The Exodus:5 Project
“that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did appear to you.” Exodus 4:5
The remarkable Gloria Steinem was told once by a journalist, “You don’t look forty.” She responded, “This is what forty looks like.”
As a quip, it is clever. As an insight, it is profound. She discussed her remark as emerging from her frustration with an artificial construct of how women should appear in certain ages and circumstances. I don’t think she gives herself enough credit. The wisdom of her response is both broader and deeper than the imposition of some paradigm of youth and age on appearance.
I am guilty myself of making comments about the disconnect in my mind between appearance and reality. I know I have said, “You don’t look like a Marine, you don’t look like a grandfather, you don’t look like an auto mechanic.” (Not all to the same person, duh.) And I cannot count how many times I have been told, “You don’t look like a rabbi.”
The observation comes from experience and stereotype, or sometimes despite it. My two grandfathers worked with their hands. Though I never knew my father’s father, a mechanical whiz, his pictures always show a dapper man. And my other grandfather was a plumber, willing to deal with every kind of water emergency. You would never know it to look at him; in his day, he could have been a model.
My sister, who inherited her good looks from both sides of the family, is a funeral director. She actually hears “you don’t look like…” more often than I do. She breaks the stereotype my father loved to joke about: the guy with the tape-measure eyes.
The fact is that no matter what picture I have in my head, a person defines himself or herself by the circumstances of their own. Gloria Steinem did not look forty – until she was. Grandpa Jack did not look like a guy who could fix a car engine with a hairpin – until he did. Grandpa Nate did not look like a guy who was willing to reach down a clogged drain – until it was clogged. And my sister morphs into a combination of strength and compassion the moment the phone rings, even if she was in the middle of dancing to a Spanish pop song about what ducks do (you had to be there).
Jewish tradition reminds us of this truth at least three times a day. By plucking the second half of this particular verse out of context and placing it at the very beginning of daily devotion we are reminded that each of our forefathers (and, certainly, our foremothers) was an intimate of God, but each in his own way. Moses is not told that his encounter is with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses is told that his encounter with the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. An unchanging and eternal deity is both transformed and held in a moment of time by unlikely successors – the pioneer, the homebody and the adventurer. Moses, shepherd and fugitive prince doesn’t look like an intimate of God – until he is.
This is what God’s messenger looks like.
If you are reading this column with the eyes of faith, you should be assured that you, like Moses and his forebears, have a unique relationship with God. Look in the mirror. That’s what an intimate of God looks like.
But if you are looking through a different set of eyes, the lesson is at least as important. As you encounter people in your orbit, you will represent to them a paradigm. You are what an attorney looks like, a receptionist, a tech consultant, a teacher, a taxi driver, a sailor, a chef. You are what a sibling looks like, a neighbor, an in-law, a cousin, a friend, a stranger. And if you happen to be forty, then this is what forty looks like today.