Thursday, June 6, 2013

When Day Becomes Night

Are you familiar with the psychological concept of Projection? In psycho-analytic theory often when we have within a feeling, a characteristic,or an attitude that we find unacceptable, rather than deal with it, we get rid of it by unconsciously projecting the feeling, charactaristic or attitude onto someone else. Projection causes us to actually see the feeling, charachtaristic or attitude in the other. And what's worse it causes us to totally deny it in ourselves.

In this week's parsha of Korach we have an extra-ordinary example of the deceptive power of projection. Korach, as you recall, lead a mutiny against Moshe. He charged that Moshe and Aharon usurped their authority by seizing power that did not rightfully belong to them.
Korach accused Moshe of egotism and self aggrandizement. Yet how can this be? The sages of the Talmud point out that Korach was a very smart man, and learned. If he wanted to find fault with Moshe maybe he could have said that he angered easily, or he was impatient, that he was too spiritual, too distant from the ordinary Israelite. While they would not have been true they could have some basis. But to say Moshe was arrogant? that he was egotistical? Nothing could have been further from the truth. The Torah told us in the portions prior that in the history of humankind none was as humble as Moshe. Humility was Moshe's singular excellence. How could Korach argue otherwise?
Little doubt Korach believed himself correct in his mutiny. How could someone wise and learned make such a huge error. It is as if he said day was night.

The answer is that indeed their was egoism at work here, and much arrogance. But it did not belong to Moshe, not at all. On the contrary, it belonged to Korach himself. Korach posessed a huge dose of self importance. But that was not the problem. Problem was not that Korach was arrogant. The problem was that Korach could not tolerate the grandiosity of his own ego. He could not tolerate his arrogance.
He had therefore to expel it, to project it onto Moshe. Korach then indeed saw Moshe as a man bent on self aggrandizement. He saw Moshe not for who Moshe was but as the product of his, Korach's, projection.

How could Korach have known that what he was seeing in Moshe was nothing more than projection, a reflection of himself?
You and I project onto others faults that don't belong to them more often than we know. We say to a friend, "Don't you see how petty or selfish or arrogant, or mean-spirited or whatever someone is". And often our friend doesn't experience the person we are talking about as having the negative traits we find so intolerable in them. We have to work hard to convince our friend that the other is so seriously flawed. Could it be that our view of that other is indeed based on projection and our labelling of them is entirely unfair?
How would we know if what I see in the other is them or a reflection of me? How can I be sure that I am not as blind to reality as Korach?

But lets move one step deeper. In the aftermath of Korach's death and those of his 250 followers the People complained against Moshe saying "You have brought about the death of the people of G-d". This a puzzling turn of events. Moshe seemed only to respond to the mutiny. He was a victim. Yet the nation complained as if he was responsible for G-d killing Korach's horde.
Some of the commentators point out that the People had a gripe here. True Korach's rebellion had to be quelled. But the test of the 250 who brought their firepans with incense was devised by Moshe at least as it appears in the text. Those 250 did not necessarily want to undo the leadership of Moshe and Aharon as was Korach's intent. In tradition they were first born who wanted to also serve in the Temple.
It was Moshe who reacted to them very strongly and brought about their immediate demise.
Indeed Moshe was in some way responsible for the death of the nation of Hashem as charged.

And we might ask why? Throughout the wilderness journey Moshe showed incredible tolerance for the nation's foilbles. Over and over he prayed that the sinners be spared if at all possible. Why here does Moshe act with what seems like harshness and call for the death of the 250 men.

Here too we might well make use of psycho-analytic theory to help us understand Moshe's dynamics. There is a follow-up concept to Projection and it's called Projective Identification. The theory argues that when someone projects onto another certain character traits and behaviors that don't naturally belong to them, the projection itself has an influence on the recepient and s/he will often start to act in concert with the projection. What that means here is that while Korach's challenge to Moshe was entirely baseless and purely a matter of his projection, once Moshe is seen by Korach in that way unconsciously Moshe is more likely to exhibit behavior consistent with the projection. In accord with the theory Moshe here might well have acted out of character and called for justice when he might normally have been more self-effacing, because of Korach's projection.

What does that mean for you and me?

Have you ever heard people who say they only want to be around positive people, that they avoid those with negative energy?
It makes much sense. Positive people emit projections that invite me to be my best. They see the good in me, the possible, the hope.
In projecting the positive in me and in others they bring out the good even if its not actually there. If I want to become the person of their projections, though I don't yet have it inside, it becomes that much more possible. On the other hand those who project negativity will project the same bad vibes on me. I am likely to pick them up and to act accordingly, though I am totally unconscious as to where my moods or attitudes are coming from. The negative projections are internalized and I manifest the behaviors, attitudes and emotions consistent with it. In life when I am around those who project negative feelings towards me or towards society in general I need to be very careful that I don't catch it and identify with the projections.

Moreover how often does it happen that I am the one with the negative projections, projections that influence the behaviors of others, and lead them to act in ways very much inconsistent with their true character. I then may say "see I told you s/he was this way", when in fact their behavior is the unconscious result and influence of my projection and not them at all.

Truth be told we know so little about who we really are and why. So much of ourselves is submerged beneath the surface in the unconscious.
We cannot know ourselves simply by introspection. To know our unconscious we need first to have the desire to open the gateway to the concealed and then to have others, friends, therapists, mentors, teachers, who help us see that to which we are blind.

Without serious work on self-awareness what appears day to us may be in fact be night and vice versa. The consequence of our ignorance can be as ruinous to our life purpose as was for Korach.

It is a simple truth. One cannot realize his/her mission in life without knowing him/herself,

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom

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