It's easy to miss. To gloss over. But it's there. Right there. In D'varim 1:37.
Moshe says to the people that because of them, the Lord was incensed with him, and would not allow Moshe to enter into the Promised Land.
Despite God's own words to Moshe (Bamidbar 20:12) that he would not enter the promised land because of his failure to affirm his faith in God by striking the rock, Moshe chose to blame those around him for his misfortune. How could our great hero, this honored and revered one, chosen by God to have a sacred relationship never again given to any human still be so flawed? He could not (or chose not to) see that he alone was responsible for his being denied the chance to enter the land God had given to the people of Israel.
How common it is, even unto this day, for us to blame our misfortunes on the acts of others. However, it is a common theme of modern self-help and psychological counseling to learn to accept personal responsibility for the things that happen to us. In light of this, you might be expecting me to expound upon the virtues of admitting personal responsibility!
But your expectations would be wrong. For the lesson I get out of reading this piece of Torah is not that one must be willing to admit responsibility for personal actions and their consequences. The lesson I get is that it's OK to be flawed. I will not condone the denial of personal responsibility, but I will say that it's not the end of the world if any of us succumb to the temptation to blame others for our problems. If Moshe Rabbeinu could be so flawed, can we not accept this in ourselves and our fellow humans?
One simply cannot take Moshe's denial out of context. If one reads Torah in sequence, then clearly what Moshe says here is in direct contradiction to what God told him. If it were that big a deal, might not God have decided, upon hearing Moshe utter this blatant false statement of blame, to chastise him right then and there? And why would God (or, if you choose to believe otherwise, the redactors of Torah) not simply expunge this obvious contradiction from the text? No, it is left there on purpose-to allow us to see that even the greatest of leaders is flawed. And that if God can accept this, so can we.
I encourage all of us to accept personal responsibility, and to challenge others to do the same. But I also encourage each of us to not expect perfection, and to accept both in ourselves and others, the tendency to sometimes blame others for our misfortunes even when we know better. And other flaws as well.
I wanted to relate one other happening in my life this week. For the first time in my 43 years on this earth, I was stung by an insect (a wasp, actually.) All my life I had dreaded this moment. I lived in deathly fear of bees and similar insects, and I did not have the faith or the courage to handle this fear. Or so I thought. And then it happened. Why now, at this point in my life? I honestly believe it was because I was not ready until now, when I have finally developed the faith and the courage to handle it. So God protected me from it until I was ready. I've been through quite a number of changes in my life lately (including some involving accepting personal responsibility, and others involving allowing myself to be flawed in my behaviors and accepting that.) These changes have brought me to a point where I could handle this seemingly simple occurrence without falling apart. I've no doubt that, had this happened earlier, my reaction would have been quite different than the calm and reasoned reaction it was. Maturity of age does not always equate with maturity of behavior. For me, the sting was an epiphany. A coming of age. It felt good, in a strange way. (It also hurt like the dickens!)
So this Shabbat, may you learn to accept responsibility for the consequences of your actions (or inactions,); may you learn to be forgiving and understanding of yourself and others for their sometimes flawed behavior in blaming others for their troubles; and may your personal and epiphanal "bee stings" catch up with you, when you are ready for it.
I wish you all a
© 1998 & 1999 by Adrian A. Durlester
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