How to Break Through the Confines of Rational Thinking
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Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Shemos – Exodus 1:1-6:1
My mom spent her career in bookkeeping and accounting. Even as a kid, I knew she didn’t like it. Now retired, she feels she can pursue her passion. My mom has always wanted to be a writer. Her father taught art at Yale University. His paintings adorn the walls of all the families’ homes. Her younger sister has published a book. But logic dominated her work life. She had to support a family. Maybe if I’d understood Parshas Shemos sooner I could have convinced her to take a different path:
"Now the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives…and the second one’s name Puah." (Shemos/Exodus 1:15)
This Sabbath’s parsha begins the second book of the Torah. A new Pharaoh reigns over Egypt and enslaves the Israelites. He declares all male infants will be killed. Moses is born and Pharaoh’s daughter raises him, nursed by his own mother. He flees to Midian after killing an Egyptian to save a fellow Hebrew’s life. There he meets and marries Zipporah, the daughter of Reuel, also known as Jethro, the priest of Midian.
Moses encounters an angel in a burning bush. G-d appoints him as His messenger to obtain the release of the Children of Israel. Reluctant, Moses bows to the Almighty’s will. He leaves Midian for Egypt. Aaron, his older brother, meets him on the way and becomes his partner in dealing with Pharaoh. They have their first meeting with him. Rather than agreeing to their demands Pharaoh makes the enslavement harsher.
Logic Can Be Harsher Than Reality
The Israelite men despaired over Pharaoh’s decree requiring their newborn sons be thrown into the Nile. Amram, the leader of the Hebrew judicial system and Moses’s father, felt hopeless. He concluded logically they should stop procreating since this only would cause needless death. Amram divorced his wife and became celibate.
Because of his stature, the Israelite men followed suit. Despite the miraculous population increase during the initial phase of the enslavement, reason dictated to the men that they stop having children rather than letting half of them be killed.
Along comes Puah, who we later meet as Miriam, Moses’s older sister. She respectfully reproves her father. Pharaoh, she notes, only wanted to destroy their sons. Her father’s example, followed by all the men, means no daughters either.
Perhaps, says Puah, the people will keep their faith in G-d. If so, they may not listen to the evil Pharaoh. But as a righteous leader, they will follow Amram’s precedent.
To his credit, Amram accepts Puah’s rebuke and remarries his wife. The procreative lives of the Israelites restart.
Constraining Yourself Through Logic
G-d will let you construct a rational argument to limit yourself. We see this when the Israelites are at the Reed Sea. Trapped between an impassable body of water and the Egyptian army they cry in despair. G-d stands by and lets them remain in their “prison” built from logic.
Then Nachshon decides to take action. He walks into the Reed Sea up to his nose. Against all logic, the Almighty parts the water. The Israelites escape annihilation.
You can constrain yourself using logic to:
- Avoid hard work. Aspiring to a more successful life takes soul searching and tremendous effort. It’s much easier to employ logic to convince yourself you’ve reached your limits.
- Protect yourself from disappointment. Reaching for success means at times you’ll fail. You can shelter yourself from pain by building a rational case for not trying.
- Justify a pessimistic view. If you have challenges that held back relatives or friends you may reason success will evade you too.
- Reinforce negative belief. You may believe that dreams only come true for a select few. And you’re not among them. People will be happy to support this disempowering belief with “facts.”
Hopefully, you have a Puah who will reframe your life. If not, do it yourself.
Whether you strive for success or not, unshackle yourself by knowing:
- You can work for someone else’s dream or your own. You get to choose.
- Setbacks are unavoidable. Confront them on your terms.
- You are unique. No one else’s experience can dictate the results of your life.
- Motivation comes in many forms. When you were a kid, remember how committed you were to doing something your parents prohibited?
Amram left faith out of the equation. Don't make the same mistake.
G-d will allow logic to prevent your success. The Almighty will also help you transcend rationality on your way to building a brilliant life.
What logical argument are you using to restrain your success?
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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!