My student will read aloud the part of the story where Jacob, nearing the end of his life, gives blessings to each of Joseph's sons, Menasseh and Ephraim, When Joseph brings the boys to his father, Jacob holds his hands out to place on the tops of the boys' heads, but at the last moment he switches hands, crossing one over the other -- so he can give the primary and better blessing to the younger of the two. This is in opposition to the custom of the time, bestowing the greater blessing on the firstborn. Jacob remains firm and gives the blessings in this way, no doubt helping a long chain of sibling rivalry continue, unbroken, to the present day.
But there's a deeper point to this example of switching hands. My student explains that switching hands could be a metaphor for switching perspectives -- for considering a new way to look at a person or situation -- that allows us to be less judgmental and more openhearted. After all, my student argues, birth order is an accident. So is hair color, height, and gender. If we judge people by the things about them over which they have no control, we miss the point of who they really are, and we miss an opportunity to grow by knowing them better.
I LOVE this perspective from my student!
It got me thinking further, and perhaps more tangentially: does switching hands come easily? Not in a world obsessed with the externals, with "branding". But it can be learned.
Lots of folks think that switch-hitters in baseball are born that way. That's generally untrue. It's a remarkable skill, switch-hitting, and not everyone can do it well. Switch-hitters are taught how to do it early in their careers by coaches who spot their potential, and they practice the skill through their playing days. Because if you're right -handed (and hitting, therefore, from the left side of the plate), it will take time and practice to learn how to hit using the opposite stances, hitting from the right side of the plate, learning the mechanics in a sort of reverse.
These past couple of weeks have presented me with several opportunities to switch hands. Some of the lessons have yet to come to me, while others are coming into clearer focus. A big part of this time has been about driving home the point that each of us needs to remember, while we're caring for others, the need to also care for ourselves. We need to remember, in the words of a wise friend of mine, that "no one can drink from an empty cup". We need to take time to rest, to replenish that which is lacking or tired or overused (like a muscle) in ourselves.
Shabbat can do this to a certain extent, but sometimes the need for self care can be so great that it takes more than a weekly break from routine. Sometimes you get signals that something deeper is going on, something that requires you to set aside some of your everyday tasks for a little while, so you can address what you need to become healthy and whole again.
In some cases, you may need to acknowledge that your life is changing, your body is changing, and perhaps some of the things you used to do all the time you can't do so much anymore. Or a significant relationship needs extra care and attention.
Switching hands, switching perspectives.
If you could sit across from yourself, what would you tell yourself that you needed? How would you respond to your request?
This winter, I have been reminded of these sorts of things demanding my attention and energy. And I've been reminded of what can happen when you ignore the messages your life is giving you.
So this week, as we come to the end of the beginning, as it were, let's take a moment to remember to check in, with those we love, of course; but also with ourselves. We all need to refill that cup before we go down to Egypt and the book of Exodus/Shemot.
חְַזַק חְַזַק וְנִתְחַזֵק
Chazak, chazak, v'nit chazeyk!
Be strong, be strong, and together let us be strengthened!