Many of us at some point in our lives feel disgusted with our yesterdays, with last year, with life the way we lived it. We want a different today and a different tomorrow. Our fitness efforts, our academic pursuits, our religious strivings, our attempts to find the proper mate, to be responsible, less lazy, etc., all fall short of our envisioned glory. Healthy-minded people are always wanting to “turn over a new leaf,” which literally means we want a fresh blank page to start anew. We think that the new page has some magic that the page before lacked. As a student, I always loved the first page of my notebook. It was always so neat. However, by day three the pages looked like an ink-dipped drunken chicken had danced across the ruled paper. We all strive for new beginnings, but really we engage in “old” beginnings. We use yesterday’s pen filled with yesterday’s excuses and find that the fresh page onto which we spill all our hopes is soon filled with inkblots resembling a Rorschach test reflecting our crippling psychological dramas. When we fail, very simply, it’s everyone else’s fault; all our demons become our alibis: My parents were too easy; my parents were too tough; it’s my wife’s cooking, my bosses attitude, it’s the scale, it’s God’s fault, my cousin’s fault, my sister’s, my brother’s, my partner’s, the dog’s, etc., la la la la la la. Adam and Eve sang that very same song, the self-expunging, self-pacifying one that serenaded them right out of Eden.
In this week’s Bible reading, we too start again from the beginning with the reading of Genesis. One can’t get a fresher start than creation. The first words God says are, “Let there be light.” This is not merely the Almighty calling into existence “physical” light, but as the Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches, it was a mandate to mankind. Your thoughts, deeds and words should bring light to this world and reveal the godliness implicit in each thing and each encounter. Where there is light, there can be no lies. As our politicians like to say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. And as the polls indicate, most of us have an aversion to politicians because lying is their forte. We hate being lied to. The problem is we lie to ourselves most of all, as mentioned above in the form of transferring blame. But as long as we prefer to be legends in our own minds and live in the darkness where our own culpability can’t find us, as long as we continue to blame the person to our left for our failures, we will perpetuate those failures and continue to entertain ourselves with false fresh starts. Nothing grows or thrives in the dark but mushrooms and fungus. You want to succeed? First “Let there be light.” After the first man and woman sinned and ate of the forbidden fruit, instead of taking responsibility and deserved blame for transgressing the one commandment they had, Adam blamed Eve and God; Eve blamed the snake. And the fruit didn’t fall far from the forbidden tree. After Cain kills his brother and God takes him to task, the rabbis teach that Cain blamed God. Cain reasons that if God had accepted his (lackluster) sacrifice, then Cain wouldn’t have been driven to jealousy and fratricide.
The All-knowing God asks Adam and Eve a very important question, “Ayeka?”-- “Where are you?” Certainly He knew where they were, the same way he knew where Abel was when He questioned Cain as to his brother’s whereabouts. The question is one meant to incite self-introspection, not geographical coordinates. The question is to give man a chance to repent and say, “I’m sorry. I messed up. It was me and all me. It’s my fault. I want to do better.”
Throughout many synagogues in the world above the arc harboring the Torah, there is a sign in Hebrew that reads, “Know before whom you stand.” It’s not just knowing that you are before God that counts; you have to know yourself too: The real you. Big deal if your search reveals you are not that superstar, hot- shot, business genius that you fancied yourself to be, Pirkei Avot reminds us that from a putrid drop we came and to a place of dust and worms and maggots we go (Pirkei Avot, 3:1). Being honest is the biggest aid to advancing yourself in life. Because Adam and Eve chose to hide among the trees in the shadows of their sin instead of embracing the purpose of creation--“Let there be light”--they were punished and expelled from the Garden of Eden. Had they answered honestly to God, He would have forgiven them. Interesting that the same letters in Hebrew that spell the word ayeka, also start the Book of Lamentations authored by Jeremiah, “lamenting the destruction of the Holy Temple, the suffering of the Jews of that time, and the ensuing exile.” But there the letters are pronounced differently and introduce great tragedy. The relationship is self-evident. If we don’t answer the first ayeka honestly and give a true accounting as to where we are in life and why, then we will awake to woeful mournful lamentations about our lives.
Adam was supposed to live a 1000 years. King David was supposed to live only 3 hours. Adam asked God to give 70 years of his life to David and so Adam lived until 930. Adam’s was a gift to all mankind because King David taught us something we didn’t learn from Adam when he had the chance. David taught us how to take the blame we deserve, to beg for forgiveness and to not try and hide our sins from God or ourselves. God loved King David not because he was perfect, but because he knew when he was wrong, when it was his fault and he strove to improve his life’s journey on a real “fresh page” with God as his GPS. Hence it is through him that the Moshiach will come.
There will always be hurdles before us. That’s life. It’s all a big test to bring out the best in us. Whether others are entirely wrong, you BE right! Don’t wallow in the shadows of the Valley of Excuses. Let there be light!