Friday, August 28, 2020
Eighth Day of Elul 5780
Previously, we considered the story of Joseph and his brothers as a model for t’shuvah. That story (Genesis chapters 37-50) contains many lessons about how people get off track in life and how they can return. Today, we’ll consider another.
Deception is a recurring theme in the story of Joseph. Jacob’s sons deceived their father when they showed him Joseph’s blood-stained coat and allowed Jacob to believe that Joseph was dead. Judah deceived Tamar when he told her that he would allow her to marry his son Shelah. Joseph deceived his brothers the entire time they appeared before him by hiding his true identity.
In all these cases, deception actually resulted from self-deception. The brothers were driven to deceive Jacob because of their unacknowledged shame of feeling unloved by him. Judah denied his fear of losing his son by punishing his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Joseph deceived himself into believing that he did not need the love of his family.
We human beings are skilled at self-deception. We bury our feelings and pretend that we do not need other people or care about their feelings. Self-deception is what we do when we are too angry, ashamed or scared to see ourselves. Ironically and tragically, self-deception only makes us feel worse and propels us into a spiral of lack of self-respect or feeling that we are an imposter.
This is one of the greatest obstacles to t’shuvah. If we cannot admit our feelings and our habits to ourselves, we are unlikely to feel motivated to improve. Overcoming self-deception is hard work. It requires us to lower the guard of our ego and to look at ourselves honestly. It takes time, courage, patience and self-forgiveness.
Practice for this day:
Have a conversation with yourself. Talk to yourself out loud about who you are and the things about yourself that you would like to improve. Notice the moments that make you feel uncomfortable, ashamed, defensive, or sad. Speaking out loud to yourself may feel embarrassing or awkward, but it really helps. This is very hard work. Practice kindness and gentleness with yourself. If thoughts become too painful, take a break and remember the things you like about yourself, too.
Write down some brief notes about your observations. What positive truths about yourself will help you to better accept yourself as you are