We live in such an egotistical, self-absorbed world that it is no wonder that it is falling apart. It’s fractured by the pull of each man for himself. From selfies to the social media platforms which broadcast them, the obsession with self is nothing less than suicidal.
We deem others along with their ambitions and successes as threats to our own survival, and as such, everyone feels like an enemy and no one like a friend. And so, the world is unhinging from its axis (weather disasters, fires, Covid, and more) and is on quick course to an unprecedented global transformation of some nature. Egoists would love to know that we are at the center and impetus of it all.
I recently heard a fable which I liked very much. But as a writer, I thought that I could do better (there’s full blown ego for you!) and so I here’s my version:
There was a special island whose inhabitants were not people, but rather, positive emotions: Love, Serenity, Forgiveness, Joy, Hope, Inspiration and a few others. One day, Ego came to town to show off.
Shortly thereafter, a terrible storm was about to hit. The inhabitants of the island realized that they would have to escape to survive.
Love took a proactive role and made a boat to save everyone. All the emotions jumped on board. The boat was strong and ready to set sail. Suddenly, Love realized that Ego was missing. She quickly jumped out of the boat and went looking for him, only to find him in a bar crying over a drink.
“Quick! Hurry up! We have to leave before the storm hits!” cried Love.
Ego was adamant, “I’m not going. I should have been the first one to board the ship since I am a guest in this town.”
Love begged Ego to change his mind, but he was very stubborn. Love then tried a tactic to which Ego could relate.
“If you stay here, you will die.” said Love.
Ego, wanting nothing more than to preserve himself, agreed. When he reached the boat, Ego once more revealed his ugly disposition and ordered everyone to get off the boat so that he could board first.
All the positive emotions were happy to oblige and jumped out. Then Ego proudly got in. But just as he did, the boat sunk and cracked destroying the only escape made by the hands of Love. The storm struck and everyone died. If only Ego had left his attitude ashore, they might all have survived. But the weight of his arrogance and attitude which he brought aboard wreaked destruction for all.
How often in our own lives do we let ego destroy our relationships, opportunities and important occasions? The Book of Proverbs warns us that, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (16:18)
In this week's Parshah, Bo, we read about Pharaoh’s persistent refusal to let the Israelites go. There are many egomaniacs in the Tanach: Haman, Avimelech, Absalom, etc., and Pharaoh was among them. Pharaoh deemed himself a god. He believed then he created the Nile and that he created himself. He rejected the omnipotent G-d Who created the world with Ten Utterances. Thusly, with precise retribution, God delivered ten plagues to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. His punishment was like a ten-step program to break egocentricity. But unfortunately, not everyone is mended in “rehab.” Pharaoh was one such failure.
It is significant to note that G-d sent none other than Moses, the humblest man who ever lived, to liberate the Israelites. Moses was a reluctant leader who begged G-d to send someone else.
Furthermore, we also learn humility from the location upon which G-d gave the Torah -- Mount Sinai. G-d did not pick the highest mountain in the world to bestow the loftiest gift ever given to mankind. He chose a humble mountain as the backdrop for the giving of His Torah, a Book that would render His people holy and transform them from Pharaoh’s slaves to servants of His will and masters of their passions.
But just as Pharaoh’s gigantic ego was sinful, so too is having a lack of sense of self. We have to be aware that the spirit of G-d lives inside us if we are to accomplish our missions in this world.
How many of us are afraid to achieve our dreams and aspirations because we have fragile egos?
“If I fail, I’ll look so bad. What will people think?”
But the Torah does not let us off the hook. We have to try. Where there is fear, there is no faith. Even though Moses had a speech impediment, he was the deliverer of the Divine word.
Even though King David was small in stature and a mere shepherd, it was he who took down Goliath.
Moses’ Egyptian adoptive mother reached for the basket that was well beyond her reach, but God extended her arm and she rescued none other than Moses.
A nation came to the shores of the Red Sea while the Egyptians pursued them from behind. Survival seemed impossible and death imminent. One man, Nachshon ben Aminadav, jumped into the waters and the sea parted.
You see, my friends, results are not in our hands, but God demands that we take action. Miracles only transpire when man makes the first move. There is no instance in the Torah where things transpire differently.
Make your move. A kosher move. G-d is with you. We would never fear if we knew Who walked beside us.
But there is a place where G-d does not walk. G-d does not dwell among arrogant people. This makes perfect sense because two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. If you are full of yourself, there is no room for Him.
So, let's work on shaping our egos both our gigantic ones and our fragile ones (sometimes they are just about the same thing.) For an arrogant man knows not his place in this world and a meek one will never make his place.
When we serve God, we are empowered; we find our courage; we find our words; we find our rescue; we find our mission; we find our voice; we find our backbone; we find our feet; we find our true selves; And then most certainly, we find our blessed way.
May G-d be with you! Shabbat Shalom!