Jewish Journal

Egos Gone Wild (or: The Tao of Leviticus)

by Marcus J Freed

March 14, 2013 | 7:50 am

It's all about knowing when to display your feathers.

We have all been around the person who has an untamed ego, and you may even work with one of them. They always need to be the centre of attention, they make everything about themselves and they drain the energy of people around them. In <em>Harry Potter</em> terminology they are the 'Dementors'. In order to solve the ‘problem’ of our narcissistic acquaintance and turn the challenge into an opportunity, we can ask two questions: 1)What is it about them that bothers us so much? And 2)Can we see that annoying quality inside ourself?

In ancient Jerusalem there was a kind of sacrifice that was brought with flour but it was taught that the flour had to be brought in a completely unleavened state, i.e. not mixed with water or puffed-up in any way. The flour was seen to represent the human ego, and it is impossible to give a wholehearted sacrifice if we are coming from a self-centered perspective (1).

Similarly, we may have experienced a friend or work colleague give us a gift while they made it all about them. When was the last time somebody gave something to you – whether a tangible gift or doing you a favour – but you energetically felt that they were taking from you?

All of this makes sense from a rational perspective. If there is a limited amount of space in the room and we inflate ourselves, there is less room for somebody else. But this goes deeper; when we don’t give space for other people’s thoughts and ideas, we shut down a whole realm of possibility. By keeping our ego minimised, we unlock a magical space of potential where we can create deeper connections with people, discover more pathways to success, and gain greater enjoyment each moment.

A couple of years ago I enjoyed watching the peacocks at San Diego zoo. They quietly wandered about their business until confronted, at which point they instantly appeared to triple in size, displaying their stunning array of colourful feathers. As soon as the moment had passed, they reduced in size and quietly carried on with their day. I don’t imagine there’s even a phrase in peacock-language for “hey! I’ve got a really cool bunch of feathers stuck to my backside! Check ‘em out! What’s up!”. There is nothing wrong with having external beauty or prodigious talents, but it is all about one applies it.

We often drop into the Ego Zone as a way to protect ourselves from getting hurt, but when make space for other people we can discover a whole new world of possibility.

Marcus J Freed


HOW TO USE THIS IN THE BOARDROOM: Consider how you are not leaving space for other people or new ideas in your workplace. Where are you making things too much about you and not enough about the client? This could apply in your interactions, your marketing materials, anything! What could be possible if you spent more time listening to others? What could you create?

HOW TO USE THIS ON THE YOGA MAT/MEDITATION CUSHION: Calm your mind and notice how your own thoughts fill the space. Whenever a limiting thought arises – “I can’t do this, I shouldn’t do that, I wish I hadn’t…”, notice that as the sphere of the ego, and gently observe that thought, allowing it to pass.

(1)Based on Parshat Vayikra/Leviticus. “Any meal-offering that you offer to God shall not be prepared leavened”. Nachmanides/Ramban quotes Maimonides/Rambam in Moreh HaNevuchim, the Guide for the Perplexed (III:46), where he explains that idolaters would bring their meal-offerings in a leavened state mixed with honey.

I learned this teaching about the leavened offerings from my dear teacher Rabbi Dovid Ebner, of Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. He also contextualised it with the incident of Cain and Abel; the latter refused to give completely of himself which is why his sacrifice was refused. Abel, meanwhile, gave a pure and open offering. I would add that there is a secret in his name; Hevel (Abel in Hebrew) means ‘nothingness’, ‘vapour’ or even a kind of breath. Perhaps Hevel/Abel had reduced his ego to a state of complete nothingness.

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Marcus J Freed is a studio-trained yogi, yeshiva-trained educator, published author, BBC broadcaster and classically-trained actor.  Marcus has developed a quartet of powerful...

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