Turning against or turning toward

“How can you not be as infuriated as I am?” Realizing that a friend doesn’t share the intensity of our feeling on a matter can be frustrating. The gap troubles us.  So much so that sometimes we unconsciously redirect some anger at them.

Our emotional fevers are high, our feelings are raw, and – with wrongfulness on the loose and gaining ground – we’re nearing our breaking point.

When struggling emotionally, our interaction with others typically takes three forms.  Commonly we ‘turn against’ or ‘turn away’. These represent our fight or flight options.  But there is a third way – ‘turn toward’.  This is a way of honest vulnerability.  We say to a confidant, “I’m really struggling. I need a lift.”  What flows from this drawing toward each other can deepen bonds.

This week’s portion of Torah presents a rare setting when everyone’s emotional immune system is overrun.  The People’s thirst for condemnation is unquenchable.  Moses hits rock bottom.  His siblings Miriam and Aaron do too.  They complain, “Does God only speak to Moses? Aren’t we also prophets?”  Turning against happens when turning toward is called for.  The Torah puns the word for ‘only’ (ha-rak) with a rare expression for ‘frontal debasing’ (yarok yarak) (Num. 12:2,14) to convey the contrast between an in-your-face humiliation and a more generous sensitivity.

A harsh rebuke from God ensues. This leads to contrition and a ‘turning toward’ featuring  confession, pleas for forgiveness, healing, and subsequent reintegration.

When your emotional reserves are running dry, consider pouring out your heart toward someone you trust.  In so doing, you may come away replenished.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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