Thursday, November 29, 2012

Between Talent and Wisdom

Talent is the property of the young. Wisdom belongs to the mature.
Look at our world. The faces of the olympians are the faces of youth. Athletes after thirty decline. By forty they are over the hill. While the Rolling Stones may continue to perform fifty years later, no one would confuse them with their earlier incarnation. And why? Because when we are young we tend to live on the edges of our selves. We focus on our strengths and cultivate them. Our agenda is to tend the flames that burn within and to turn them into a raging fire. Youth celebrates idealism, single-mindedness. It is driven by a yearning for excellence. Is it any surprise it is so attractive?

As we age we surrender that focus on stoking the inner flame. We let go of our agenda to grow our strengths and talents. On the contrary we begin to concentrate on the neglected areas of our selves, the parts that have been in eclipse, the areas of our selves we know we will never excell in. Maturity is about reversing fields. Rather than living on our edges we instead live out of the center of our selves.
Our goal is no longer excellence but balance. Our work is one of integration. We make all of ourselve available to us. In wholeness we gain a new gift, one not available to us when we lived out of our strengths. While pursuit of wholeness is far less compelling and exciting than living on the edges and growing our strengths, the resultant blessing makes it worth the sacrifice. In maturation and integration we gain the gift of wisdom. Wisdom is always found in the center and in the balanced. Posessing wisdom does not win us gold medals. Wise people have few groupies. Yet wisdom wins us something more precious. In wisdom we gain respect, of both other and self.

Much of what I wrote above I learned through my journey. I found corroboration for these truths in the story told in this week's parsha of Vayishlach. Early in the reading we read of the dramatic rendezvous between Yaakov and Esav, twins who could not have been more polar. Yaakov had great fear that Esav would kill him over the stolen birthright. Esav made known years earlier that he planned to kill Yaakov after his parents died. Yaakov prepared himself for every eventuality including war. In the end the meeting between the brothers proved healing and peaceful. More than cordial, Esav and Yaakov embraced and kissed. It was as if there was some metamorphosis here in their relationship. How did this reconciliation come about?
Why the change in Esav's heart.

The Torah gives us one clue. Before Yaakov met Esav, indeed the very night before, Yaakov had no sleep. And why, because he spent the night wrestling with an 'ish', a "person" until the dawn. In the words of the Torah

"And Yaakov was left alone. And an "ish" wrestled with him
until the dawn. And he saw that he could not overwhelm him
and he said "let me go for the dawn has come". And yaakov said.
"I will not send you until you bless me"...."

The story of Yaakov wrestling with the "ish" is one of the most compelling stories in the Torah. Who was the "ish"? Was he angel or human?, real or imagined? And what is the wrestling about? And why the blessing? And how does the night time struggle effect the outcome of Yaakov's rendevous with Esav?"

There are many interpretations to this story. No doubt the Torah left it ambiguous so we could find what we need to in the drama, for ourselves.
In keeping with the focus of the blog, "The Torah and the Self", I want to explore the story for what it has to say to us in the context of our life and journey.
Let make this personal.

We need first to understand Yaakov and his issues with Esav, and indeed with himself.
We know Yaakov and Esav were polar opposites. Though twins, they looked different. Yaakov was smooth, Esav hairy. As they grew, Esav became the outdoorsman and hunter. Yaakov was reclusive and studious. Esav was close to his father. Yaakov his mother. At first glance no two people could seem more disparate.

Yet is that really so? Were Yaakov and Esav totally other? I think not. Yaakov's name derived from the fact that when born he was holding the heel of his brother Esav. When Yaakov gets his father's blessings he is wearing the clothes of Esav and coming disguised in his identity. And the name Yaakov means heel. Whose heal? Esav's, because Yaakov was clutching it at birth. Esav's heel is Yaakov's name-identity!

No I think Esav and Yaakov had much more in common than we recognize. What separated Yaakov from Esav is that each developed a different talent. The strength of the one was the weakness of the other. In our youth we focus on developing our talents. We live out of the edges of ourselves. Yaakov had an Esav inside. But his focus was to cultivate his excellence. Yaakov denied the earthiness of Esav within inorder to become a genius in the world of the spiritual. Indeed when Yaakov has to meet up with Esav all those years later Yaakov is afraid not only of the distance between them but of the closeness. Yaakov had denied his earthy side through so much of his life. Even when he became wealthy and prosperous in the home of Lavan it is clear that he derived no pleasure from his new found bounty. Yaakov worked day and night,
even as we read in the reading of last week. He suffered in the cold of winter and in the heat of summer tending the sheep himself.

Yaakov's excellence was in realizing himself and his G-d through abstinence. He was the one who the Torah called a "yoshaiv ohalim", "a tent dweller", rather than someone who lived in comfort. Esav represented a different idea. His way to excellence(though never attained) was through the earth, through indulgence. Yaakov had that in himself too. If he did not he could not have claimed the blessings intended for Esav.
Yet Yaakov was afraid of the Esav in him, the part of himself that was like his brother. Yaakov prayed to G-d prior to his encounter with Esav "Save me please from my brother from Esav". Its not only Esav he fears, but his "brother".

And this is the meaning of Yaakov's encounter with the "ish". With whom was Yaakov wrestling. They way I see it Yaakov was engaged with his other self, the Esav within. Before Yaakov could come to terms with his brother in the flesh he had to come to terms with the 'brother' within himself. He had to confront what Carl Jung called his 'shadow'. Wrestling and hugging look very much the same to the outsider.
They reflect intimacy, one is an intimacy designed to subdue the other an intimacy to embrace. Yaakov's 'wrestling' was an intimate encounter with the ideas he had repressed. It is intimate. It feels threatening. It compels one to face aspects of self previously denied. In being intimate with the Esav within throught the long night Yaakov comes to see that he need not flee the earthiness within.
He can embrace it and utilize it too in realizing the good and the G-dly.

The result of Yaakov's intimacy with his shadow is that he is now whole and complete. He now can live accessing all of himself not only the part of himself that is purely of the spirit. He no longer has to be afraid of Esav and what he represents. He can embrace Esav and indeed he does since he need not fear the power of the earthy as threatening.

But there is also a negative consequence, at least as compared to Yaakov prior to now becoming whole and integrated. Before Yaakov, in his one dimensional lifestyle, could sprint. He had acknowledged no complexity to hold him back. After his encounter with the Esav within, his shadow, Yaakov now limps. He needs time to process the self he has become, one whole in containing both the spirit and the earth. This is the meaning of the wound Yaakov sustains in his upper thigh as a result of the struggle.

When Yaakov and Esav finally meet they can now achieve a real reconciliation. Yaakov is able to accept Esav and his talents even as he now accepts himself in his fullness.

And the Torah gives voice to my understanding of this powerful time of becoming in Yaakov's life when it tells us that after leaving Esav "And Yaakov came to Sukkot and there he built a house..." Yaakov, whom the Torah called "dweller of tents" now for the first time builds a house. Yaakov no longer needs to separate from the world of the material. He can embrace it as part of who he is in hisi service to G-d and man. And soon after the Torah tells us "And Yaakov came 'shalem', whole, to the city of Shechem..." For the first time, now that he has faced his shadow Yaakov is whole, complete,integrated, wise!

Integration, becoming whole, is the work of a lifetime. It happens bit by bit. Early in our life we are so busy trying to develop our gifts and the parts of our self we like that we virtually deny anything other as threatening. Yet as we mature we discover that our life is not about getting rid of our less interesting or flattering side, but rather about bringing it into the light so it may live side by side with the part of ourselves we have celebrated and endorsed.

What parts of me do I need to wrestle/embrace to become whole? What parts of you do you need to bring out of the shadow and into the light?
In the end, talent is not enough. Our life's journey is about attaining wisdom. Wisdom is always found in the center; not on the edges.
We are wise when we become balanced, and whole, and fully ourselves!

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

From Generation to Generation

One of the tragic characters in the Torah is our father Yaakov's first born, Reuven.
In the parsha of Vayetze we read of his birth. We also get a clue as to the root of the issues that would later comrpomise him. Why do I refer to Reuven as tragic and compromised?

It seems every effort he took, though motivated by good intentions, was either wrong or failed or both. When the brothers decided to murder Yosef it was Reuvan who told them, "no put him in the pit". He hoped to later go back and rescue him. Indeed he came back, but Yosef was already gone, sold into slavery in Egypt. Prior to that it was Reuven who earned his father's ire when he switched the marital bed, so that Yaakov would sleep with his mother Leah after Rachel's death and not with Bilha, another wife. And after when the family was suffering with famine and Yaakov did not want to send Binyamin down to Egypt for fear he too would be lost, Reuven begged Yaakov to let them go. He took responsibilty saying "Put my two sons to death if I do not return Binyamin to you".
While well intentioned, the guarantee was more fool hardy than persuasive.
The result of Reuven's failings cost him the extra portion that routinely belonged to the first born. It went to Yosef instead.

What is the root of Reuven's failings? Why did he not measure up?

The answer can be gleaned from a vignette give to us in the week's reading.
The Torah tells us that Reuven found beautiful flowers in the field, 'dudaim', translated as mandrakes. He brought them home to his mother Leah. Rachel saw the gift Reuven brought his mother and envied her. She asked for the flowers.
Rachel's request infuriated Leah. She said "is it not enough you took my husband, now you want my son's flowers too!" They came to an agreement. Rachel got the flowers. Leah got to sleep with Yaakov that night.

Lets look at the story a minute from Reuven's vantage point. Reuven was a child, no more than 4 at the time. He brought his mother flowers, and why? He saw her sadness, the rejecttion she felt that her husband did not love her. He was a first born. He wanted to protect his mother, bring her happiness. Many first borns in families where mother's are suffering at the hands of their husbands become the mother's protector. Later it was Reuven who switched the marital bed after Rachel died. There too he was seeking to defend the honor of his mother. He was offended for her that his father would make his regular domicile with Bilha, a former slave girl over Leah, his mother.

Yet what does Leah do with Reuvan's flowers. Rather than cherish them as the gift of her oldest son she barters them for an extra night with her husband. She gives them away! What feelings would you imagine that engendered in Reuvan? What effect would that have had on his self esteem?

Reuvan gets stuck trying to fix what is unfixable. He desparately wants to make it right for his mother, for the family. Why? Because he himself needs a family intact so he might get the love he needs from his mother. Leah never seems able to focus on her children. She is too preoccupied trying to win her husband's affection. Unlike Sarah and Rivka, our earlier matriarchs, who named their children for something connected to the child himself, Leah named each and every child out of her own agenda.Each was seen merely as an instrument to win Yaakov's love. Even the chidren's names are not about them but about their mother's drama.
Leah is love starved. And Reuven's efforts to give her love of a different sort don't do it for Leah.

I will tell you a secret. We tend to see the story of the enmity of the brothers for Yosef as a result of Yaakov's favoritism of Yosef over his siblings. I am sure that had an effect. The Torah tells us so. The brothers were jealous. But if they would grown up with a healthier sense of self I don't believe the jealousy would have reached the level of hatred it did. No, it was not Yaakov's preference of Yosef alone that generated the tragedy of Yosef. It was that they were raised by a mother who was unable to love them sufficiently. Leah was profoundly wounded by her husband's rejection. She felt unloved. She was constantly in search of love. She had no love to give, or certainly not enough love. The brothers, never having gotten the love they needed from their mother and feeling less-than in the eyes of their father were indeed vulnerable to feelings of hate and jealousy.

Reuvan could not become who he was meant to become because he did not get the nurturing he needed in the critical years of his development. The psychic health of parents has a direct influence on the becoming of their children. It is true, some children grow up to become fully themselves despite the lacks in their growing-up years. But most, like Reuven, are forever affected.

It is too bad Leah did not have a therapist to go to to discuss her emotional pain or a very good friend. They might have told her to give up on her husband's love, that it will never come. They might have told her instead to love and draw sustenance from other loves, like that of her children. Moreover they might have helped her see that Yaakov's lack of love for her was not reflective of a character flaw in her. They might have helped her see that despite her sense of rejection she was both good and worthy.

There is much to think about here. But let us for now take this one truth as given us from the readings. We need to take care of our pyschic health even as we take care of our physical wellness. Our psychic health has a direct influence on the emotional well-being of our children. Unless we work through our own issues with our parents and in our families of origen they will likely be passed on, in one form or another, to the next generation.

That may not be a comforting thought...but it does not make it any less true!

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Struggle Delayed

Have you ever noticed that often just after a person crosses the finish line, having run with supreme effort and at times a great distance, he find he can no longer move? Have you ever known a person who struggled long and hard to reach a goal and, against great odds, to succeed, only to get sick and die immediately after?
What happens? How is it that someone has near super-human energy to meet a challenge, overcoming every obstacle in his/her path, only to collapse on the other side?

My morning chavruta, Shmuel, told me that many years ago he and a group of his friends decided to climb Massada. Not climb like you and I might, but in the spirit of the youth, they were determined to run up the snake path at full gallop. Indeed they did and they scaled the top in 18 minutes. Problem was that once there they never even made it past the turnstyle. They collapsed in the waiting room for the cable car and slept for the next two hours on the floor. Afterwards, still exhausted, they simply went down, never even visiting the historic site!

It is this phenomena that explains a troubling portion in this week's parsha of Toldot. In the course of the narrative we are told that Yitzchak has a strong conflict with Avimelech the Phillistine king of Grar. Yitzchak is thrown out from the town because of jealousy over his affluence. All the wells his father dug are filled by the Phillistines making them unusable. Yitzchak's sheperds are in constant struggle with the sheperds of Grar who claim any new found water belongs to them. Twice Yitzchak digs a new well only to see the ownership contested. On the third occasion, Yitzchak digs a new well without challenge. The Torah tells us " And Yitzchak called the place Rehovot, for now G-d has made expanse ("rohav") for us that we might prosper in the land." The Torah then tells us that Yitzchak moved on from there to settle in Beer Sheva.

It is there, in Beer Sheva that G-d appeared to Yitzchak in a dream and told him "I am the G-d of Avraham your father. Do not be afraid for I am with you and I will bless you and increase your children because of Avraham my servant."

Why does G-d suddenly appear to Yitzchak here? He had made promises to him a bit earlier, as the Torah told us, before he moved to Grar. Why again the promise of protection? The Ramban explains, G-d wanted to ease Yitzchak's fears. Yitzchak had been involved in some dangerous interplay with Avimelech. The prophesy was intended to reassure him.

But the question remains, why here? why now? It makes great sense that Yitzchak was in need of reassurance but he needed it when the conflict was raging. Then he was indeed in danger. Then at every turn he felt vulnerable. Yet G-d does not appear to Yitzchak in an expression of support until after the controversy has subsided.
The last well dug caused no strife. Moreover Yitzchak left the region and moved on.
Why does G-d wait to appear until post crisis. It seems a bit late!

The Torah is teaching us something important here. When we are in crisis, when we have a goal to achieve, a mission to accomplish we often drive ourselves and supress any obstacle that might interfere with our agenda. We push aside the dangers, the risks, the threats, no matter how real. We are single minded in doing what we must.
To the world outside we look brave and courageous, entirely unafraid. Yet that is not quite so. We are in fact much afraid. But we do not let the fear enter our psyche. We can't afford to.

It is only once we reach the goal, when we accomplish that which we must, when the crisis is over, that we begin to let the feelings supressed during the ordeal come to the surface. True, the mission has been accomplished. By all accounts we should feel now safe and secure. Yet in the aftermath of the ordeal it is the exact opoposite we feel. It is then we feel the vulnerability that has been sitting there inside all the while, yet put out of mind until now. It is then that the nightmares and sweats begin, only once the crisis has past. It is then that we most need support, care and attention.

The classic manifestation of this phenomena in our day is the story of the Holocaust survivor. While in the Camps s/he was focused on survival. Fear,anger, and grief had no place. They had to be surpressed. When freed the expectation was that these survivors would in short order be able to function. After all they overcame so much.
Now should be the easy time for them. No one anticipated that survival did not mean psychic well-being. No one realized that while the danger was no longer present, until the feelings suprsessed were processed fear and dread would remain, particularly in the night dreams of these victims.

This is the story of Yitzchak. G-d waited to appear to him until after the crisis was past. During the confrontation with Avimelech he did not need G-d's reassurance.
He was in survival mode, too busy fighting to feel. Only after, now that Yitzchak's ordeal was done, did he need support. The personal problems for life's combatants only begin after they leave the battlefield!

We need to take this to heart when caring for others. We need to know that often the other needs us much more after an ordeal than during. We need to know that just because someone looks like they have it together and in fact tell us they are coping quite well it does not mean they have no struggle. It only means their struggle is delayed! To be sure they will need us, only not right now!

And we need to recognize this truth even for ourselves. We may find that we have incredible strength to meet the challenges of life that confront us. At times, in moments of crisis, we can feel almost invincible. Yet we should not be surprised when post-challenge we feel a whoosh and sense of depletedness, perhaps sadness, fear, or despair. Truth is we never were invincible. We carried the feelings of vulnerability. We just kept them hidden, even from ourselves.

Self care, care for others, demands we not take things at face value. We need to know that the love we show ourselves and other after a crisis can be far more important than that shown before or during.

In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra, "Its not over til its over."

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Road to Comfort

In life for most of us there are losses that we never get over. Usually the loss we can not get past is one that we not only feel sad about, we also feel guilty.
When parents sustain the death of a child, while both parents grieve, it is more typically the mother who cannot reconcile to the reality of her child's death, and for long long years. Why? Why the mother more than the father? Because the mother feels it her responsibility to protect her child. She is the nurturer, the one who is meant to safeguard her young. For her there is not only the deep and painful sadness, there is also a sense of guilt, even if often irrational, that she should have prevented his/her death. With time sadness usually becomes less oppresive.
Guilt never goes away!

It is for this reason Yaakov, our father, could never reconcile himself to the presumed death of Yosef, even after 22 years. Yaakov was a man of faith. Hhow is it he could not accept the will of G-d relative to his son and rise up from his mourning? The answer is, Yaakov had not only the sadness over the presumed death of his beloved son. Yaakov felt guilty for having sent Yosef out on the mission to seek out his brothers, a mission that to the best of his knowledge, brought on Yosef's death at the hands of a wild beast. The guilt he could not get past even after 22 years!

This reality also shows up in the Torah reading of this week, that of Chayai Sarah. The bulk of the parsha, after initially telling us of the death of Sarah and her burial, shares the story of the finding of a wife for Yitzchak. Yitzchak was 40 when he married Rivka. His mother had died at least 3 years earlier. Yet the Torah tells us that when Eliezer, Avraham's servant brought back Rivka to Yitzchak for a wife " And he took her for a wife and he loved her. And Yitzchak was comforted on the death of his mother."

Why did Yitzchak need comfort? Sarah died years ago. He was not boy at the time. To still be in need of comfort and grieving three years later is most surprising.
And if he was still grieving how did Rivka and their marriage bring him comfort?

Here too I think we need to consider the story of Sarah's death, at least as told in the Medrash. According to tradition Sarah died when she learned that Avraham had taken Yitzchak to Mount Moriah for the offering. She had a fatal heart attack thinking Yitzchak, her only son was about to be slaughtered. If we understand the death of Sarah in that way it is not surprising Yitzchak struggled to get past his loss. It was not the sadness over her absence he could not accept. It was the guilt he felt that he was in some way the cause of his mother's demise. Had his drama not been, his mother would not have died or at least not in so awful a manner, alone and in shock!

Okay, so now we know that grief and guilt are a toxic combination that can easily leave us unable to escape. How do we come to terms? Is there no relief? Are we who feel guilty over a loss condemned to a life of unending sorrow and despair?

The Torah in the story of Yitzchak tells us how to get to the other side of grief even when that grief involves guilt. What brought comfort to Yitzchak? The love of Rivka! Yitzchak could not undo the past. He could not be convinced that he was not responsible for the sad story of his mother's end. No, trying to talk someone out of guilt, especially when it concerns one they love, is usually pointless. Yitzchak got past the guilt when he started to love another. It was the new loving initiative that brought him comfort. It's not that he forgot his mother and his sense of failure. It is that his investment in loving another changed his focus and gave him life, with his guilt.

The lesson here for us is so compelling. How many of us live with a brokenness because we were not there to comfort a loved one when they were dying?
How many a parent feels a heaviness that won't go away for harm done to a child, harm that is irreparable and engendered a loss of one sort or another? Who has not failed to prevent an occurrence that meant hurt to ones we love? How many of us live with the loss of a divorce and its consequence on a family. Even if we get over the sadness over the loss of our once intact family, how do we ever get over the sense of guilt? If we have lived and loved invariably we sustain not only loss but guilt. How do we heal?

We heal by doing as Yitzchak did, by investing in new loving relationships or by re-investing more profoundly in old ones. We cannot make the past better. Nor can we rationalize our disappointment in ourselves. What we can do is take the energy that brings us down and use it to care for and benifit another. Will that make us happy again?
I think not...not as we once were. Forever our life will be bitter sweet.
We will be healed but with scars that endure!

I wish there was a way to make the world perfect again, to have the means to return to the Garden of our youth. Sadly, the Garden gate if forever closed to us.
We can no longer know the pure happiness of a world lost.
But we can know meaning...and moments of joy. And that can be enough!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Distance and Change

This week, through our Torah portion of Vayaira, we spend a considerable amount of time with our Uncle Lot. You remember Lot. He was Avraham's nephew, son of his brother, whom Avraham virtually adopted as his ward when his brother died prematurely. Lot travelled with Avraham from Haran to Canaan. He lived in his illustrious uncle's shadow for many a year. Finally, last week we read, Lot achieved considerable wealth of his own, and he and Avraham decided to part ways. Lot settled in Sodom, the city of wanton corruption.
Even after their parting, Avraham needed to come to his nephew's rescue when he was taken captive in Sodom's defeat at the hands of the four kings.

This week again we meet Lot. Now he is living in Sodom, indeed a judge there and man of note. Problem was Sodom was about to be destroyed by G-d for it's wickedness.
Again Lot needed to be rescued. This time G-d sent angels to tell Lot to quickly get out of town. We read that Lot, thinking the angels were weary travellers, extended hospitality to them. The people of the town were enraged at Lot's act of welcoming the stranger. Lot sought to appease the mob that was banging on his door and clamouring for the strangers to come out and be abused, but to no avail. Only a miracle saved Lot from that pending catastrophe. Finally on being told to leave Sodom by the travellers, now revealed to Lot to be angels, Lot cannot convince his sons-in-law and married daughters to leave. They are swept up in Sodom's destruction. So too is Lot's wife, who after leaving the city looks back, and becomes a pillar of salt.

If that were not enough drama and loss, the Torah concludes its story of Lot with what happens in the aftermath of the devestation. Lot fled with his two daughters to a cave. They, the daughters, assumed the whole known world ended with the fires of Sodom, not just the immediate area. Rather than ask their father, they took matters into their own hands. They got Lot, their father, drunk on successive nights and slept with him inorder to get pregnant and start a new world. Each had a son from their father. Lot added the ultimate sense of disgrace to his awesome losses.
His tragedy was complete. He had now lost everything!

Okay so that's the story. Now I ask you what can we learn from it for ourselves? The Torah is telling us Lot's tale for a reason. Where can we find ourselves in the story? How does it speak to us? How are we like Lot?

I want to share with you how I experience Lot's powerful drama in a personal way.
How Lot speak's to me.

Let's understand Lot. To my way of thinking Lot lived much of his life as a junior Avraham. He was the side-kick, never the star. At some point Lot got tired of being a supporting cast member in his uncle's story. He wanted to make a mark of his own in the world. When he finally achieved the financial means and stature he moved out.
Yet Lot was influenced by Avraham. How could he not have been? Avraham was all about teaching the world of the one G-d and of ethics. Lot too wanted to be part of that mission but in a way even more outstanding.

Why did Lot pick Sodom to live in of all the available places in the region? Why? because he saw the potential of Sodom. It was a place of great beauty prior to the destruction and with fertile lands. Lot knew the city was evil. And that is precisely what attracted him. He was determined to save Sodom. He sought to do even better than Avraham. Lot expected to influence and change the seat of evil in the world. Lot would make a mark in the world indeed, one even his great uncle would be impressed by.

The problem was that Lot sought to influence Sodom by employing a strategy Avraham never used. Lot sought to become part of the community, to settle there, and change it from within. Avraham for all the good he did and influence he brought, never settled amongst the wrong-doers. He lived apart. Others came to him, or on occasion he travelled and had encounters on his journeys. Lot used a different tact. He joined the dwellers of Sodom. The Torah tells is that he sat with the elders at the gates of the city. The Torah also tells us that he became a judge. When the mob attacked his house Lot sought to appease them. He called them "my brothers".
Lot's strategy was to say "I will become one with them and they will see how good and moral I am and over time they will change."

Lot's approach was a tragic failure. Not only did it not save Sodom but it cost Lot his family, his possesions, his very honor. And what was the great mistake Lot made?
He assumed that you can influence and inspire people to change by being one with them. Not so! In order to have influence over others one needs to have distance from them. To care for them, of course. But not to join or be seen as exactly the same. Only when we hold ourselves apart can we command the respect enough to inspire the another to change.

Life shows me this truth again and again. The father will typically have greater impact on a child's way of life and personal conduct than a mother. It's not that the father loves more, or is closer to a child. On the contrary, the mother's love is often greater and she is often closer to her children. Yet precisely because she is so close she tends to have less influence of the direction of a child's life.
The distance of the father gives him the capacity to inspire change and correction.

We live in times where we celebrate informality and the breaking down
of any form of hierarchy. Parents allow their children to talk back to them and treat them as friends and even less. Teachers encourage students to call them by their first names. In the service of relationship they are willing to surrender respect. No one feels shame anymore before authority. Everyone is made the same, no matter their difference of age, wisdom, or experience.

The price we pay for this familiarity is that we have no mentors. We have so few who inspire us, who motivate us to change. The world is full of Lots, tragic figures who want to make a difference but don't want to pay the price. Only the Avraham's of the world can really engender change, and for that you have to be willing to live, to some degree, apart, to create separation, to not be the same!

Please do not misunderstand. Avraham was welcoming, gracious and kind. He extended himself to others. The purpose of his life was to give. But Avraham knew that giving is meanningful and affirming precisely when it comes from another, not from a mirror of one's self.

We too should do and care and make it a central focus of our life. But that giving should not serve to confuse the relationship between us and the one's we care for.
Only when there is distance and a sense of respect can that which we say or do matter to another and inspire them to change.

Shabbat Shalom