There needs to be some real work in this process. It is tempting to imagine getting the results without the sting of the bite, but it cannot be so easy. The snake needs to be the cure.  There is going to be some discomfort, but we can rewrite our stories. And when we rewrite these stories, it is never “what if” but what next.  We all need to keep our heads up and keep our eyes on the prize of trying to get back to being the best people we can be.


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