A Blueprint for Vulnerability
Brené Brown, a leading social worker and lecturer, is famous for her work on ‘vulnerability’.
Through her years of research she has concluded that happiness and contentment are byproducts of feeling a sense of worthiness.
The obvious question, then, is how do we achieve a sense of worthiness?
Brown concludes that interpersonal connections, feeling loved and a sense of belonging are the factors that lead one to feel worthy.
Ok, so lets round out this algebra and solve for ‘X’
If…Happiness = Worthiness = Feeling Loved/Connected to others = X
I may have given it away above, but Brown’s massive discovery and basis for her Ted Talk that has been watched 50+ Million times is that ‘X = Vulnerability.’ For Brown vulnerability means being open to the feelings of “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”
The ability to build relationships with others based on letting them in and a willingness to feel a sense of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure in front of those people.
Wow. We just solved for Happiness…Happiness = Vulnerability.
This is striking, we often think of vulnerability as a weakness, don’t we? Especially over the last year or so, we’ve all felt a sense of risk or exposure.
So how do we learn from this? Where are our role models for the good kind of vulnerability?
Luckily for us the protagonist of our Passover story, Moses, is the paradigm of vulnerability.
In a moment we will take a look at some of the milestones in Moses’s life that illustrate to us his vulnerability. However, before we get there, I’d like to argue that the Bible tells us rather plainly that Moses is vulnerable.
Seemingly without context the Bible proclaims:
וְהָאִ֥ישׁ מֹשֶׁ֖ה ענו [עָנָ֣יו] מְאֹ֑ד מִכֹּל֙ הָֽאָדָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָאֲדָמָֽה׃
Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth.(Numbers 12:3)
I believe that the word ענו here can be understood as vulnerable (as opposed to humble). This reading will be apparent to you as well once we review Moses’s life and the context in which the line above is stated.
Let us take a quick sample view of Moses’s life through the lens of vulnerability (there are many other examples):
- Intro to Moses — Baby in a Basket (Metaphorical vulnerability)
- “When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. (Exodus 2:3)
- First Born Son — The Stranger is Vulnerable
- “she bore a son whom he named Gershom, for he (Moses)said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land.” (Exodus 22:2)
- Burning Bush — Doubting His Own Ability
- “But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)
- Battle with Amalek -Reliance on Others
- “But Moses’ hands grew heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur, one on each side, supported his hands; thus his hands remained steady until the sun set.” (Exodus 17:12)
Ok so Moses is vulnerable. How does this tie back to vulnerability leading to deeper relationships and happiness?
The narrative of Moses being vulnerable before God, of letting God in, is particularly compelling when you think about Moses/God building a relationship. In fact, I’d argue that God opens himself up in the same way to Moses when he claims “But I will not go in your midst, since you are a stiff-necked people, lest I destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 33:3). God is saying to Moses…I can’t go with you, I know myself. (Thank you to Rabbi Adam Mintz for helping me shape this perspective).
What we are seeing here is Moses and God developing a relationship built on trust and the ability to be honest with each other. This helps us understand what the Bible was getting at when it proclaims:
“Now Moses was a very vulnerable (my translation) man, more so than any other man on earth.”
If you take a look at the context you will see that right after the Bible declares Moses as exceedingly vulnerable God explains the unique nature of His relationship with Moses:
Suddenly the LORD called to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” So the three of them went out.
The LORD came down in a pillar of cloud, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and called out, “Aaron and Miriam!” The two of them came forward;
and He said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the LORD arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream.
Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household.
With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the LORD. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!”
Here we see that the Bible is giving us a narrative to complement our math above. Through his vulnerability Moses is able to speak with God “plainly and not in riddles.” We are being given a blueprint for happiness and strong personal relationships. We are learning from Moses that vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness, but the most fundamental and direct way to build close relationships.