A Torah TEACHING About Personal journeys (parshat Masei)

“Eleh Masei”  “These are travels/journeys” (my translation) is how Numbers 33:1 (Parshat Masei) begins.

What follows is a list. Of places. 

Boring, right? 

Who wants to read a list?

We want narrative. Story! 

We want what my 14 yr old daughter would call “the juice” or the “juicy stuff!”

Ah, but in Torah, there is “juice” even in a list. 

It’s in the between. 

In between the words. 

In between the people. 

In between the actions. 

In the relationships.

Think for a moment about the different places where you have lived, and the journeys you have taken. Have you ever made a move that did not change or alter your perspective in some way or another? 

When we journey we don’t just travel to this place and then that place and then that place. 

Here is a l list of where I have lived and journeyed between: 

Brooklyn, NY

Pomona, NY

Spring Valley, NY

New York, NY

Austin, TX, 

Cairo, Egypt,

New York, NY 

Beirut, Lebanon

New York, NY

Claremont, California. 

These locations all represent different stages of life. As I moved from one location to another, I also shifted life stages of some sort: early life, childhood, college, graduate school and early married life, teaching, traveling, acting in NYC, becoming a mother etc.

That’s the juice! The journeys in- between the stages. 

AND, what happens to us as we have these journeys? 

We have new experiences. 

And we change. 

This text comes at the end of the story of the wanderings in the desert that took place over the 40 years. It is a recounting where the Israelites have journeyed since leaving Egypt. 

Rabbinic commentary tells us: It’s comparable to a king whose son was ill and whom he took to a distant place to cure him. When they returned home the father began to enumerate all the stages, saying to him, “Here we slept, here we caught cold, here you had the head-ache, etc.” (Midrash Tanchuma 4:10:3.)

What if this list is about the stages the people of Israel experienced, not just the locations where they camped?

Locations are metaphorical for the different locations in our internal growth, life and learning journeys.

These places are a way of recounting the collected stages of becoming. 

Becoming with a capital B. We are always Becoming our future self. 

In the parable above, the ill child is healed through the stages. A huge transformation. 

So, what is the huge transformation that the Israelites go through?

When the Israelites first left Egypt, they couldn’t imagine anything other than their past. 

Suppose everything you’ve ever known is a a life of slavery. Not only were you a slave, your parents were slaves, your grandparents, and going back farther than you can remember. 400 years. 

We tend to assume a future based on the history of our own lifetime let alone that many great-great- ancestors!

Within our own lives our memorable history already affects how we see ourselves. 

Look at what happens with just 15 months of wearing masks? 

We all determine a sense of who we are right now by the way we tell the story of our past. 

There is a concept in psychology called “learned helplessness.” It’s what happens when someone repeatedly is unable to change the negative stimuli in their environment they stop trying.

Recent developments in that line of research show that we have to learn to feel helplessness. Helpfulness is the default state.

When we can’t control our surroundings we feel powerless. 

Maybe that resonates with some of how you experienced the pandemic so far? 

If that can happen in a single lifetime, in a year and a half, imagine 400 years of lifetimes!

“Eleh Masei/These travels/journeys”

The commentators take a lot of time to address the way the word

Eleh,” “These” is positioned here. 

It’s not “V’eleh”, just “Eleh.”

(In English that extra “V” in front of a word means “And.” You may have noticed English translations of the bible are filled with the word “And!”)

Rabbinic commentary (Chizkuni) says that the “And” is left out in order to teach us that what follows is not related to what has come previously. 

A specific Rabbinic commentator, Ohr Hachayim, quotes the Zohar (A Kabbalic text) and teaches that the trek of the Israelites in the desert was a spiritual journey. They were collecting “n’tzutzei hakedoshah” sparks of holiness. 

These n’tzutzei hakedoshah/sparks of holiness were collected “in the between.” In the journeying

In between the words, in between the list. 

That’s the juice. 

The Israelites moved from learned helplessness and feelings of powerlessness through the journeying. 

They Become. 

They arrived ready to cross the Jordan, empowered, ready to have faith in the uncertain future. 

The Israelites literally regenerated – as they shifted 40 years in age.  

They increased their Kedushah/holiness and became a people who could deal with the fear of the uncertainty and the challenges ahead in order to meet their goals of entering the Promised Land. 

It is in our journeying, in our own collecting of sparks, that we can shift our own perspectives. 

We can learn to feel empowered and overcome our learned helplessness. 

We can grow our faith and ability to deal with the uncertain future. 

Where are you on your journey?

What sparks of kedushah/holiness do you need to collect so that you can grow into your next stage on the journey?  

If you’d like to be more intentional about how you collect sparks, insight and become your future self, then send me a message and let’s start a conversation.

Legs and Feet of someone on path, journeying through nature.

Leah Zimmerman is a Family and Intergenerational Resolving Conflict Expert who makes hard conversations easy. She blends her background in education, theater, personal development and spirituality to create transformational conversations for individuals, teams and families. Find Leah on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/leah-r-zimmerman-/ to learn more. To see other writings related to Torah visit https://experiencingtorah.wordpress.com.

It only takes one minute to change your life

“How?” You ask.

With a mindful minute.

What is mindfulness, really?

It’s about body-ness.

You’re in your mind, your work and cognitively thinking so much that you sometimes miss coordinating what’s going on with the rest of your body!

Mindfulness is being aware of what your mind is doing, connecting it with the body, with the senses and with its surroundings.

It’s bringing the mind into a conversation about what’s happening right now instead of following the conversations of the mind.

When you shift your awareness from what’s happening outside you to what’s happening inside you, you get to bring your mind and body together.

You tap into a deeper wisdom and intuition.

And if you can handle one moment, you can handle the next moment.

Because the more present you are in this moment, the more available and resourceful you are for the next minute.

So here’s what you do. Set a timer for one minute. (Or less if you prefer. It doesn’t really matter how much time you use to start.)

Count how many breath cycles happen in that minute. One inhale and one exhale count as one cycle of breath.

Allow the breath to operate on its own. Just watch it.

Notice what happens

Where your mind goes and what it thinks about.

Notice your energy.

If you feels antsy, and don’t like being still that’s fine.

Actually, it’s quite common.

There’s no way that’s right.

And there’s no way that’s wrong.

You just do it.

And, notice.

Then when you want you do it again, and you notice again.

Notice what’s the same.

Notice what’s different.

Over time you become the observer.

You become the one who’s aware and notices your thoughts.

Becoming aware and noticing is the beggining of a big shift that can change your life.

It changed mine.

One minute at a time.

Give it a try.

Let me know how it goes!

Are you interested in learning more about how mindfulness can help you manage uncomfortable feelings and have difficult conversations? Click here: Let’s Chat!

Leah's face

Leah is a certified Executive Coach who specializes in leadership, communication and resolving conflict. Clients who work with Leah move from being mentally and emotionally overwhelmed by self-doubt, struggle and conflict (inner or outer) to developing a confidence and an air of relaxed authority that builds their presence and stature as leaders. They go on to build confidence and empowered conversations that create harmonious relationships and prosperous businesses. Leah specializes in working with the next generation in the family business who find their voice and gain influence in their families through coaching. 

It doesn’t have to be this way

A father and a daughter

“That’s just how it is,” says my friend about his family.

Is that what you believe about your family also?

Or is it with work where you say, “Well, that’s life.”

I get it.

We don’t know it can be any different.

For me, it was my husband who helped me see things differently.

We were college age, and he was a new boyfriend, over at my house for a Friday night dinner for the first time. He noticed something about the “discussion” at the table. Mostly, that I didn’t feel too good about it afterwards.

“That’s how it is,” is what I said. I explained how I brought up topics that I wanted to share and my dad always had a way of shooting down my opinion and making his own sound like the winner.

“Hmm. But, you don’t have to argue with him if it doesn’t feel good,” my husband pointed out.

That’s when the insight hit.

Oh, it DIDN’T have to be this way. I could change how I engaged in the conversation.

That began a process of change for me.

Now here is the surprising thing that happened when I stopped engaging in those conversations the same way: I kinda I missed something from those conversations with my dad. I know he did too.

It turns out I was wrong about “That’s how it is.”

What I thought was “what is” was “That’s how we connect.”

The discussion in its unevenness WAS the relationship.

Even though I didn’t feel great afterwards, I did feel connected.

That was what I missed.

That’s the hard thing about family.

We have patterns of communicating that are how we have the relationship.

We don’t really think about it.

And, most of the time this patterns of communication, what i call our scripts, have been inherited.

My dad’s way of having a discussion with me was very similar to how my dad had relationships with the people in his family or origin.

It was, and still is, very common in my extended family to discuss a topic and to share disagreements.

Some family members have certain moves that they do to get their idea heard more or to show that they are right. Some are more forceful than others.

It is a way of connecting, and isn’t intended to make anyone feel bad.

Part of what had made me feel bad was that I wanted to share ideas with my dad and hear his approval. I wanted to hear something like, “I see what your’e saying, Leah. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Good for you!”

But, I wasn’t going to get that.

Why not?

Because my dad didn’t know I needed it! He engaged with me from his point of view and needs, unaware of mine.

My dad is a very sweet, tender man who loves his family very much, but can also be stern and forceful when it feels necessary to him.

As a young adult, I was more aware of wanting approval from the stern and forceful authority side of my dad than of my dad’s tender side wanting to connect with me.

So, how did I change the dynamic?

I stopped engaging in arguments that didn’t feel good.

And, I found new ways to connect with my dad.

It turned out that something I thought, “That’s just how it is” was changeable.

Where in your life are you accepting a relationship as “That’s just how it is” where maybe it could be different? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or you can get in touch here.

Leah is a certified Executive Coach who specializes in leadership, communication and resolving conflict. Clients who work with Leah move from being mentally and emotionally overwhelmed by self-doubt, struggle and conflict (inner or outer) to developing a confidence and an air of relaxed authority that builds their presence and stature as leaders. They go on to build confidence and empowered conversations that create harmonious relationships and prosperous businesses. Leah specializes in working with the next generation in the family business who find their voice and gain influence in their families through coaching. 

From powerless to empowered

One day when I was in fifth grade, I noticed that the teacher was being unusually unkind to my best friend at the time who was also the top student in the class.

This friend was usually very well liked by all the teachers, so it was very unusual. 

The teacher called her, “Blondie!” and yelled at her what to do. 

I remember growing uncomfortable and feeling guilty for staying quiet. For leaving my friend defenseless. 

After a while, the teacher stopped teaching and opened a conversation about what she had done with my friend.  I don’t remember the details, just that it happened. 

She explained that she had arranged with my best friend and her family to stage that relationship. (It had been planned in advance for us as an experience that would help us understand an upcoming discussion of the Holocaust. I don’t remember anything else we did related to the Holocaust that year.)

The question she asked us has stayed with me for a long time:  “Why didn’t you speak up?” 

A few years ago (which was close to 40 years after the incident!) the fifth grade teacher reached out to me on Facebook. It was fun to connect, as she had stayed a part of my life into the beginning of my own teaching career before we lost touch. 

One day she commented on a post I made. She made a connection between the post and who I had been in fifth grade. She asked me if I remembered the above incident. 

Then she said something that floored me.

She said that I was the only one who had asked her why she had talked to my friend in that way. 

According to her, I HAD in fact spoken up. 

Wow. 

That wasn’t how I remembered it!

It was a while until timing could bring us together to talk about the incident from fifth grade. But, we did finally get together to share how we each remembered it. 

According to my teacher, I had in fact spoken up and asked her why she was treating my best friend that way. 

I took that in.

When and why had that the memory shifted so much? 

Why did I remember feeling so powerless in that situation?

Then, she shared what had impacted her the most. 

Apparently, in the discussion that we had after the staging, she asked the class why we hadn’t said anything while it was happening. (In my case, I internalized the question – why hadn’t I said anything sooner.

According to my teacher, I answered, “Because you’re the teacher.”  

She still remembered that answer, and the impact it had on her. It made her think differently about the events of the Holocaust. 

Wow. 

We learn in school to obey, to conform and follow the rules. 

So much so, that even while I may actually have said something impactful, I remember feeling voiceless. 

Clearly, it’s one thing to speak and another to feel that you have an empowered voice.

Just because we speak doesn’t mean we feel heard. 

The struggle to feel heard continued for me well into my adult life. 

Slowly, I discovered two things.

1)  I could have and already had had an impact. People had been listening even if they hadn’t showed it.

2) By finding my empowered voice, I could create the life I wanted.  

At work and at home. 

So, are you ready to go from powerless to empowered?

A Dilemma

Last spring when things were starting to open up in California, one of my clients had a dilemma.

Two of his key employees did not feel so keen or so safe coming back to work.

And the owners in the business, his parents, were impatient to reopen.

He couldn’t figure out what to do or say to bridge the conflict.

Make them come anyway?

Not his way.

Replace them?

They were too valuable.

So how could he get the employees to come back and feel safe?

Through coaching, he developed a new idea.

He decided the employees to be involved with setting up the protocols and guidelines for the business.

It turned from being a difficult conversation to being an empowering conversation.

Not only did he manage to get his employees back to work and appease the stressed owner/parents/, he engaged his team in a way that built collaboration, trust and leadership.

Where we perceive an impeding conflict there are often new opportunities for connection.

Ready to be able to recognize new possibilities?

Join me next week for a free event Navigating Difficult Conversations. You can register at Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/navigating-difficult-conversations-tickets-111188780636