Don't Fear the Bark of the Dog
A few weeks back, I didn’t advance in a job search. Always striving to learn more on how to be a better candidate, I asked for feedback. One of the comments I received was that I shared too honestly. This person suggested I find a better balance between truth and giving the right answers in an interview.
One of my deeply held values is authenticity. No matter the situation or the crowd, being true to one’s self is something I hold dear in myself and others around me. When I heard this piece of feedback, I was a bit surprised and disappointed. Ultimately, I realized a place like that is not a place that would match my style.
The notion of what we believe matching how we act is a deeply rooted one in Judaism. It is teased out in a creative way by the Degel Machane Ephraim, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov in this week’s portion:
וְהָ֥יְתָ֛ה צְעָקָ֥ה גְדֹלָ֖ה בְּכׇל־אֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֤ר כָּמֹ֙הוּ֙ לֹ֣א נִהְיָ֔תָה וְכָמֹ֖הוּ לֹ֥א תֹסִֽף׃ וּלְכֹ֣ל ׀ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל לֹ֤א יֶֽחֱרַץ־כֶּ֙לֶב֙ לְשֹׁנ֔וֹ לְמֵאִ֖ישׁ וְעַד־בְּהֵמָ֑ה לְמַ֙עַן֙ תֵּֽדְע֔וּן אֲשֶׁר֙ יַפְלֶ֣ה יְהֹוָ֔ה בֵּ֥ין מִצְרַ֖יִם וּבֵ֥ין יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
And there shall be a loud cry in all the land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again; but not a dog shall snarl at any of the Israelites, at human or beast—in order that you may know that יהוה makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. Exodus 11: 6-7
As God is giving instructions for what is going to happen during the plague of the death of the firstborn, these details are added. A piercing cry will come from the afflicted people but for the Israelites, no harm shall come of them. But it’s worded strangely; no dog shall snarl.
Anyone with a dog knows that late at night, which is when these events were going to unfold, is the time when a dog is likely to howl loudly at any little creak in the house. That is one answer given by commentators. Others note that if a dog won’t even be allowed to bark at the Israelites, certainly they need not worry that God would allow one of God’s angels to harm them.
The Degel Machane Ephraim goes in a totally different direction. He highlights the fact that the word for dog is כֶּ֙לֶב֙, the word for heart is לֶב֙, and the word for voice is לְשֹׁנ֔וֹ. Breaking that up differently, he notes that it can be written כ׳לב לשונו:
if your heart matches your tongue, you need not fear even the bark of a dog.
Wielding the flexibility of language, he allegorizes this whole section of the Torah to be about self-alignment. If you’re doing your best to speak and act in the world in a way that lines up with your internal values, you will find safety. In my opinion, this is chasidic explication of the Torah at its finest.
Here we have this powerful moment where the Israelites are being reassured about their safety. In and of itself, it’s a creative use of language. If you don’t have to fear a dog’s bark, you certainly won’t have to fear the angel of death.
Broadening that scope, the Degel Machene Ephraim applies this concept to walking through the world where we all face different manifestations of what it means to live in fear of being harmed. When I learned this Torah this week, I thought of the battle my psyche and resolve are facing as I wade through the tempestuous waters of a job search that feels so much larger than just one search. His words penetrated my heart.
We’re all walking through the world trying to wedge ourselves in to some capacity. Faced with external bodies that often demand we relinquish the best parts of who we are, this teaching stands powerfully in opposition. As Seth Godin wrote just yesterday:
“We can always do a better job of finding the place where we might thrive. And a better job of living and telling the story that earns us a chance to get to that place.”
Be you internally and externally.
In every moment, ask yourself, does my heart match what I am saying and doing right now? If we can answer in the affirmative more often than not, I truly believe we can find refuge.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend!