Tuesday, June 16, 2009

From Super-hero to Villain

"Every super-hero either dies doing his job or lives long enough to become (in the eyes of the people) the villain himself" (Batman;the Movie).

The Jewish people have never had a super-hero greater than Moshe. He was the leader who redeemed us from our bondage and led us through the great wilderness to the promised land.
More still, he won G-d's forgiveness for us over and over when we faced destruction for our sins.
Yet he too lived long enough to become a villain in the eyes of the people.

The Parsha of Korach is startling. Here a band of men challenge Moshe's right to lead. As absurd as that is, jealousy can cause men to do the absurd. The ego often over-powers reason.
But how do we explain that the people of Israel witnessed Korach's mutiny and remained passive. No one came to Moshe's defence. And what's worse, after a miracle that saw Korach and all his entourage destroyed rather than acknowledge Moshe's authority, the people come to Moshe and complain "atem hameetem et am Hashem"..."You have caused the deaths of the people of G-d".

Is it any wonder that Hashem wanted to destroy the whole nation for the rebellion of Korach. Not because they participated but because they remained silent. They stood-by and watched as Moshe who had saved them over and over was left to his fate. And ironically even here, G-d would have destroyed them had not Moshe, the very same Moshe they chose not to defend , pleaded for G-d to spare them.

How is it that the people could be so silent when their leader was at risk? Where is the gratitude?
Was their no sense of loyalty?

The answer I believe is that our relationship with authority is always conflicted. On the one hand we are grateful for all they do for us. We need them. We often cannot make it without them. They are our symbolic parents, helping us to cross-over through passages we could not otherwise navigate.

Yet we also resent them, not so much for who they are but because they remind us of our our limitations. The very fact that they help us means we need their help. That we need their help reminds us of our own vulnerability.

The young child may not resent his/her parent. But as s/he strives towards independence everything the parent does for the child engenders mixed feelings, whether acknowledged or not. On the one hand the maturing child is grateful for that received. On the other s/he is resentful that s/he remains as yet dependent on another.

Parents often do not understand that dynamic. They are surprised when a child seems ungrateful. They often will not let the child express ambivalent feelings. Yet those feelings are both normal and appropriate. According to our Sages we even feel them toward our G-d. That is why we were placed on this earth... so we could earn the reward Hashem wants to give us rather than receive it as a cup of shame and be resentful.

Dependency breeds resentment. And no matter how good someone is to us...if we keep being the recipient of his/her kindness we will have a love/hate relationship with him/her.

That explains, though it does not excuse, the people's response to the threat to Moshe. Sure they loved Moshe. He did so much for them. They needed him. And yet that very need fostered an ambivalence. That they felt ambivalent was normal and to be expected. But they were adults, not adolescents..True, they had mixed feelings Yet they needed to rise above the feelings and act on Moshe's behalf. That they stood by and let the one who had saved them over and over feel alone and abandoned is unacceptable behavior. How much more so when they accused him of having been the source of the problem rather than its victim.

Its hard not to see the later challenge against Moshe as a poor attempt to cover-up their own sense of shame for their failure to support their leader by heaping blame on the victim. And parents too can often feel that sense of unfairness when not only is a child ungrateful but actually blames the parents for their problems...problems the parent is only trying to redress.

When we deny our feelings because of shame or fear we only tend to compound the problem and make things worse.

The story before us this week should not be foreign to us. All of us have felt similar feelings to those of the Jewish people in our own journey towards maturation. Most of us have also experienced the loneliness of Moshe, at least in part, in relationship to our children, if we are good parents and allow our children to be real.

We are complex creatures and our feelings are multi-layered and often conflictual.To be mature is to have the courage to recognize our feelings and those of others in all their complexity and contain them so we can choose how we react. Being mature is never about pretending not to feel.

Shabbat Shalom!

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