Choosing Not To See
I was trying to turn right and was waiting for people to finish crossing the street. I considered forcing my way through, after all, it was New York City, but there was a policeman at the corner attempting to direct traffic. Some drivers and pedestrians obeyed his hand signals. Others simply ignored him. My impatience got lost as I observed who followed his instructions and who pretended that he wasn’t there.
You can tell a lot about a person from the way he drives, crosses a street in traffic, and his dealings with traffic officers.
There’s the person, who, when he sees that people are waiting to turn, will pick up speed as he crosses the street. Some people maintain their pace and do not pay attention to the honking cars. There is also the person who will slow down just to make you wait a little bit longer.
I decided to place a therapist’s couch on the corner of a busy intersection so I could use their street crossing behavior to pinpoint their psychological issues.
“Excuse me officer,” I said, “Would you mind if I placed a couch on this corner so I can psychoanalyze the people crossing?”
He looked at me as if I was insane; “Are you crazy? You need the couch for yourself!”
Being the patient and understanding man that I am, I asked, “How do you feel when people ignore your hand signals?”
“It’s insulting! If I were not so busy, I would give each one a ticket.”
“Don’t you think that if I could grab them at that moment, in the ‘here and now’ and immediately confront them with their behavior, that they would be forced to acknowledge how they treated you?”
“That’s exactly why I want to place my couch on the corner.”
He seriously considered my proposal for a second, and then the car behind me honked their horn and I woke up from my fantasy. I will admit that it was immediately replaced by another fantasy having to do with an Uzi.
It’s much harder to deny behavior when immediately confronted in the here and now. Still, I wonder if the couch on the street would actually help:
Isaac was actually a master at such confrontation: “When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he replied, “She is my sister.” He was afraid to say, “She is my wife,” for he thought to himself, “The men of this place will kill me to get Rebecca because she is very beautiful.” After Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines happened to look out a window and observed Isaac caressing his wife Rebecca. So Abimelech summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac replied, “Because I thought someone might kill me to get her.” Then Abimelech exclaimed, “What in the world have you done to us? One of the men might easily have had sexual relations with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us!” So Abimelech commanded all the people, “Whoever touches this man or his wife will surely be put to death.”
Abimelech certainly remembered the old “She’s my sister” trick from Abraham’s days. I have no doubt that he vividly recalled the consequences of taking Sarah into his harem. Isaac knew that Abimelech and the people of Gerar remembered, and not fondly, what happens when you start up with an Abramson.
The minute they asked him about his wife, he understood that they had not learned their lesson. So, he played the same game with his wife as had Abraham with Sarah, hoping that “She’s my sister” would trigger their memories and protect his wife and him.
Abimelech stayed away but he kept his eye out for Rebecca. “Abimelech king of the Philistines happened to look out a window and observed Isaac caressing his wife Rebecca. So Abimelech summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac replied, “Because I thought someone might kill me to get her.”
Isaac forced Abimelech to confront his behavior. He held a humiliating mirror in front of Abimelech so he could see that he had not changed and he had not learned his lesson from his experience with Abraham and Sarah.
It didn’t work: Then Abimelech exclaimed, “What in the world have you done to us? One of the men might easily have had sexual relations with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us!”
Abimelech chose not to see the truth no matter how clear. Isaac insisted on the truth. Perhaps this was a message to the father “trapped” by his son’s lies. We’ll see.
I think I’ll drop the couch on the intersection idea. People don’t want to see what they don’t want to see.
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