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Home » Free Choice, Mase'ei, Matot

Life Journeys

Submitted by on July 23, 2022 – 11:52 pmNo Comment | 160 views

We are all on a journey, the journey of life. Although our journeys are similar in many ways, each journey is unique. Have you ever wondered what makes my journey different from yours? What seminal event occurred in our nascent years that made me embark on a different path from you? What drew you to music and me to writing, you to academia and me to religion, you to business or medicine and me to rabbinics?

For most of us, it is difficult to put our finger on the exact moment our shift occurred, but one thing is certain, every journey begins at a certain point. The point is often subtle and difficult to recognize. It is nearly impossible to gaze into the future from that distinct moment and know that your life has just taken a turn. But in hindsight we can sometimes identity the moment our new journey began.

In the first moment, the shift is not noticeable because it is too minute. We hardly notice that our direction has shifted. We seem to be on the same path are before. But with time, our subtle shift becomes noticeable as our new trajectory takes us further and further away from our original track.

It is much easier to identify it in hindsight. Think back to the day you first met your husband. Did you know that he was the one? You didn’t know him at the time, and you surely didn’t love him.  He was a complete stranger. You might have had a spark of interest, but you had such sparks with many others that you did not end up marrying. It was impossible to know upfront (unless you are one of the lucky ones) that this would be Mr. Right. Yet, in hindsight, you can remember exactly when your journey began.

Two Names
This gives us some insight into the names of the two Torah portions that we will read this Shabbat, Matot and Masei. Matot means staffs. A staff is primarily a pointer. We use it to point people in the right direction. Indeed, the Hebrew word lehatot means to incline. If you are at a crossroads and can go wither east or west, you make your decision and point your mateh in the direction that you are inclined to go.

Masei means journeys. Matot Masei can be understood as inclinations and journeys. The point when you were inclined to begin your journey whether you knew it at the time or not.

The Subtle Start Points
The start points for the obvious life journeys—when I met my spouse, when I decided on my career, or when I fell in love with my favorite hobby, are easy to peg. But there are deeper and subtler start points that set us off on even more important journeys that are much harder to peg.

One of the big ones is the journey of social interaction. Some people are easy going and can laugh off awkward moments or ill-chosen comments. Others are high strung and find it much harder to forgive. What are the inclination points for these journeys?

Suppose you said something inappropriate in a moment of anger and someone overheard you and took offense. Suppose that person began to lecture you about your comment. There are two ways to react. You can acknowledge the truth of the message, or you can rail against the audacity of the messenger.

After all, you did not direct your comment to this bystander, what gives him the right to lecture you? If he goes so far as to demand an apology for your ill-chosen words, you are liable to grow even angrier. I said something in a moment of passion that I should not have said. It had nothing to do with this interloper and now he is demanding an apology? Who invited him to insinuate himself into my anger?

That is one way to respond. Then there are those who let the whole thing slide and simply acknowledge the truth. Yes, I said something in the heat of the moment that I should never have said. This person wants an apology from me, so I will give it. I was wrong after all.

Yet, the first person is afraid to apologize. If I show weakness today, it will only make this bystander more brazen tomorrow. I need to stand my ground now so he will know that he overstepped his bounds.

Why doesn’t this line of thought occur to the easy-going person? Because he doesn’t see the exchange as a power play. To him, it is simple. What you see is what you get. I said something inappropriate, and I am being called on it. Everything else is just noise and it never even occurs to the easy-going person.

This is just one scenario, but there are a million scenarios like it in life. Every time we get called on something, we can either accept it at face value or get our back up and fight back. Those are our choices. But most of us don’t think it is a choice. We seem to think that this is just who we are. I am the kind of person who doesn’t take kindly to intruders, and you are the kind of person who does.

It is true that these are our life journeys, but it is also true that we chose our journeys. We made a choice at an earlier date that became the start point of this journey. It was the Matot to our Masei. The moment we upset the balance and inclined ourselves in one of these directions. This moment is much harder to peg, but it is there.

Me Or We?
At some point in life we made a nuanced choice about our orientation. Will I judge myself by my own perception or by the perception of others? Is my self-worth rooted in my opinion of myself or in what other people think? Do I care more about how others perceive me than about how I perceive myself? A more profound way of asking this question is, do I care more about how other people perceive me than about how G-d perceives me?

If someone brings my defect to my attention, there is only one reason to be upset. Shame—my shame at being outed. Now this person knows my defect and what if others will soon find out? So, I obfuscate, and deflect, and even push back at his audacity to speak up.

I feel ashamed only because I judge myself by how others perceive me. If they think I am good, I feel good despite my faults. If they discover my faults, I must be really bad because others have found me out and are talking about it. This is too much for me to handle so I push back.

But if I judged myself by my own perception, I would be grateful to those who bring my faults to my attention. It helps me identify and correct something I know deep down is not acceptable.

This is a much smoother and healthier journey, but not many people can make it. This is because most of us have made a subtle unconscious choice at some point in our youth to judge ourselves by the perception of others. We inclined ourselves in that direction at a young age and now we think it is too late.

But it is not too late. We don’t need to pinpoint exactly when and how we made that choice. All that is necessary to reverse it, is to know that we made it. Just knowing that every masei begins with a matot, helps us identify and reverse our start point.

Find it, discover it, and reverse it. Your life will be better for it.

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