The Author


Few things are more painful than feeling that you’ve been “set up” by God. We have all had days where it seems like the universe is out to get us, and we are the butt of some cosmic joke. Sometimes, you can just see that big divine foot – a la Monty Python – coming down from heaven to squash you like a bug.   If you (or the friend you complain to) have a sense of humor, however, it’s possible to see droll irony when the forces of the cosmos are cataclysmically aligned against you, designing your day from the playbook of the Theater of the Absurd.

Other situations, however, can cut you to the core, are no laughing matter, and can precipitate a plunge into a full-blown spiritual crisis.   In last week’s Torah portion, “Shemos”, Moses had his famous encounter with the Burning Bush. While the text makes it seem like a relatively short conversation, the commentators explain that it was a 7-day encounter between Moses and God.

After all, to go from being a humble shepherd serving his father-in-law, to becoming the ultimate servant of God, and the redeemer and leader of the Jewish people, takes a little time. The commentaries that discuss Moses’ fears and doubts, his process of overcoming them and transforming into his ultimate role as servant/leader, serve as a primer for spiritual growth at warp speed. Moses was pumped. He was divinely charged and he was ready for the showdown with the Pharaoh.

But he failed right out of the gate, for his first encounter with the Pharaoh ended with the Pharaoh intensifying his brutality and imposing even greater hardships on the Jewish people, by giving them impossible quotas to fulfill.   Not only did their slave labor not ease up, but in addition to their daily quota of making bricks, now they had to go out and gather all of the materials as well.

This was not what Moses anticipated, and he was heartsick, not just at his own personal failure, but that he had made things worse – much worse – for the Jewish people. At the end of last week’s Torah portion, Shemos, Moses wanted to know why God had “set him up” like that and had hurt the Jewish people. In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, “Va’eira”, God answered him, saying, “Ani HashemI am God”, which is a simple statement of ultimate reality and truth.

The reason that the bitter harshness of the slavery intensified with Moses’ arrival was that it a necessary step for the process of the redemption. For the redemption was borne from the utter destruction of Egypt, and Pharaoh’s actions were the necessary prerequisites to draw down measure-for-measure, the punishment that would ultimately “fit the crime”.  What seemed at the outset to be a cosmically sick and cruel joke played on Moses and the Jewish people was in reality, the necessary step to set the redemption in motion.   Thus, Pharaoh’s cruelty served the redemptive process.

We just saw that very dynamic in play. When Joseph, as the Viceroy of Egypt, encountered his brothers, Joseph revealed who he was with the parallel phrase “Ani Yosef – I am Joseph” – again, a simple statement of ultimate reality.   Joseph understood the terror of his brothers’ reaction to that statement, as they realized that the brother they had conspired to kill and then sell into slavery, now held the power of life and death over them. And you know what they say about “payback”. Instead, Joseph explained that their actions (regardless of motive and intention) nevertheless served a higher plan, and that they were the necessary steps that brought this divine plan to its fruition.

So there you have it – from the word of God and the lips of Joseph – external events, which may seem cruel and harsh, illogical and incomprehensible, and contrary to your assumptions and expectations, actually all serve a unified divine plan.

Illustrating the point further is one of my favorite stories from the Zohar, the classic work of Kabbalah, where a king wanted to crown his son as his successor, but wasn’t sure that the young man was wise and mature enough, and that he was ready to take on the mantle of leadership.   And so the king hired the most beautiful and seductive courtesan in all the land to try and seduce the prince. After a while, the courtesan reported back to the king that no matter what she did and no matter how hard she tried, she was unable to fulfill the king’s command, whereupon the king rejoiced, realizing that his son was fit for noble leadership.

Question – so who was responsible for the boy becoming the king? The courtesan of course, since it was her actions that served the king’s purpose of finding out the prince’s character, by giving the prince a bona fide chance to prove his integrity. Understood correctly, everything serves!

So now let’s make it internal and personal.   Last week, I wrote about how we have multiple authentic voices or selves, and that in any given situation we should pick which self we want to lead from. While sarcasm may be part of our authentic self, for example, we (and the people we interact with) could be better served by tapping into and acting from a different yet authentic aspect of ourselves, one that will bring our highest self forward. So a reader asked me if I thought that our negative parts were really our “authentic” selves, and I answered, “Yes, I do.” After all, I had just written that in my blog, so of course I had to stand by the moral of the story I had just created.

But if we drill down to our godly soul, to our essence, and our true core, then of course, negativity is not who we are “authentically”.  At that level, she is completely correct!   But now what? It helps to know that negative behaviors are out of alignment with our highest selves, but nevertheless – there they are – often running the show.   Suppress them? You lose.   Ignore them? You lose. Try to hate or shame them away? You lose. So what then? Recognize how they serve you, and give them a new job description, so that they can serve you better.

I know this is an edgy concept, but after doing a course with Tim Kelly, called “The Inner Harmony Process”, which was about working with and aligning internal conflicts, I learned that there are no “bad parts”. Let’s take that infamous part – the inner critic. We all have that voice inside us.

We cringe at the precision point effectiveness of some of the critic’s favorite criticisms, the ones that it uses over and over and that work so well because we can’t defend against them?   But what is your inner critic trying to achieve for you? Is it trying to get you to be “perfect” so that you can be safe from external criticism, or perhaps be loved by those impossible-to-please folks, whose love and approval you nevertheless crave?   Does it discourage you from trying to reach your potential or taking risks, in order to keep you safe from failure or the humiliation or looking stupid and being “found out”?   Is it undermining your intimate relationships to keep you safe from heartbreak and disillusionment?

As a result of negative and painful experiences you have had, you created the critic to function as an internal risk manager and tasked it with keeping you safe. It is serving you and it’s doing a pretty good job. You’re still here – right? When you understand that it’s playing the role you have assigned it, however, you can start to shift it.   Think of the stories of the Japanese soldiers in WWII, who never learned that the war came to an end, and years later, still faithfully manned their posts. When your inner critic really gets that it can faithfully serve you in a different and better capacity, one that is aligned with your highest self and true purpose, it will jump at the chance. Just because it’s good at keeping you small (but safe) doesn’t mean that it loves its tactics.

As I am trying to shift my life’s work to becoming a messenger of transformation, my inner critic is working really hard to keep me “safe” from failure, humiliation and disappointment. By telling me I am dreaming, this will never work, why would anyone care about what I have to say and who do I think I am anyway, or paralyzing me with that unattainable quest for perfection, this brilliant little part is doing an excellent job of serving me.

What if I could convince it that the war was over and it could come out now? So I asked my inner critic these questions: “If you could have absolutely anything for me, what would you really most want for me?   Would you like to see me perfectly happy, successful, living my purpose, having an impact on the world OR do you want to see me living at home with the doors and windows shut and never go out? Critic, if you could really and truly have anything in the world for me, what would it be?”

The critic answered that it would be very happy for me if I could realize my dreams and it agreed that its methods of harsh criticism were unlikely to help me reach any of my true goals. To make a long story short, through respectful dialoguing with that part, the inner critic took on a new name – “teacher” – and a new job description, and now it serves me in a very different capacity. So instead of being an undermining saboteur, I enrolled that part of me into becoming a supportive and creative ally.

Everything serves – be it Joseph’s brothers, the Pharaoh, the courtesan, etc. Sometimes we see the silver lining, the hidden blessing and the ultimate point. Sometimes we get the “aha”, the connections and congruence that pulls it together. And sometimes we don’t. Sick over the news, I don’t know how we are “served” by terror, murder and anti-Semitism, but somehow, I have to believe that we are. Our various degrees of cognition of the “divine plan” don’t affect the plan’s ultimate reality and its overall purpose.

And while we may be limited in transforming external reality, we certainly can transform our inner reality. We can look at a “negative” part with curiosity, find out what its purpose is, how it is trying to serve us, thank it and honor it for doing its job, and then enroll it into a new purpose and service. When we transform any part of ourselves we transform our whole selves.   Ironically, it’s those parts that we “hate” the most that can yield the most awareness and new consciousness.

“I am… (fill in your name)” is a statement of your ultimate reality.   In order to unify yourself in your own reality, however, know that everything internal and external serves. And when someone or something serves you, the really polite thing is to say “thank you”. And then go from there.

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Article by Hanna Perlberger

Hanna Perlberger, a former divorce lawyer who became a relationship and positive psychology coach, supports people in "living the life that they love with the love of their life". As a writer, teacher, and lecturer, her sweet spot is the intersection of Torah and Positive Psychology. For more information, please visit her website at Make The Best Of You or contact her directly at