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The Right Perspective

12/23/2021 12:04:54 PM


In a rabbinical school class reflecting on the pastoral internships we were working at at the time, a classmate brought up an interaction she had with an elderly man she was working with. It turned out that every time she met with this man, he would tell the same stories over and over again. Frustrated and weary to have to spend time with him again, she brought the case-study to our class where the group explored her options. Through the course of the conversation, someone in the class offered an interesting insight. They suggested that perhaps my classmate could reframe the interaction with the man. Instead of seeing it as a man who was repeating himself, perhaps she could treat his story like liturgy. Just as the words of our prayers repeat themselves every time we say them, perhaps there is a holiness to the man’s story and in supporting him by being there to hear it again and again. The story thus transformed into his prayer, and that new frame was enough for my classmate to understand the important work she was doing by being present for him. Sometimes, having the right perspective can help us find meaning in the world around us. 

In Parshat Shemot, our sages were troubled by the prospect of Moses finding refuge amongst his future father-in-law, the priest of Midian. They ask, “how could it be that the righteous Moses would associate with such an idolater?” Not accepting this possibility, our sages explain in an extra-biblical story that Jethro indeed was an idolatrous priest. However, realizing the impotence of the idols, Jethro gives it up and hands back all the paraphernalia and idols back to the city. Having their religious system dismissed and their own idols thrown back at them, the townsfolk spurned Jethro and ostracized him and his family. The rabbis conclude that this is the reason why the other shepherds harassed Jethro’s daughters and chased them away from the well (Midrash Tanchumah 11:1). By telling such a story, the rabbis reframe who this priest of Midian was and what he was all about. Instead of wrestling with the problem of Moses keeping company with the idolatrous priest, we instead encounter Moses marrying into the family of a repentant and former idolatrous priest. Which, incidentally, might be the perfect mentor for a former Prince of Egypt who grew up amongst the Egyptian pantheon. This new frame helps resolve this difficulty for the rabbis, and indeed adds a deeper level of meaning to our story.

There are many snap judgments we make about the people around us. We judge people by their appearance, their speech, or their mannerisms. Yet, these judgements are often snapshots that don’t represent the deeper elements of a person’s character. If we only operate on first impressions and quick judgements, then we miss out on the opportunities of understanding others more deeply.  If we only work on our initial assumptions without considering other frames and perspectives, then we potentially pass over the opportunities to encounter holiness in our lives. What are the interactions in your life that are difficult for you? In what ways might a reframe and change of perspective help you find meaning in such interactions? 

Fri, December 1 2023 18 Kislev 5784