Chapter 65 The Ego and the Yid
An accountant by profession, one of my male group members, Manny, fancied himself to be a rabbi. Manny used the group as his bully pulpit; he gratified his oral needs by holding forth on his knowledge of the Talmud, the commentary on Jewish law. Manny was the group monopolizer; but he could not have taken on that role alone. Manny got help from the group; the other group members were complicit.
Contrary to popular opinion, the group monopolizer is not an individual member’s resistance; the group is always involved. The monopolizer is another form of group resistance because, in order for a member to dominant the group time, the other members collude with that member to avoid a part of the group contract, which is “Each member is to use their equal share of the talking time.” What may seem like an individual resistance is actually the other members’ exploitation of the monopolizer’s willingness to be used. While other group members rolled their eyes at each other whenever Manny spoke, looking totally bored, no one confronted him on his mental masturbation, until one session when I began the group by joining the resistance. I asked the group members, “What portion of the Midrash should Manny comment on today?” The group was furious with me for blowing up the collective collusion. They wanted to blame him, but I protected Manny and accused the others of using him to avoid talking about their own unhappiness. I said loudly and emphatically, “You’re all using Manny to dodge the contract: ‘Everyone is to use his or her equal share of the total talking time’.” This was no coincidence. Manny allowed himself to be misused by others in his real life as well. Here was an opportunity for him to look at his need to be exploited at his own expense.
But this opportunity for insight only lasted for so long. He tried to engage me in a Talmudic argument about the inconsistencies of psychoanalytic theory. Nanette interjected and said to me, “Are you a Freudian?” I answered her question with a silly question, “Isn’t everyone?” Manny challenged me to a psychological duel. He said, “There’s no scientific evidence of the existence of the unconscious mind.” I frustrated his attempts to gratify his competitive oedipal strivings and said, “Well, it’s only a theory. What do I know?” He said, “You’re a hypocrite.” I replied, using a famous line from Barbra Streisand’s Yentl , “The Talmud accepts the contradictory nature of reality—why can’t you?”
When the group’s confrontations were not enough to nudge him away from his self-absorbed preoccupation, I asked him questions of minutiae that infuriated him. On one occasion, I asked him, “What was Moses wearing when he climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments?” On another I asked, “How many portholes were there in Noah’s Ark?”
I would never ask such seemingly disrespectful questions if I didn’t have a strong working alliance with him and the group. Manny used his sermons as a way to cover the pain and the impotent rage of his own life—the tragic death of his son’s overdose, the loss of his wife to cancer, his daughter’s serious illnesses, and the host of maladies that he daily suffered as a consequence of obesity, all of which he refused to address. I tweaked his nose, so to speak, to get at the underlying, denied emotions.
One night in the midst of one his pontifications, I asked, “Tell us, did manna from heaven come with condiments?” With that, Manny closed his eyes, heaved his chest, and sniveled, “I don’t feel anything.” JoAnne said, “You poor thing, I feel so bad for you.” I said to her, “You can save your breath. Manny’s acting.” Ted looked at me in horror and protected Manny, “How insensitive of you. Can’t you see the man is crying?” I said, “No, he’s not. Manny is cranking it up. Ask him.” As quickly as he started crying, Manny just as quickly stopped and sheepishly admitted, “Dr. Pepper is right. I wasn’t really crying. I thought if I made myself cry, I would feel something. I didn’t.” Ronnie asked me, “That’s amazing. How did you know that?” I said, “That’s why I get the big bucks!”
I turned to Manny and said, “Do you ever ask,‘Why me?’ Are you angry with God for all your misfortune?” Manny said, “No, I’m not. Why do you ask?” I replied, “Job was.”