Last week’s Torah portion, Miketz, is full of large-scale drama: fortunes rising and falling, pilgrimages for survival, power struggles, and internal journeys of the heart.
Pharoah dreams of extremes: seven fat cows, seven emaciated cows. Joseph, called to interpret these dreams, rises from his prison cell to a position at Pharaoh’s side. The earth goes through seven years of plenty, then seven years of famine. Joseph’s brothers journey across a great desert to beg Pharoah’s assistant for grain, not realizing that Pharoah’s assistant is actually Joseph. Now in power, Joseph plays a game of cat-and-mouse with them, withholding his identity, alternating between public sternness and private weeping.
Yep, this is the stuff of great family drama. Will Joseph reveal himself to his brothers? How far will he go to punish his siblings’ past cruelty? How can siblings do this to each other?
Meanwhile, at my house, a different drama is playing out. I call it toddler drama.
Sometimes it’s true, thrilling human drama: Sylvie’s budding command of language, her increasingly meaningful relationship with the world around her, her first real friendships. She is blossoming. It is miraculous.
Other times, it’s eye-rolling drama, in the reality show sense of the word. As if instead of being a mother and toddler at lunch, we’re two catty 20-somethings, locked in some ridiculous power struggle, egged on by the director, overacting for the cameras.
I should say here, thankfully, I do know I’m the adult here. When she flings her food across the room, or refuses to put on pants when we’re late, I’m pretty decent at keeping a poker face and playing the responsible mama.
But while I am (mostly) able to perform my role as The Responsible Mama, internally, it can be shockingly hard not to get involved in a power struggle out of all proportion. One more appropriate for the epic drama of Joseph and his brothers than lunchtime with my (mostly) sweet toddler.
Between you and me, I’d hoped I was a little further along in my personal development. I’m sorry to report I am not. It seems a big part of my task as a parent of a toddler, and no less a spiritual challenge in my own life, is to find a middle path between these extreme reactions–either wonder or frustration, delight or annoyance. A path of least drama.
“Suddenly, seven fat, handsome cows emerged from the Nile… Then, just as suddenly, seven other cows emerged after them, very badly formed and emaciated.” (Genesis 41:18-19)
One Chassidic rabbi interprets the Pharaoh’s dream as revealing something a deep truth about our existence:
“In exile we are faced with opposites all the time. One minute we pursue eternal, spiritual goals and the next minute we want things that are mundane and transitory. When the Redemption comes we will no longer feel this dichotomy.”
Personally, I’m not so drawn to the Redemption, but I like this idea that the very fact of opposites is a feature of our human limitations. How often does bad news turn out to contain a hidden blessing, or vice versa? We never get the whole picture. As humans, we’re always trapped in our own limited way of seeing things. We are in exile from perfect wholeness.
After all, who knows what the future holds? The very stubbornness that makes Sylvie refuse to wear pants today might enable her, 30 years later, to persevere with her scientific research and cure some disease. The exuberance with which she hurls chicken soup across the room could grow into the energy and inventiveness of a great painter.
Or–much more importantly–her determination and spirit could give her the basic tools she needs to grow into a thoughtful, caring person: curious and open, eager to learn and stand up for what’s right.
As for me, Sylvie is my teacher. Every day she gives me new opportunities to practice finding the middle ground. She gives new lessons in handling ups and downs more gracefully, seeing them as temporary truths, passing dramas, rather than eternal ones.
She challenges me to see past the drama and grow into a true adult.
To read the previous posts in our Torah MOMentary series, click here.