Sunday, February 26, 2012

I’m the one who did it—Aren’t I great? by Aliza by Aliza by Aliza

I wrote it and I want credit for it. Isn’t that in all our natures? We do something we deem good and want to make sure our name is soldered onto it. It is what you call “ego.”

How many unknown soldiers are turning in their unmarked graves because their headstones cannot boast their heroism by name? How many ghost writers are haunting the bookshelves because others take public credit for all their work? Facebook and Twitter are the best modern examples to show that we all want witnesses for our lives. Some go so far as to post what they ate, how they slept, that they are sitting in traffic, that they sneezed, that they walked, that they breathed, reporting their lives in real time down to the most preposterous minutiae. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it really make a sound at all? We are all, in our own way, sending out flares to let others know we are alive.

And then there is Moses. The most humble man in history, besides Obama of course. Moses was the man offered the greatest job in history by God Himself, and he was reluctant to accept. He wasn’t looking for that place “to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came.” But, it turns out, he’s a household name nonetheless. Yet, in this week’s Bible reading his name is nowhere to be found. It’s a first since the recounting of his birth. But what makes it evermore strange is that this week’s Torah reading usually falls during the anniversary of Moses’ birth and death. If ever there was a time to honor him and put his name in neon lights it would be in this current chapter. But the omission underscores everything that Moses really was, even more than Cecil B. DeMilles’ film, wherein “Moses” was nominated for a Golden Globe. This great man had led the Jewish nation out of slavery, destroyed the mighty empire of Egypt, played a huge role in unfolding the ten plagues, brought a people through a sea that split in two, received two sets of the Ten Commandments and after that action-packed life he tells God that if You intend to destroy the Jewish people because of the sin of the Golden Calf, then take my name out of your book. And God did.

From Moses we learn that life is about a fight for things bigger than ourselves. Perhaps ego is necessary to give us a spine and a little incentive, but it cannot be the wind beneath our wings. Pharaoh was motivated solely by his ego and his own prestige, and he and his gilded kingdom are but mere dust in parched tombs and his army and chariots lay buried deep under the sea. Moses’ ego was MIA. He lived for his people and led them to the Promised Land with fertile teachings from which a nation blooms and to this day sings his praise in their daily prayers. In fact, most great people live in perpetuity because they lived for things greater than themselves.

Okay, obviously not anyone of us is a Moses. But we can be to the people in our own lives. We can choose to make peace among family members and not take credit for it; we can leave food by the door of a poor person and not stand there waiting for a thank you; we can pray for someone who’s sick for a year with only God as our witness. When we direct our energy outward to help others and to live “big” lives and not ones that can be tweeted in 140 characters or less, then our lives will speak for themselves. We will not need the bullhorns or billboards to announce to the world, “my name is so and so and I’m just so fabulous.” The truth is none of us would ever need an obituary to prove that we died if all along we had purposeful and unselfish lives to prove that we lived. If it is true that man’s mission is to fix the world and make it a better place for all, sometimes you just have to sign out as “John Doe.” And as the old expression goes: "There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit for it." Humility is a great thing—I intend to try it sometime. By Aliza By Aliza By Aliza By Aliza

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I Love You, Ya, Ya, Maybe!

America is awash in red. No the communists aren’t coming (well maybe they are). But for now, it is Valentine’s decorations which envelop storefront windows and red velvet boxes that line supermarket shelves. Love is definitely in the air—this week.

But, come Wednesday morning when all the ruddy-wrapped accessories are stripped away and the only remnants of “loving” are a hangover, a half-eaten box of chocolates and scattered lingerie, many will find themselves singing that famous Foreigner song, “I Want to Know What Love is.”

Tragically, Whitney Huston’s short life reveals that even “learning to love yourself is [actually not] the greatest love of all.” Perhaps self-centered love is the worst of all because in our day and age we don’t even know how to love ourselves properly. All our efforts at “self-improvement” which mask as self-love, i.e., going the gym, striving for success, marrying for money, getting plastic surgery, lead to self-worship, not really to self-love. When our hearts are filled with too much self-worship, how can there ever really be room for another occupant, even God? Our every interaction with others, even those we profess to adore, will always be fettered by the self-serving interests of our primary lover, ourselves.

How can we then keep the commandment to “love our neighbors as ourselves” when we can’t even love ourselves properly? In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we hate ourselves because we are rotting at the core. Basic human decency and compassion have become a valueless currency. I’m not surprised that in our time a bestselling book can be titled: Why Men Love Bitches. Being kind is so yesterday!

We have become overly seduced by visuals and not by substance. A recent study came out that said people who use Facebook too much tend to develop a poor self-image because they get jealous observing how well others are doing. Imagine that, mere status updates on a social networking site can drive our self-love into the dumpster—boy we must be a really deep and confident society, NOT! If we are obliged to love our neighbor as ourselves, it is no wonder that everyone hates each other these days and that razor sharp divisiveness is tearing the world apart. And that is because we have learned to love ourselves and others for the wrong reasons. Go figure that we are a rhinoplasty-crazed society and yet we never looked so ugly. I’m reminded of the book, The Picture of Dorian Gray, wherein the main character remains breathtakingly handsome while a portrait made of him becomes ever more ugly and deformed as he sins and becomes morally corrupt. The canvas reflects the ugliness and degradation of his soul, but his personage continues to be adored because of his exterior beauty and success.

There is only one true guiding love affair that will sustain us in life and that is our love affair with God. And the Almighty does not leave his love affair with people to chance or have them singing “I want to know what love is.” He explains explicitly what He wants by his laws and decrees. How often in our lives do we walk away from a relationship saying, “I gave that person everything I have and they didn’t appreciate it? The better question is, “Did you give them anything THEY wanted or needed?” Jews can keep a perfect “Sabbath” on Wednesdays but at the end of the day would that mean anything to God who asked that the Jews keep it on Saturday?
Perhaps love is not about giving what YOU want to give to yourself or to others, but rather doing what you don’t feel like doing and giving what you don’t have--be it time, patience, understanding, a helping hand or a compassionate heart, etc.

The Bible is the best love story ever told. In adoring God and keeping his commandments we imbue ourselves with true self-worth and with lasting and authentic reasons to love ourselves and to be loved. When on Facebook be jealous not that someone got a new car or a new job, but rather that a friend went out to give charity and help others that day and you did not. You want to know what love is? Ask God. He has never whispered a sweet nothing in our ear.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Way We Were

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, we were better lovers, had more patience, ran more quickly, etc. Time wages a war of attrition against us mere mortals and slowly, but ever so surely, like a veritable Indian giver, time takes away all the gifts it once gave us. And sometimes life is not so slow handed and snatches what we value most with the mercy of a guillotine. For even of this great country I can say, "It is not what it once was." Do the Indians want that back too? (Something tells me they wouldn't take it now.) I often feel as if watching America and observing life is like watching the battery bar on my cell phone. Slowly, slowly I see the life force draining away. I'm far from the phone charger and who will hear me now? Who would care to hear me now, after all, I'm not what I used to be.

In the course of interviewing people, I have often asked the following question: "What is the one thing that if it were taken away from you, would make you cease to be you?" The answers varied greatly.

But the universally true answer lies in the Bible, the one true and eternal "charger." For 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: God's laws. In keeping His commandments we don't cease to be who we are, but rather become ever more who we were meant to be.

Countries and people only decline when they attach themselves to false gods, when they spurn morality and evacuate religion from their lives as though that ONE sustaining force is what's burning down the house.

We 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, he idolized himself, was self-indulgent 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.

So here is a convoluted sentence for you: Esau was not what he used to be even while he still was what he was. For 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. And conversely, even though the burning bush was enveloped in fire, it was not consumed, it did not burn out, because when we attach ourselves to God's will and live beyond all the ephemeral things we think make us who we are, we get better every day, not worse.

Yes, all the other things we cling to in life are false gods and duplicitous lovers, including our ambitions, our talents, our beauty, our health, etc. In our heyday they may "love us" and satisfy us, but they will ultimately leave us and crown new and younger heads. What will we be left with then?

You have two choices in life: You can lament the loss of what you once were or get busy being and becoming all that you were really meant to be!