Simple Wisdom: The meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests, “Try reminding yourself from time to time: This is it. What happens next, what you choose to do, has to come out of your understanding of this moment.”
The future doesn’t just happen. Two people can witness the same event, yet respond in vastly different ways.
Consider the power this truth gives us. When Moses left Pharaoh’s palace and saw an Egyptian slavemaster beating a Hebrew slave, he could have turned his head and walked back inside. Instead, he challenged the Egyptian and defended the slave. His response transformed his future.
How Do We Respond?
What determines our response? We do. It is not pre-programmed. Computers run on scripts that define a response to a given parameter. Human beings, on the other hand, have the freedom to choose.
That freedom invites tremendous opportunity. It also presents great danger. A great Pogo cartoon strip has Pogo proclaiming, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We block ourselves from success. We get in our own way.
When Moses Got in His Own Way
Moses taught us this truth as well. In the book of Numbers, the people complain to him that they are thirsty. Moses is frustrated at this latest example of the people’s ungratefulness and seeming lack of trust in him. He asks God what to do. God tells him to speak to a rock, and water would then pour forth from it.
As he is about to do so, Moses changes his mind. He alters his response. Instead of speaking to the rock, he hits it with his staff.
This may seem like a minor act of disobedience. Yet, it suggested to the people that Moses produced the water with his staff, not that God brought it forth with miraculous power. In other words, Moses took credit for a miracle, rather than visibly giving that credit to God. Moses let himself–his ego, his desire for adulation, his impatience–get in his own way.
The consequences are profound. Moses is no longer permitted to enter into the Promised Land. He would die on a mountain overlooking it.
Like Moses we have the freedom to shape the future. Judaism does not see as inherently tainted by any original sin. The challenge is to stop ourselves from obstructing ourselves. Or, as Rabbi Yitzhak Kirzner put it, “”All of life is a challenge of not being distracted from the greatness that we are.”
By Evan Moffic
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