Thursday, April 25, 2013

It's Everyone Else's Fault©

I have a question: Why aren’t you everything you could be?

I’ll give you a second to come up with your best excuses—although we’ve outsourced most things to China, we are still great at manufacturing excuses. We so often blame our mothers, our circumstances, our height, our looks, our upbringing, our spouses, our society etc., for what we’ve become and who we are. But my question still stands: Why aren’t you everything you could be? Who really is to blame for what we are not? Each one of us has a unique talent. Yet, so many of us have an unrequited dream of what we could have been and what we yet can be. It’s quite unfortunate that while our aspirations have taken us to ambitious heights, our excuses keep us strapped to the TV-room couch or the therapist’s.  Click to subscribe

“Well,” you might ask, “aren’t we entitled to have excuses and reasons for why things just can’t be, after all, we are human?”  For the moment, I’ll curb my tongue and let Adrianne Haslet-Davis answer that question. No, she is not a famous psychologist or philosopher on life, but she should be. She’s not pontificating from the self-inflated towers of academia, but from a hospital bed.  Adrianne Haslet-Davis, is the 32 year-old dancer who lost her foot in the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon. She told the Boston Herald, “I can’t let some (expletive) come along and steal my whole life," she said. "So, I’ll dance again. And next year, though I’ve never been a runner, yes, I plan to run the marathon." How can anyone more boldly teach us that when life kicks your teeth in, we bravely must keep on smiling?

An interesting detail stood out for me while watching the news coverage of the bombing. Forensic experts explained that even the impact of such a huge explosion would not erase the DNA evidence of the perpetrators. It dawned on me that even the potency of such a murderous device cannot destroy the fundamentals of who we are.  A true dancer will still be a dancer even without a foot. 

It is precisely because we are humans that we are NOT entitled to excuses. It is because we humans are made in G-d’s image that we have no right to give up on our own potential no matter how hard things are or what we’ve been through. Our soul attaches us to an infinite source where all things are possible while we are still in the land of the living. And just as a bomb can't blow up DNA, we can't let life's hardships blow us apart either. Yet, sadly, many of us cut off our own potential and terrorize ourselves into not doing things that we really can do and should do. The most important and impactful words in history were passed along to humanity, not by a skilled orator, but rather by a man who had a speech impediment: Moses. A true leader will lead even with a stuttering tongue.

Interestingly, the Torah calls Israel the Land of Milk and Honey. Yet, I’m sure the pioneers who got malaria and broke their backs tilling a parched desert had a few other names for it.  Still, 65 years later Israel has become one of the most innovative countries in the world spreading its technologies and medical advancements across the globe. A desert was turned into verdant fields of opportunity. A true land of milk and honey will flourish and bloom even where there is ruin, rock and rubble. 

Perfection my friends is not the starting point, it is mankind’s ever evasive destination. Don’t be afraid to try and get started because you’re not perfect. We are all broken one way or another.  Just recognize your G-dly partner in life and then the only thing you will not be able to do is to manufacture more excuses.                                           Click to subscribe

In this week’s Torah reading we read about priests who are disqualified from serving in the Temple because they had a blemish. But the Zohar teaches that the disabled have greater merit than the rest of us; and for precisely this reason they cannot work in the Temple.1 
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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Put Up--But Don’t Shut Up!©

Mothers can really be annoying. They’re always repeating themselves. Haven’t all our mothers told us at one time or another, “For the hundredth time, I’m telling you blah, blah, blah….” Why do they do that? Just tell me once and stop already! But the very simple answer is that when you love something or someone, whether it is your child, or America, or the State of Israel, or freedom, or the Constitution, you never stop talking. To surrender to the silence with the belief that you’ve spoken up enough and are fed up is nothing short of traitorous and gross negligence. 

In this week’s Bible reading and indeed throughout the entire Five Books of Moses, over and over again we see the phrase, “And G-d told Moses speak to the children of Israel….” Why the repetition of that sentence? Why didn’t G-d just say, “Do everything I command you in My Book and don’t make me tell you twice"? Maybe because G-d knows that words just evaporate into the air and where they land no one really knows. G-d’s children are like ALL children, they are stiff-necked, stubborn and often hard of hearing, and one can never know when instructive, advising and beneficial words will sink in.

The Almighty said to the Israelites: “And these Words which I am commanding you today shall be ON your heart.” He didn’t say IN. For things cannot be rammed into a person’s heart since that approach will only be met with resistance. But if the words are placed upon our porous hearts and minds, and reiterated, sooner or later they will penetrate. 

Yet G-d's words are a little different than the teachings we receive from our parents which we internalize and use as needed. Although all words need a place to land for them to be of use, G-d's words are not destined to have an eternal resting place. Like a nutrient-rich spring, they must keep moving, flowing, nourishing human consciousness and incising their mark. Convictions and truth are rather useless if they live only in our hearts but not on our tongues. And so G-d commands, "Teach the children of Israel. PUT IT IN THEIR MOUTHS." For it is taught that the tongue can be mightier and more effective than a sword.

But honestly and practically speaking, for how long can a person keep talking to the walls when others are just hellbent on running with scissors? After many vocal initiatives as well as email and letter campaigns which I undertook to fight for Israel and America, I have walked away very disheartened saying, “I’m done”; “I’m fed up”; "Never again." The people I’m looking out for don’t cooperate or participate, and the people I aim to persuade are impenetrable or just plain idiots. Maybe it’s time to worry more about my own back and to stop trying to save the collective spine of my beloved nations. But then I think about the role models I admire most, mothers and G-d, and they have both taught me a simple truth and a lifelong lesson: When you love, you never stop talking!
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Friday, April 12, 2013

Oh No, My Expiration Date is Looming!©

We’ve all heard people say it, and we all say it ourselves too: “I’m not what I used to be.” Some of us were better looking long ago, had more money, more prestigious jobs, exercised with more vigor, etc. It is no secret that time wages a war of attrition against us mere mortals and slowly, but ever so surely, like a veritable Indian giver, it takes away all the gifts it once gave us. Observing life is like watching the battery bars on a cell phone. Slowly, slowly we watch the life force draining away.  And we are always far from the charger just when we need it most.

Yes, too often I hear that negative sentence, “I’m not what I used to be.” And I wonder why we tend to mourn over what was instead of celebrating what can be? Maybe it’s because we value and idolize the wrong things. I’m of the strong opinion that there is only one thing in life that leaves us not "less than we used to be," but rather greater than what we ever were, and that is G-d's laws. 

Countries and people only decline when they attach themselves to false gods, when they spurn morality and vacate religion from their lives and when they unplug themselves from the ONE true "charger": G-d.  I have never heard a Torah scholar complain that he is upset that he is not as unlearned as he used to be or that he longs for the days when he had less good deeds under his belt. He is glad that he is not what he used to be because now he is even better.

One of my Torah teachers, Esther Jungreis, told me she never took a vacation her whole life because she said you only grow tired when you're running from something, not when you are running for something. Now in her elderly years, she is still running around the world teaching Torah and doing mitzvahs.
We can learn from the story of Esau how he was tired, even in his youth, because he was always pursuing the next big thing, going for the next big kill. He attached himself to this world alone and never attached himself to a spiritual outlet. He held Kurt Cobain's suicidal philosophy that, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." And he did.

Every second in all of our lives we are continuously diminishing unless we are bringing light to the world and enriching not only our own souls but the universal soul. When G-d is our “charger” we don’t burn out and fade away; we become like the burning bush that is not consumed. 

For 49 days, from Passover to Shavuot, Jews are now counting the omer and during this time we are obligated to work on ourselves to become better human beings more devoted and devout; we should be committed to becoming  NOT “what we used to be” but rather what we never were  and all that we were really meant to be!
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