20 Av 5773 / July 26-27, 2013
In this week’s portion, Ekev, Moses continues his final speech to the Israelites before they depart to conquer the Promised Land without him.
While he has a strong history of chastising the nation, he is particularly harsh with the Israelites this week, telling them that they are entering the Promised Land not because of their virtue – but rather, because of the wickedness of the Land’s current inhabitants, and in fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses even goes so far as to resort to name-calling, referring to the nation (as he has done before) as a “stiffnecked people.” For good measure, he throws in the following biting critique: “As long as I have known you, you have been defiant towards God.”
Effectively, Moses is saying that if it were up to him, the current Israelite generation wouldn’t be inheriting the Promised Land at all, as they are undeserving. Needless to say, not the most inspirational message before attempting to conquer the Land… (and perhaps indicative of why Moses perhaps was no longer the best choice to lead the Israelites).
It could be that some would be inspired to show Moses that his cynicism was misplaced, and his harsh words undeserved. It’s possible that this was Moses’s goal – to make himself the villain, so that the Israelites would be distracted from the powerful enemies they were about to face in battle. By suggesting the Israelites had something to prove and did not deserve the Land, perhaps they’d fight harder in order to prove Moses wrong.
However, my inclination is that most of us would respond negatively to such speech. Hateful words and aggressive name-calling don’t often imbue confidence or a desire to please. Rather, what if Moses had framed his speech such that he was empowering the Israelites, as the inheritors of a unique and special covenant their ancestors made with the Divine, to achieve the dream they had been striving towards their entire lives, and to fulfill their ultimate destiny (with God’s continued care and assistance)? I know that with such framing, I’d be a bit more willing to put my life on the line…
How we speak to one another and how we frame issues has a significant impact on how others respond to us (and vice versa).
This Shabbat, reflect on how you frame conversations. When you want / need something done and ask another for assistance, or are trying to motivate another to act, how are you framing your desires? Are you contextually empowering the other to assist you (or themselves) meaningfully? Does your tone suggest appreciation and a sense of valuing the other? Are you saying “thank you” often enough?
By aspiring to better frame the conversations we engage in, we can both better motivate and express gratitude to one another, in our collective efforts to fulfill our own destinies.