on Thursday, 24 February 2011. Posted in Rabbi Marshall's Sermons
I’ve been watching DVD’s of the TV show In Treatment.
Anyone seen it? Remake of an Israeli show, with Gabriel Byrne and Dianne Wiest.
Captures a therapist named Paul in sessions with 5 different patients. Each of them is struggling with their own demons – one woman is terrified of the commitment and loss of independence marriage brings, another man whose loss of his father caused him to completely divorce himself from all his feelings.
Paul is an excellent therapist, connecting the non-sequitors each patient throws at him to the heart of their issues and revealing the transference toward him each demonstrates.
And then the show invites us into sessions with Paul’s own personal therapist and we see him failing as a husband and a father, burying himself in his work to escape. For a man who is such an adroit shrink, Paul’s personal life is a disaster.
This show reminds us of the complexity of being in relationship. The transference directed at innocent partners, the loss of control we feel, diminished egos that come from fully letting another into our hearts. In Treatment reveals the ways we struggle to know ourselves and how much that difficulty is compounded when 2 souls come together. // But it also depicts the potential of intimacy and the blessings and healing that come from opening ourselves to another.
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The Torah portion also speaks of the miracle of relationship. This year in the Jewish calendar is a leap year and this parsha is typically read in conjunction with the following one. We read that when Moses finishes erecting the Tabernacle, ha’anan, the cloud, covered the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting, and kavod Adonai, the presence of the Eternal, filled the Mishkan. // Moses couldn’t enter it because the cloud had settled upon it and kavod Adonai filled the Mishkan.
Moses can’t enter the cloud because it was already full of God’s presence. But these words hold a textual discrepancy (and we know that seeming inconsistencies offer us further insight into the meaning behind the words). Elsewhere in the Torah we read, “Moses went inside the cloud.” Why can Moses sometimes enter the cloud and unite with God, and other times is forbidden?
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson offers an interpretation: one way to view the image of the cloud filling the Mishkan is as a metaphor for the way we are clouded—the way our fears, our guilt, our egos, our anger prohibit others from entering into a full relationship with us. The way these parts of us form an impenetrable cloud.
When these qualities hijack our entire being, it makes deep connection with others challenging. How can we make ourselves aware of the way our own issues cloud relationships? Just the other day, I found myself reacting very strongly to something someone else had done. I knew I was being overly judgmental, but I still felt wronged and angry. It was only after examining the underlying issues this brought up for me, that I was able to realize that these feelings were much more about me and my past hurts than about the other person. This exploration enabled my own cloud to lift and invited another soul in. And of course, like all areas of self-improvement, it’s always a work in progress.
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So what of our Torah’s contradiction? Sometimes Moses can enter the cloud, sometimes he cannot. The Talmud teaches that the Holy One of Blessing took hold of Moses and brought him into the cloud. God modeled how to unveil parts of our unconscious and invite another to share our inner life. Perhaps when Moses could enter the cloud without God’s explicit outreach, Moses was in deeper connection with his inner self? And when God made him wait before granting permission to enter, this was Moses’ reminder that he needed to examine the ways he ignored his inner psyche and how this hampered his ability to in full relationship--with his wife Tzipporah, with his children, and with b’nai Yisrael.
Think about the story in the Torah when Moses goes overboard trying to do it all as a leader and God has to say, “Stop! You can’t do everything. Establish a system so that the 70 Elders can share the burden.” It is likely that Moses’ unconscious processes led him to irresponsible leadership choices—perhaps an inferiority complex he developed as a result of his stutter, sibling rivalry with Aaron, maybe an unchecked ego? Whatever the cause, if he was able to acknowledge unresolved issues, he may have been able to prevent his feelings from spiraling out of control.
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The characters on In Treatment each face the task of opening themselves to all elements of their psyches. And Paul, their therapist, struggles with this as well in his personal life. Parshat Vayakhel reminds each of us that a willingness to make our own clouds transparent is an act of revelation, as we make our core accessible to those we love, we enable the presence of the Eternal, kavod Adonai, to fill us.