Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Words That Prove You're Dead!

Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil,” G-d warns the Israelites. “You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live.” 
Why did G-d have to command this? Who wouldn’t choose life? Who would say, “Nah,” I think I’ll pick death, but thanks.” And yet, more often than we think, we actually do pick death.
There are two oft-used sentences which, contrary to their intentions, give more proof that the person saying them is dead rather than alive. They are, “I hate my life” and “I love my life.” These statements reveal a lack of faith, a lack of purpose and are inherently comfort-zone cop outs.
In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, we learn about these two deleterious mindsets of the “haters” and the “lovers.”
Oy, I hate my life:  
The freed Israelites were extremely distressed by the challenges ahead.They perceived the uphill battles as so impassable that they actually complained that G-d ever took them out of Egypt. They went so far as to say that "because the Lord hates us” he took us out of Egypt. Contrary to the famous words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” the Israelites, once having obtained liberty, said give me slavery. Servitude, after all, offers a sense of comfort, just as our own habits and routines are a form of slavery; we feel safe because we know what tomorrow will look like: We went to sleep a slave; we will wake up a slave. The burden of having to challenge ourselves is muted.
If we don’t fight the fear and abandon the comfort zone, we will always be crying to return to Egypt. We will resort to choosing evil because we are really more afraid to live than to die. It’s rather simple: if you hate your life, it’s because you are a prisoner of your own insecurities, a self-shackled slave. If you hate your life, it’s because you do not recognize the G-dly spirit inside you, nor the G-dly hand that guides you. He gave us the exit strategy: He opened the sea before us, and yet we spit at miracles. We become nostalgic for Egypt and say, “I hate my life,” only because we have no faith, no courage and no imagination.
“DO not be afraid,” the Almighty ensures us. “I will go before you and fight your battles.” The simple criteria is to believe He will. If G-d brought you to it, He will get you through it.  As Bon Jovi’s hit lyrics advise: “Welcome to wherever you are…you're exactly where you're supposed to be.
Ah, I love my life:
Equally culpable of having no faith and living in the stagnant zone are those who declare, “I love my life.” These are people who try and preserve the status quo—often at any price—and the price is usually their potential, principles and purpose in life. They are living like soulless slabs of meat on ice. But, we are not born to be preservationists--nor are we even capable to seize the moments--but rather we are meant to be activists as the first commandment in the Torah instructs, “Be fruitful and multiply,” not just in seed but in deed. Why settle for driftwood when the Tree of Life--the living, breathing Torah--stands before you?
Don’t love your life, love life. The difference between them is life or death.
Alternative thinkers insist on the path of least resistance; the Jewish path is the path of unyielding persistence.There is no destiny in inertia, only atrophy. And so, twice in this week’s parasha, we read that G-d told the Jews that it’s time to move on: “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain,” and then, “You have circled this mountain long enough.”  Stop being comfortable. If even hanging around the holy Mount Sinai had an expiration date, just imagine how ruinous it is to hang around lesser plateaus in life. Move on! There are other mountains to climb, lessons to learn and tests to pass. 

Your soul and body are partners. Neither one is a lovely butterfly meant to be preserved under shiny glass, forever beautiful and forever useless. Stop loving your life and start living it. You think you’re tired? The Israelites set up and broke down 42 encampments before they ever got to the Promised Land, and still their battles have not ended. Why? Because as one University professor used to tell his tired students, “You’ll sleep when you’re dead.” In the meantime, there’s a lot of work to do; get busy choosing life. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Every success brings out critics

Every great success brings out critics. Our thank-you letter to Sean Hannity for standing with Israel– which went viral– was no different. On his show, Sean Hannity said that he was never more humbled and honored by a letter in his entire career. Syndicated radio host Mark Levin spoke about it on his show too congratulating Hannity on receiving such a glowing tribute.

So what didn’t the critics like? Firstly, some resented that the 1200+ signatories on the letter, symbolic of Schindler’s list of 1200, referred to Hannity as a modern day Schindler. Secondly, some disparaged the whole idea of a gratitude campaign: “What’s the big deal,” they asked? Here is my rebuttal to those who seek to clip the wings and mar the soaring and graceful flight of our thank-you campaign. 

With all of Europe calling for Jews to return to the ovens and gas chambers and polls showing anti-Semitism at pre-WWII levels, with defenders of Israel being threatened in various and serious ways, I have zero problem thanking our “Schindlers” before Jews are forced to run around courtyards naked at gun point and forced to coalesce as ashes in a crematorium. The Holocaust is my legacy, my people, my family. The flesh and blood arms that hugged me in my life were imprinted with the “numbers” bequeathed to them by Nazis and their campaign of serialization, dehumanization and extermination. In the name of the six million who never lived to sing Hatikvah, by their blood, me and every other Jew is sanctioned and compelled to thank our modern day Schindlers before it is too late. We, the signees, do not need permission to use what belongs to us.

What a double travesty the Holocaust would be if we chose to bronze it and archive it instead of learn from it. “Never again” is a slogan that is growing evermore dim and being drowned out by the feverish shouts across the globe that “Hitler was right.” Oh, but how dare we thank Hannity for acting as a modern-day Schindler when he had to push his own network to let him cover Israel regardless of the inbound threat of rockets and Fox’s tendency to shy away from in-depth international news coverage? How dare we thank Hannity who put himself in the line of fire of some very dangerous, mean, spiteful and wholly capable murderous people out there? Oh, how dare we thank Hannity for standing with a nation which the whole world readily, reflexively and often cluelessly, vilifies? Make no mistake about it–standing with Israel has its price! The problem is we live in a gutless world where most people won’t risk it even if they know the truth. As such, Hannity stands out as veritable mensch among men, and a valiant man among shiftless approval-seeking mice.

The value of thank-you is immeasurable. In fact, the entire Torah is a book of thank-you, teaching us how to show gratitude and appreciation to the One who created us and to all that He created: time, animals, land, crops, etc. The first thing a Jewish person is supposed to do in the morning upon waking before even taking a single step is to say the one line Modah Ani prayer thanking G-d for restoring our soul back into our body. The Hebrew words Torah and todah (thank-you) are so closely related phonetically, structurally and spelling wise as to be deeply meaningful to those who study Hebrew etymology and gematrias. “Thank you” is the very foundation of the world. For without the gratitude of what is, humanity would stop safeguarding the vitals of its own preservation and unravel into chaos—(oh wait, it just may be).

Someone once asked: “What it you woke up tomorrow with only the things you said “thank you” for yesterday?” Too many of us would realize that there were too many things for which we didn’t say thanks. And though the letter in discussion here is graced with names of those of different faiths, I’m certain of this: We came together as one united voice and heart, and with the common understanding and pain of being victims of calumny and oppression. We came together with the heart’s wisdom to know right from wrong and good from evil; our thank you came from the universal heart that has no divides and that is why it packed a mighty punch. And so again, “thank you” Sean Hannity and all defenders of Zion. You do God’s work–it says it right there in His Book. For the sake of Zion, I will not be silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest.                                                                                           ********* Join us on Twitter or