Sunday, December 27, 2009
The year 2009 is now being deferred to history as 2010 is about to be discovered. As with the first page of a school notebook, the first week of a new year, or the first day of a diet, we cannot help but be filled with optimism and the desire to reset our behaviors when the chance to be a “new you” presents itself. Yet it is not long into the week that our neat handwriting that marked an optimistic beginning yields to scribbling; it’s not long into the year that yogurt yields to cheesecake and that our gym card becomes as lazy to get off the couch as we do.
As we look through Time magazine’s lists of 2009 that reflect on everything from the people of the year to the worst gaffs, scandals, feuds and breakups, it’s hard not to wonder how things went so wrong. How could Governor Sanford disappear to Argentina with a mistress and think he’d get away with it? How could a clean-cut guy like Tiger Woods be such a yutz? How could no one see what Bernie Madoff was up to? How could uninvited guests gallivant right into the White House? How could it be decided that 9/11 terrorists will stand trial in a New York court? It would have taken a Disney stretch of the imagination at the onset of 2009 to predict all the troubles and trauma that kept us on our toes and out of jobs in the past year.
The question is why do we keep getting ourselves into trouble time and time again even as we try as individuals, as leaders, as pop icons, to turn a new leaf? The answer came to me both in this week’s Bible reading which marks the end of the book of Genesis and the beginning of the Jewish exodus. It also came to me with the kind wishes of someone who said, “Hope the New Year brings you great things.”
It is upon that wish that I realized how troubles brew. For what I noticed by going through Time magazine’s epic failures of the year, is not what 2009 brought to people, but rather what people brought to 2009. Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Is it any wonder, then, that if we brought to 2009 everything that we were in ’08 that nothing had a chance to get better but rather was condemned to failure? We are so gung-ho on attaching ourselves to the blank slate of what lays ahead simply because it is the easy way out: “Oh, let’s see what tomorrow brings.” But as we traverse that pristine white landscape of tomorrow we are still wearing yesterday’s filthy muddied boots. How do we then wonder how we’ve ruined this too and made such a mess?
It’s at this time of year, while making resolutions, that we should be looking to the past and scrutinizing our behaviors and cycles of weakness. I’m not suggesting we flog ourselves for our mistakes but rather we take an honest look at why they happened and set up flares and barbed wire around the things that led us astray. The new you that you desperately seek will not be found in the health club membership card, it will be found inside of you. We know academically that nations who forget their history are condemned to repeat it. The same logic applies to our personal lives.
In this week’s Bible reading, the last of the patriarchs, Jacob, dies. But before he passes away, he gathers all his sons, the future 12 tribes of Israel, to bless them. Jacob, however, knows that in order for his sons to have any chance at a healthy future they have to take a reckoning of their past. In his last breath Jacob scolds those who sinned and points out their faults, their flaws and their misbehavior, as well as their strengths—it’s hardly a touchy-feely Hollywood goodbye scene. He does not accommodate their weaknesses in one everything-will-be-okay- happy-go-lucky blessing. The custodians of the future need to know “what” and “why” they did things wrong in the past and then fix it. Yesterday is not something to run away from like a mugger wanting to take everything away from you, it is rather a guru, a teacher, with something great to give you.
So my dear friends, as we accelerate into 2010, don’t forget to take a look into the rear-view mirror once in awhile and to leave your muddied boots on the doormat that read “2009.”
This blog is dedicated to all my Facebook friends. May God be with you always and Happy New Year!
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Sunday, December 20, 2009
On a daily basis we are bombarded with an enormity of information. Facebook, Twitter, texting, emails, 24-hour-news cycles, etc. What we don’t realize, perhaps, is how this barrage of overfeed continually attempts to define and influence who we are. Each byte is competing to shape our thoughts, instigate our emotions, and capture our attention as did some over-possessive childhood friend who always tried to tell you what to do. He was the friend your parents advised you from hanging out with because in his company you always ended up in trouble.
In today’s information rage, we also obsessively cling to certain media and sites as an entertaining companion who is there for us day or night. Rarely do we stop and ask whether these are “friends” with whom I should be spending time? Do you ever find yourself posting something especially harsh and uncharacteristically “you” because the peer pressure on whatever side of the political blogosphere you’re on is rooting you on? Have you ever found yourself becoming too friendly online, as a married person, with someone of the opposite sex? Have you ever spent too much money shopping online because you’ve been lulled into a mindset of needing?
These unguarded moments can accumulate and soon that statement you posted gets you into trouble, maybe even costing your job. That woman at the end of the send button soon invites you for more than a chat. That online spending soon leads you into unsustainable debt. These are the ways of the Serpent, our evil inclination, who never comes dressed as a snake anymore. Today he comes dressed in a miniskirt, in an irresistible sale, in many subtle forms that tweak us ever imperceptibly out of Eden.
How many of us were deeply bothered by President Obama’s affiliation with Reverend Wright and other individuals. Were we just condemning the reverend’s anti-Americanism, or were we instinctually feeling that if you sit long enough in the pew, you’ll come to share the view.
Thus it is for good reason too that the Talmud cautions us to “keep away from a bad neighbor” even if your morals are antithetical to his and you think that you can withstand the influence of his evil ways. Remember that evil has been around a lot longer than we have and that it is an unabatable fire with the sole mission of scorching your soul. Remember always that when you play with fire you get burned. You cannot spend your days in a fish store and come out smelling like roses.
We learn in the Biblical story of Joseph, that day after day the wife of his Egyptian “boss” would make sexual advances to him. Reared in a pure home, he continually spurned her advances not wanting to sin against God. However, the Zohar teaches that Joseph almost yielded.
Thus it comes as little surprise in this week’s Torah reading that Joseph advises his father and brothers to tell Pharaoh that they were shepherds, a trade which was despicable to the Egyptians. As such, Pharaoh gave them a place to dwell outside of the city’s hubbub, where idol worship was rampant. Joseph wanted to keep his family far away from any possible bad influences.
No person is strong enough to flirt with a situation or environment over and over again and leave unscathed. Thus, it is essential that each person scrutinize his surroundings and friends, as well as the things he reads and the habits he feeds. For every single thing in your life is a like a sculptor’s chisel shaping the person you become. Stand vigilant so that the best of you is not being chipped away.
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Sunday, December 13, 2009
The Sun’s not coming out today.
Would you come out on a day like this?
The temperature has dropped. It’s freezing outside. The leaves have abandoned the trees once again. And the gray chilling skies make the outdoors evermore uninviting. The sun seems to have absconded as well like a fleeing accomplice to all that has brought darkness upon this great land: the flailing economy, the unemployment rate, the federal debt, the housing crisis, a divisive Congress and the unprecedented uncertainty about the future. It appears to be the winter of our greatest discontent. Doom and gloom has replaced the optimistic morning dew and is choking our spirits and setting us into further depression and despair. It becomes easier day by day to become apathetic and adjust our eyes to the darkness instead of searching for the light and creating new light.
Yet, I urge everyone, even if the sun is not coming out on a day like this, YOU MUST. Interestingly, it is at this time of year, in fact this week, that the nights are longest and darkness seems to prevail as the sun goes to bed early. But it is also the most precious time of year as both Jews and Christians celebrate their holidays of lights with brightly lit Christmas trees and the glow of the Chanuka menorah. Each is a symbolic lesson to us that in the blackest of times, we must be the ones responsible for bringing light to our world and our lives. These holidays of lights are a priceless metaphor that light triumphs over darkness (and it always will).
Orphan Annie was right, the sun will come out tomorrow, but today create your own sunlight. It takes just a single flame to dispel much darkness. If you’re feeling miserable, put on some makeup and make yourself look pretty, if you’re a woman. For a man, shave and go to the gym; you will feel better. If you’re feeling antisocial, go give a few dollars or a cup of coffee to a homeless person--your spirits will be lifted. If you’re feeling depressed, start singing the happiest song you know. Undoubtedly you will crack yourself up, and if your voice is as good as mine you make crack a few mirrors too. You cannot get out of a black hole by entertaining the darkness but rather by seeking the light.
In this week’s Bible portion we read about Joseph. One day he was the beloved favorite son of Jacob; the next day his brothers sold him into slavery; the next day he rose to great prominence in Egypt; the next day he was thrown into jail; the next day he was the most powerful man in Egypt under Pharaoh. The rollercoaster of his life had bigger highs and lows than the 456-foot high Kingda Ka joyride at Six Flags Great Adventure. Nonetheless, he rose from the snake-filled pit into which his brothers cast him to great power, prestige and prominence. And the Bible teaches us something very interesting about Joseph’s attitude throughout. The dungeon to which he is condemned is called in Hebrew “Beit Hasohar,” the “house of light.” Even in the depths of a dark dungeon, Joseph maintained his faith in God, he remained optimistic and hopeful and he created his own “light.”
Yet just as abruptly as Joseph’s problems came upon him, they left him with equal speed as he was beckoned to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.
My friends, the trials and hardships inflicted on man are limited. Just when a person least expects salvation, it is just around the corner. There is a season for everything in our lives, even a winter of discontent. The things we want most usually hit us by surprise as if God is trying to remind us, again, that our blessings come from Him no matter what else we may think.
Indeed the world stage and our personal stages appear pretty bleak these days. Many people even feel it may be the end of time. I prefer to think in terms of a great new beginning. We can learn from Joseph and our beautiful holidays of lights to never yield to the darkness of despair but rather to have faith in almighty God and trust ALWAYS that the darkest hour is just before the dawn.
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Sunday, December 6, 2009
We all seem to know some lucky “undeserving” idiots who seem to have it all in life--that obnoxious brother-in-law, your sister, the neighbor, or that guy on TV. And as we compare our own lot in life to theirs, it’s hard not to be jealous when our assets are in bubkes and theirs are in billions or when they are so “hot” and we are just not. How often has the little green-eyed demon, jealousy, whispered in our ear? “If I only had what they have I’d be happy.” Unfortunately, jealousy is often not an inspirational coach that motivates us to improve ourselves as much as it inspires us to ruin others.
Interestingly, the tenth commandment--“You shall not covet”--is the only one that deals with our thoughts and desires, not our actions. As such, it is a commandment that if broken can only be known by God, He who can read hearts and surely knows if you are lusting after your neighbor’s ass[ets]. But this commandment is deemed the most important of all because it is the root of all evil. If jealousy and coveting are nurtured, they will lead to a violation of ALL the other commandments. In the name of jealousy all the ills of the world were born in Eden.
When I was a young girl and would tell my mother I wish I had this girl’s dollhouse or that one’s bicycle, even though we were not religious my mother would always say in Yiddish, even though she is French, “zindik nisht,” which means “Do not sin.” And then she would add, “You never know what another person’s luck is!” (Somehow wisdom spoken in other languages seems to have more gravitas.)
As always mother knows best. She was right. Up until last week everyone envied Tiger Woods. He had a picture-perfect life. But we always forget that life is 3D, not a flat picture. Then there was the double-D beautiful Marilyn Monroe who was so envied, yet all her blessings ended when she died at the age of 36. James Dean, too, had everything to live for and then died at 24. The same is true of Lady Diana, Elvis Presley, JFK and JFK Jr. And while they lived, how many of them were truly happy and how many had sunk to the depths of despair?
Millions of people once wished they could have changed places with the above individuals when it seemed their lives were dreams come true? But time has shed a truer light on their stories--which have proven to be more nightmarish than dreamy. Did you ever wonder what those people would have given to be you?
Before you start envying someone else, have you really accessed everything that God gave to you and developed it and worked on it and turned it into greatness? Or do you lazily watch life go by and envy everyone who has the temerity to get off the couch and be all they can be.
Indeed, there is nothing wrong with healthy competition or having role models-- that’s what leads to excellence and innovation. But each man has his own lot in life. It is said that on a person’s Day of Judgment before one’s Heavenly Maker, we will not be asked why we weren’t as great as others were but rather why we weren’t AS GOOD AS WE CAN BE!
In this week’s Bible portion, we read about Joseph and his brothers’ jealousy. That jealousy led to a plot to kill him (until they decided to throw him into a pit instead). His brothers were so busy looking at Joseph and hating him that they forgot to look at themselves and their own immense worth. They were the future 12 tribes of a blessed nation, of God’s chosen people. Each was destined for greatness and named at birth prophetically for his own unique qualities that he would bestow on humanity. Each tribe was ascribed his own month hence the 12 months of the year; each had his own influence corresponding to the 12 astrological signs. But instead of putting their focus and energy on how high they could go and how important they were individually, they decided to “dig” a pit for their brother which, in the end, THEY fell into.
Friends, there are two ways to augment yourself in life: one is by digging a diminishing ditch for others, the second is by building a meaningful platform for yourself. If you choose the former you become a coward, if you chose the latter you can become a king. You cannot rise by bringing others to their knees, but rather by getting off your own.
This blog is dedicated to:
Lev lalev girl's orphanage in Israel (help make their Chanukah special) AND to
The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (help make their Christmas special)
Doesn't matter who you help, but please reach out and help someone during this holiday season of lights and candles and brighten somebody's life.
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