So I'd meant to post this a few weeks ago, but... Ah, well. Just like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years, we've gotten here eventually! :D
In Part 1, we were looking at the famous scene with Moses and the rock. The Israelites ask for water and God tells Moses to speak to the rock (and it will pour forth water) but instead Moses strikes the rock in anger. Water flows out and the Israelites drink, but Moses is severely punished for his disobedience: he will not lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.
Why, I asked, did God decree such a severe punishment for one momentary lapse (especially since Moses had previously been told, in similar circumstances, to strike a rock to bring forth water?) I quoted Rabbi Sacks' commentary, which touches on a very interesting point:
"Almost forty years earlier, in similar circumstances, G-d had told [Moses] to take his staff and strike the rock….What [Moses] failed to understand was that time had changed in one essential detail. He was facing a new generation. The people he confronted the first time were those who had spent much of their lives as slaves in Egypt. Those he now faced were born in freedom in the wilderness….Slaves understand that a stick is used for striking. That is how slave-masters compel obedience….But free human beings must not be struck. They respond, not to power but persuasion. They need to be spoken to. What Moses failed to hear – indeed to understand – was that the difference between G-d’s command then and now (“strike the rock” and “speak to the rock”) was of the essence. The symbolism in each case was precisely calibrated to the mentalities of two different generations. You strike a slave, but speak to a free person."
I think Rabbi Sacks is correct: Moses had failed to adapt to the changing needs and capabilities of the new generation of Israelites he now was leading. However, I think there's another very interesting dimension here. The more I thought about the repeated conflicts in the Torah, between God, Moses, and the Israelites, the more these began to remind me of ordinary, human conflicts -- and of some recent reading I'd done about the Karpman Drama Triangle.
Picture that person in your life. You know the one (or maybe there's more than one.) Often a family member -- or perhaps a coworker, or a rival from school days. Whoever they are, you just can't seem to stop fighting with them.
It's odd, because all sorts of different things seem to trigger it. But once you've started, you go around and round in circles. You both hate the conflict. Yet somehow, neither of you is able to break out of the deadly spiral. You feel misunderstood, misused, hurt, betrayed, and taken advantage of -- and the other person feels exactly the same way.
Sound familiar? Yeah. (I think it did to Moses and the Israelites, too.)
This is the sort of thing the Drama Triangle tries to analyze. Why do these conflicts start? What keeps them going? Why do they feel so pointlessly repetitive and yet never come to any resolution?
The Drama Triangle is best shown through a simple diagram. It contains (in general) three roles: Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor. Though we can -- and often do -- switch roles, even several times during a conflict, each of us tends to begin from one of the three positions.
- The Persecutor attacks the Victim. "You're in the wrong. I'm in the right. How dare you try to cast me as the bad guy?"
- The Rescuer tries to "save" the Victim from the Persecutor (or situation, problem, etc.) "I'll protect you from that mean Persecutor! Let me be the hero! I'm just trying to help..."
All three roles are dysfunctional because they simply provoke further conflict and do not resolve anything: the Victim stays "weak", the Persecutor stays "mean", and the Rescuer keeps trying to "save" other people rather than empowering them (ensuring, of course, that the Victim will come back for further "saving" later.)
Thinking over the conflicts between Moses, God, and the Israelites throughout the stories of the Exodus, I'm struck by how most of them fall neatly into a typical Drama Triangle scenario.
- Generally, the Israelites begin by taking the Victim role. "We have no water! We have no food! The giants in Canaan will kill us all! Why did you bring us here to die? If only you'd left us in Egypt! Poor, poor helpless people that we are!" (In the story of the Golden Calf, it's actually laughable how easily Aaron takes on the Victim role: "I couldn't help it -- the people were rioting! So I tossed this gold into the fire and a golden calf just popped out! It wasn't me!")
- God then angrily responds with Persecutor. "How dare you complain! How dare you rebel! After all I've done for you! I will smite you!" (Which he then does: with fire or plague or earthquakes or a camp-wide massacre...)
- Finally, Moses steps in between the two as Rescuer. "No, God! Please don't kill them! Kill ME instead! Please, please spare your people!" (At which point God finally relents.)
This is the fundamental story of the Exodus, and it plays out over, and over, and over again. Complaints and rebellion, anger and smiting, heroic interceding and self-sacrifice...
...Until one day, God looks around, and realizes that all the original generation -- the people who once were slaves and who only knew how to whine and be subservient -- are gone, and a new generation has taken their place. So God decides to do something new. Something radical. He tries to step off the Drama Triangle.
This time, when the Israelites ask for water (admittedly they still sound pretty whiny -- but undoubtedly they're just echoing what they heard their parents saying!) God decides that their request is actually...fairly reasonable. Instead of meeting them as Persecutor to Victim, he decides to meet them as Adult to Adult. He tells Moses to speak to the rock instead of striking it. A new paradigm, he implies, is about to be established: no more quarrelling, no more smiting, no more endless conflict. Finally, God and his chosen people can interact in a mature, adult way!
...And then -- out of the blue -- Moses stomps over to the rock, screams furiously at the children of Israel, and whacks it with his staff.
Frankly, Moses is not ready to step off the Drama Triangle; he doesn't want to give up his coveted role as Rescuer. Stop being the saviour of God's Chosen People? Their mediator with God Himself? He's not having it. God isn't supposed to just grant the Israelites' requests. (At least, not until Moses persuades him to!) And, since God has abdicated the role of Persecutor (rendering Moses' Rescuer role useless), Moses eagerly seizes upon it himself.
And water flows and the children of Israel drink...but at a price. Sure enough, in no time at all, they start complaining about the food, and God smites them once more, this time with a plague of serpents (which lingers on until Moses handily Rescues them once more by interceding with God.) The same old pattern -- complaining, retaliation, and rescue. Nothing has changed, and indeed that pattern is to play out over and over and over again in the Promised Land itself, throughout Joshua and Judges and Kings and Chronicles.
What would the subsequent story of the Israelites in Canaan have been, if Moses had been willing to relinquish his old role? Would the Israelites have learned to see God less as an oppressor or an all-powerful saviour and more as a partner? Who knows? Yet one thing was certain.
The former slaves had all died, and a new generation had taken their place. Moses had never been a slave; he had been raised among power and privilege, born to be a leader. And yet -- from his killing of the Egyptian taskmaster so many years before, to the rock of Meribah -- Moses' compulsive, ego-driven need to Rescue was, it seems, his fatal weakness. Just like the first generation of Israelites who had always been looking back -- to Egypt -- and not forward, Moses, too, had to pass away before the Promised Land could truly be gained.