Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Biggest Turkey of All? by Aliza Davidovit

I have often questioned if our mission in life is about becoming all we can be or about maintaining who we started out as? There is no better place than New York City to watch that experiment unfold. Wannabe actresses, singers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and others come from across the nation and across the world believing the city’s sparks of magic and opportunity will turn them into the next American Idol in their respective fields.

Indeed many come armed with great talent, but from the moment they unpack their bags a war of attrition is launched against their values, their upbringing, their religions, and their innocence. The road to success is rough and tough in a big city and for every beauty there is a younger, better looking beauty, for every talent there is a greater talent. Thus, often that trunk we packed at home with all our beliefs and belongings can burden our pace. So, ever so slowly, imperceptibly we lighten our load shedding that which shackles our rise to the top--kindness, integrity, morality, our small town mentalities and God. We begin to ask ourselves: How can I make it in the movies without sleeping with a producer? How can I make it by being mister nice guy? How can I make it if I observe the Sabbath? These doubts don’t happen overnight, and yet they do as night after night, in unguarded moments, Satan taunts us and teases us and lures us away from ourselves, breaking down one barrier at a time.

It is often during such times as Thanksgiving and other holidays when we return home to our familiar surroundings and look into those mirrors that watched us grow up, that we can see how much we have changed.

The big city is but a metaphor for our life’s journey. God sends us to this earth with our talents, our desires and our ambitions. He also sends us tests along the way which we can use to refine us or to redefine us. But when we return to our heavenly maker, will He recognize us? Will we resemble the innocent soul He set upon this earth? How many of us have had a New York “makeover” that has rendered us unrecognizable even to ourselves and to all that we used to be.

It is said that after Adam and Eve took a bite from their “big apple” God called out to them in the Garden of Eden and asked, “Where are you?” Certainly an All-knowing God knew where they were, but it was a question meant to instigate introspection. “Where are you in this world? What do you stand for? What do you fall for? He asks them where they are because once they sinned their souls became unrecognizable.

As a journalist who interviews the who’s who, I have a staple question I ask: “Was there a price to your success? The answer is always, “yes.” And many, depending on their age, say the price wasn’t worth it--usually the older, the wiser. It evokes a term that stuck with me from my torturous economics classes: the law of diminishing returns—at a certain point producing “more” actually decreases the value of returns.

In last week’s Bible portion read in synagogues, we learn that the same God who commanded Abraham to leave his place of birth tells the patriarch Jacob to do the complete opposite: “RETURN to the land of thy birth.” For Jacob, unlike Abraham, home would be the uncompromising backdrop that would reveal if and how he had changed.

When Jacob left home he possessed nothing but his will to serve God. His propensity was toward spirituality, not materialism. Yet he returns with great wealth, with wives and children and herds of animals. This accumulation of worldly things was so uncharacteristic of him that when his brother Esau, who had not seen him for 20 years, saw Jacob’s entourage, he asked, “Who are these to you?” It was not the same Jacob who had left home. Leave it to family to remind you.

It is thus only upon Jacob’s return to the land of his birth that he wrestled with an angel-- a symbol of evil born out of his new found materialism. Now that Jacob had a foot in both worlds, the material and the spiritual, each was struggling to dominate him. In his fight with the angel, Jacob’s spiritual strength won, but his leg was injured and he walked forevermore with a limp. The biblical lesson is clear: The attempt to live life with our feet planted in two worlds so far apart is a hard way to travel and often extracts a painful price.

So many of us walked away from the Thanksgiving table popping antacids not only because we overate but because some annoying family members made us nauseous, criticized us, told us we changed, got on our case, or simply bored us. But perhaps the better remedy is to take a brutal look in that old and honest mirror and question how many miles and morals away from home we have traveled and what is the full price have we paid?

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Are You a Turkey or a Dumb Blonde? by Aliza Davidovit

Turns out that blondes may really not be able to walk and chew gum at the same time(although many do think they can drive, put on mascara, text and drink a latte concurrently). But it was just last week while I was on the treadmill listening to an audio book on my ipod when I literally forgot to walk for a moment and found myself nearly flying. Quantum physics is no easy subject to absorb even while sitting, but trying to take it in while trotting proved to be a painful experiment both to my ankle and to my pride. Literally so caught up in thought, I stopped walking. But as someone who goes through life packing my purse with life lessons and thinking that all things have a reason, I sought to find one here. “What could God be trying to tell me?” I asked my very practical mother, seeking guru-like profundity. But with her usual caustic wit she replied, “God is telling you that you have to keep on walking.”
Indeed, the answer was as simple and deep as that. In today’s very difficult times, so many of us are going through great personal hardships financially, psychologically, and emotionally. Many people find themselves without jobs or their beloved careers and are living on their last dime, getting increasingly depressed and demoralized. The “hope” and “change” many relied on has not panned out and from day to day, things seem to be getting worse. So many of us have just stopped!
The job search seems not to be worthwhile; getting dressed in the morning becomes a bigger chore; getting off the couch becomes evermore challenging, and hope, well hope, is just a taunting stretch of the imagination that only a skilled wannabe-president can evoke.
But are each and every one of you so “blonde” that while tuned into an ipod of despair you have become immobilized? Time spins by so fast that we cannot feel its passage, just as we cannot feel speed when we are in an airplane. But whether we perceive it or not, life is a treadmill and we have to keep walking no matter what--you cannot let it throw you off! Indeed, no hope will be found in the pockets of your bathrobe or in the cracks of your couch, at the bottom of your cognac or in idleness--Satan’s arms. Sitting around and waiting for things to change is the lazy accomplice of despair.
Which brings me to the subject of Thanksgiving.
Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a time of expressing our gratitude for all the blessings we have in our life. So, in effect, this holiday is badly named; it should really be called Thanks Taking, for we are the lucky recipients of God’s bounty and grace. And though this year many people will have “skinnier” turkeys because money is tight, perhaps this year can give us a true perspective of what the holiday may really be about.
Sages teach us that man is not measured by what he has in life, but rather by what he can give. Instead of fretting this holiday because we have less to be thankful for, be evermore grateful for all the things which you are able to GIVE. Can you play an instrument? Then volunteer at a seniors’ residence. Do have your sight? Then volunteer to help the blind. Do you have legs? Then commit yourself to help the handicapped. Do you have your health? Then visit the ill. In our giving not our taking we realize the depth of gratitude we owe our Maker. When we take stock of our personal inventories as human beings and acknowledge all that we have to “give,” we become more evolved than the ego-stuffed turkeys we so often resemble.
In the Bible segment studied in synagogue’s this week, we read about Jacob’s ladder upon which the angels were ascending and descending. Nowhere does it say the angels got tired or lazy, so they hung on a rung and chilled for awhile. In life you are either going up or going down; there is really no such thing as the status quo. And I’m not talking about the ladder to success that is rooted in BS and ascends to idolatry and sin. I’m talking about the ladder to God that the Bible tells us was rooted in the earth and ascended to Heaven teaching us that the path to God is planted in the mundane. We can elevate the nitty-gritty of life--our hardships, our pains, our trials--by facing it with dignity, decency, integrity and courage. Our duty is to keep climbing upward. Moses wandered the desert for 40 years, but you never heard him complain that his feet hurt. He never said I’m staying in my tent and watching Oprah today, I’ll deal with Pharaoh tomorrow.
Interestingly, the great patriarch Jacob’s name means heel (of the foot) in Hebrew. In terms of marketing a patriarch--the family head--certainly God could have done better. But Jacob’s name suited his God-given destiny. Jacob had to continually hit the pavement during his life. He was always running from one place to another in order to survive. In the end God changed Jacob’s stage name to reflect his next act in life: He named him Israel, who became the father of the twelve tribes and a blessed nation. The secret to his earned success is that he never ever got off the treadmill. Maybe he, too, had a mother who counseled him during the hardest of times, “Gods telling you that you HAVE TO keep on walking.”

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Something to Remember Me By

I saw a Mel Gibson movie the other day and in it his character said that the bad thing about not having kids is that there is no one to bury you when you die. I found it a painful sentence until I digested it and thought, no, the bad thing about not having kids is that there is no one there to keep you alive in seed and deed and memory. I couldn't help but think back to last week during Yom Kippur when all Jews who have a deceased parent were obligated to say a prayer of homage called Yizkor, which in Hebrew means "remember." Maybe it’s a silly thing to make it obligatory for descendants because who would ever really forget a parent? But there is a substantive difference between not forgetting and remembering. The former is easy and convenient for the lazy and passive, the latter involves actively keeping the person, their teachings, their legacy, their heritage, their sacrifices alive. And just as God breathes life into man in Genesis in this week's Torah reading, we have to continually breathe life into those who have returned to the dust.

But remembering is also a national duty for all peoples. Probably the worst slogan that grates on my sensitive ears is the one in regard to the Holocaust: "We shall never forget." First of all, who is the "we" that will never forget: the generation who lived through it or the one today that is being taught that the Holocaust never happened? Perhaps it’s the ones being told it was a gross exaggeration by Zionists fabricating a casus belli to snatch the Promised Land? Is it Holocaust denier Ahmadinejad who will never let us forget or revisionists like Mahmoud Abbas whose Ph.D. thesis denied the Holocaust as well and who aids those denying the legitimacy of Israel's archeological sites?

What is it exactly that we won't forget? Hitler? Or the number six million? Is that all we have to remember in order to never forget, in order to recognize the warning signs when a new massacre for our people is being fomented on the streets of the world? If we truly haven't forgotten, then please I invite you to ask the average teenager today what were the Nuremberg Laws or ask them if they know what Treblinka is. Just don't be shocked if they think it's an iPhone app. I'm sure few would know it was a concentration camp where 800,000 men, women and children were murdered simply because they were Jews. So please, who are we kidding when we say "we will never forget”? It's meaningless and trite.

This week marks 38 years since the Yom Kippur War when Israel was hit by an Egyptian and Syrian surprise attack and 2,688 Israelis lost their lives. So who cares anymore, who remembers? The history books have recorded it; it’s time to move on. Right? Wrong! Those who do not remember the past will be condemned to repeat it.

Yes, it is a tragedy when you don't have kids to keep memories alive, but the bigger tragedy today is that parents are not giving their kids WHAT to remember. They don't even know for what Israel is fighting and if they do they are ashamed of it. Two weeks ago I went to listen to Alan Dershowitz speak about the rampant anti-Semitism on campus and he said one of his students was afraid to let people know he was a Zionist because then he wouldn't be able to get a date. So, silently, he walks through his campus as Israel's enemies attempt to delegitimize the state and call for divestments and boycotts. I can't help but think of Menachem Begin and his contemporaries who as teenagers risked their lives over and over again to boast about their Zionism and who fought for a homeland’s existence until they held its soil in their hands and turned sand and swamps into the beautiful verdant Eretz Yisrael.

How come we are not firing up the souls of our Jewish youth anymore to make them realize that Israel is our proud birthright and fundamental to our survival? Christians are fired up and standing tall for Israel with pride, why aren’t we? As Netanyahu said, Israel is not what is wrong with the Middle East, it is what is right about it. Today's Jews, however, seem to have bequeathed to their children the materialism of the American Dream without also nurturing their Jewish pride, their sense of Jewish history, their Jewish place in this world and without honing their Jewish survival instincts. How dangerous it is in a time when Israel's enemies are indoctrinating their kids with a strong sense of purpose and history, albeit an invented one and we leave our kids with a vacuum of knowledge that Israel's haters fill with their poison. And I'm scared. I truly thank God for Israel's Christian friends who stand up for Israel when so many Jews are sitting down on the job.

The Jewish people are so quick to forget over and over again who they are and from whence they came when their very survival is in the remembering, in keeping the history alive just as Scheherazade kept herself alive by never stopping to tell her narrative. You see, I'm not worried that Jews will have no one to bury them, for that they will find many volunteers. I'm worried that Jews have squandered their best asset, their sole means of survival and justification for the Holy Land: Jewish memory. I'm not worried who will say Yizkor, I'm worried that soon will arise a generation that asks, "What is Yizkor?"
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lady Liberty and Her Prodigal Kids by Aliza Davidovit

God is a pretty bad copy editor, I thought. One of the most colorful stories in the Bible is simply called “Generations.” Not at an attention grabber by any means.

I couldn’t help wonder why this pivotal chapter, in which Jacob coaxes Esau out of his birthright and takes his blessing too, had such a lackluster title.

It hit me only when I saw a magazine on the newsstand called WWII, which featured an article entitled “Vanishing Eyewitnesses.” The article questioned who would perpetuate all we fought and died for as America’s veterans pass on. Of the over 16 million American Veterans of WWII, fewer than 2.5 million remain alive. Over the next 10 years, 2 million of them will die.

So as the greatest generation and their heroic deeds fade away and a newer generation knows not what they stood for, it becomes ever so clear how a “birthright” is ever dependent upon the GENERATIONS.

As I’ve written before, we are so busy giving Generation Next everything we didn’t have growing up that we forget to give them what we did have. How many of your kids have ipods? How many have laptops? How many have too many applications on their iphones? Yet, how many know the name Tom Paine, Nathan Hale, John Adams? Perhaps they think these dudes are rap artists or reality TV show stars. How many of our kids know why we entered WWII and what was at stake? What is even more devastating than the gravestones of unnamed soldiers is that buried with them are the noble but forgotten causes for which they gave their lives.

If there is one thing I admire about Palestinians is that from the moment their kids are born they instill in them a sense of duty attached to their history and birthright (albeit a fabricated birthright and history). They do not instill in them a sense of entitlement as do we with our kids. They teach their children how to die for what they believe in, while we hardly teach ours how to live for it.

Entitlement is a very weak custodian in which to entrust everything we have, especially if it is not rooted in history, memory, appreciation and responsibility.

The biblical Esau represents our generation which is all too ready to sell its “birthright” for a quick fix--Esau sold his for a bowl of lentils! The sale of his birthright for such a pathetic price affirmed his regard solely for the present, with no regard for the legacy of Abraham. With his birthright came a responsibility to the future and a respect for the past. He had no time for such burdens. Esau, we are taught, lived only for the moment (as does the current generation). History is boring, responsibility is a pain, activism is a burden, the future is too far away: sexting, texting and the “now” is where it’s at man.

And it is in this historic vacuum that our newest generation is lost. They are the essential link to sustaining everything that we are and those links have to be continually fortified and nurtured. To whom will we entrust the great birthright called America, a new and apathetic generation of Esaus who care not and know not why they are here?

The Founding Fathers have bestowed a great birthright, a great land of liberty. But who will love it as they have, as we have? Their clarion call is beckoning you to the battlefield once again to refound this great country with your children by your side. It’s a heated decisive battle in which you cannot let one day can go by where you don’t send a letter to a congressman or a senator or make your voice heard. This is not someone else’s fight. You can’t be too tired to engage in active duty.

The first words we ever hear from Esau in the Bible are that he’s “exhausted”(Genesis 25:30). Biblical scholars teach that he was exhausted because he was so busy living for the pleasures of the moment that his energy was depleted in the service of himself. That is why Jacob coaxed his brother’s birthright away from him because he had zero regard for the past or the future and was not a responsible enough custodian for the destiny of a great nation or a birthright. Are we?

As we watch the American president once again bowing deep before foreign leaders, ask yourselves what has become of your birthright? Are you ready to hand it over and bow and bend in disgrace. Are you too tired to care? Does Generation Next care less than you?

This country is on the brink of irreversible change. You might wakeup one morning with Lady Liberty and say “Who is this strange woman in my bed?” She will not look anything like she did the beautiful star-spangled night before.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Story of Your Life by Aliza Davidovit

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

If Tomorrow Never Comes by Aliza Davidovit

I found it an interesting coincidence that a federal census bureau worker came knocking on my door the same week the Torah portion dealt with the counting of the Jews. It’s certainly life affirming to be tallied among the living. Yet, at the end of the day, it’s a humbling thought that our existence, as per the census at least, is a mere statistic. You have been counted, but do you count?

A heavy cloud is gathering above the world we know and many even question, “Is it the end of days?” Some believe that Messianic times are upon us and fear current events presage Gog and Magog, a bloody apocalypse. So, if tomorrow never comes, will you be ready? What have you counted for in this lifetime? Have you been a mere number or have you counted for one but lived as if you alone were an entire army, an indomitable force that gave life to your convictions, gave love to the world, gave hope to the downtrodden, gave kindness a home, and served the will of God?

This Yom Kippur God taught me a good lesson. About one hour before the holiday started, I became violently ill and for the first time in my adult life was not able to fast on Judaism’s most holy day. As most people do, I took my tomorrows for granted. I can repent tomorrow, next week, on Yom Kippur, etc. But my friends, we have only today and not even today but just this singular moment. Will you make it count? These aggregate moments of doing the right thing and fighting for truth really define who we are.

In the past I have often urged people to become politically active and let their voices be counted. Today I’m talking about making ourselves count in this world by making a spiritual difference in our own lives and the lives of others. In this week’s Bible reading we learn how Aaron, the priest, had the most valued duty in the temple: preparing the wicks and lighting the Menorah. That seems of small significance considering that sacrifices were offered in those days. But it was a decisive metaphor. Creating light in our midst and spiritually illuminating the world we live in, excuse the pun, outshines all else. Giving spiritually is very unlike giving materially. Materialism is finite and when you give to someone of what you own, your resources become diminished, however slight. But when one flame lights up another, the first flame is not decreased but rather creates even more light.

I can’t help but think how the son of Israel’s prime minister has recently won a national Bible contest in Israel and how that may influence Netanyahu’s thinking even though he himself is not religious. Last week was the first time I recall hearing the prime minister speak about how many times Israel is referred to in the Bible. I have often heard him refer to history but not the Torah. Perhaps his son has become a light unto him.

There’s a funny thing that happens when you start doing the right thing. People start getting a bit jealous and feeling guilty. If you are truly genuine and passionate, you become like a torch that passes through the darkness and “ignites” everyone along the way, often without preaching a single word.

Each one of us has a spark within that can be fanned into flames. Choose not only to be counted, but to shine and to count in this world. Pick one good deed and go for it. And put no faith in tomorrow, for it never really comes. Start today!
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That Sounds Sexy

Are you misogallic, i.e., a hater of all things French? Well even if you are, you have to admit whatever you say in French sounds really sexy. In that language someone can tell you to drop dead and you’ll just want to take your clothes off.

My favorite words of French origin all end with the suffix -oir, such as peignoir, a sexy see-through dressing gown; boudoir, a woman’s private chamber; and trottoir, a sidewalk. When those words rolled off my Parisian mother’s tongue, I thought they were the sexiest words I had ever heard.
Thus, when I first came across the phonetically delightful word abattoir, I believed it to be the most beautiful word I had ever heard--until I looked up its meaning: a slaughterhouse, a place where poor, unsuspecting animals go to die. I was distraught and so surprised. Leave it to the French to engage in such bait-and-switch trickery as they did in WWII, leaving many wondering whose side they were really on.

The moral is clear: Do not shirk good sense for good sound. Too often in life we are taken in by words that sound good because we want them to be true. We hear only what we want to hear and wake up with buyer’s or voter’s remorse. How many times have men offered women the moon and the stars but took off at the crack of dawn? How many times have you been whispered sweet nothings which amounted to just that, nothing, and left you not sweet but bitter? How many times has a diet product promised a whole new you and you woke up with ten pounds more of the old you?

There are basic principles which survivors adhere to and one of them is avoiding traps. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I cannot help but think of President Obama’s comment after the crushing defeat his party faced on November 2nd. He said, “…that leadership isn’t just legislation. That it's a matter of persuading people.” In other words, he realizes it’s time to reemploy the seductive rhetoric he used to get Lady Liberty into bed during his successful presidential run. It’s time to deliver a new load of sweet-sounding bunk to bamboozle America. I just pray that this president whose teleprompter has more frequent-flyer miles than I do, won’t get the electorate into bed for a second screwing with his newly refined rhetoric.

But he is not the one I’m really worried about, because those of us who know better will not be taken in as we were not the first time. I’m more concerned about the new lot of Republicans we are sending to DC. They, too, had convincing slogans and promised us they would take back America, stop federal spending, reduce the size of government and restore America to her former glory. Sounds sexy to me.

But we need to shut off our ears and open up our eyes wide. I suggest that the day these newly-elected officials take office we begin our letter campaign to THEM letting them know that we are watching them vigilantly, that it is not enough to tell us what we want to hear but the time is now for action and to live up to their word. We must keep the vise tightly on the screw until things turn around.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who is lying to us. We cannot let either the Democrats or the Republicans lead this country in “French” style to the abattoir.

In the biblical reading this past week we learn that the patriarch Isaac loved his son Esau more than his son Jacob because Jacob, though a pious man, was a quiet character; Esau however “knew how to trap,” meaning he had the gift of gab and entrapped his father with his manipulative words. He knew what his father wanted to hear and he fed it to him.

Now biblical scholars say that our physical ailments in life usually are manifestations of our spiritual failings. Could it be that Isaac was stricken with blindness because he would not see the true difference between his sons’ but instead lent his ears to deception?

So dear readers I urge you not to be taken in by sexy sounding words which will lead you to the abattoir one way or another. Too late, you will find this country hanging upside down on a meat hook swinging side by side with a hog and a mutton, because of those who listened but did not look.

Just Five More Minutes (and then Life Passed Me By!)

It was impossible to make it to the gym at 6 a.m. this morning because I only woke up at 7. And I asked myself, "Is this going to be another year like that? You know the kind! The one where a better version of you is thriving in your heart and mind, but in real-time the snooze button is getting more traction than the treadmill.

In a few days we will all hear another kind of wake-up call, and it will emanate from the shofar, the ram’s horn meant to serve our soul like a well-intentioned alarm clock, and shake it from its slumber. So many times I've heard the sounds from that instrument, sometimes in mighty blasts and sometimes petering out because the blower ran out of steam. In either case its holy sounds invigorate my best intentions and make me want to run a spiritual marathon and do everything "right" in the year ahead. I doubt there is a single person who exits the synagogue at the end of the holidays that doesn't strive to be better and want more for himself in the year set to unfold.

But we are doomed to conk out in the first mile for one simple reason: we are still dragging along all our old habits, insecurities and excuses of years gone by which surely muffle the beckoning call of the finish line. So perhaps the better question is not, "Is this going to be another year like THAT?" but rather are YOU going to be like THAT again this year? (Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting a different result.)

It's funny how we all get so incensed when politicians tell us what we want to hear, but the truth is we lie to ourselves and pander to ourselves more than anyone else. We manufacture excuses for ourselves with great agility as to why we didn't, why we shouldn't, why we can't. So I'm here to tell you something you have never heard before: Yes we can! God has put into us everything we need to succeed. All we have to do is stop hitting the snooze button and coddling ourselves in fake comfort zones while bemoaning how bad our lot is.

Before turning to heaven in the coming year and asking "God where are You?" Ask yourself "Where are YOU? Is your head in the refrigerator while you're praying to be skinny? Are you sleeping at noon while you're praying to be successful? Are you hiding in your house while praying to meet the man of your dreams? Are you screaming at your spouse while praying for a better marriage? Are you gossiping about people while praying to be a better person?

I like to imagine that the New Year is a vicious and scrupulous customs officer, so before I get "on board" it's best to clean out my baggage and leave the garbage behind.

Friends, here's your declaration card-- what are you bringing into the New Year?

And here I conclude with a prayer that we will all be inscribed in the Book of Life and that the echoes of the shofar will resonate all year long in our hearts and minds so that our feet will stay in lockstep with our best intentions and deliver them to the finish line. Shana Tova!

Trees to their Knees

I watched mesmerized for hours through my large windows as the snow descended upon the many and mighty trees that line the back of my building. The snow began ever so lightly and lovely but soon the trees were masked for Halloween and they much resembled a glistening white-powdered paradise. I wished I could have gone outside to catch a snowflake with my tongue as I did as a child. But as the day wore on, the tranquility of the perfect snow globe day was interrupted by snaps, crackles and pops which crescendoed into a frightening semblance of a cannonade as tree trunks snapped in half--after over 60 years of standing proud they were brought to their humble knees by the ever gentle snowflake.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that nature acted out on the very weekend the story of Noah is read in synagogue. Rain drop by rain drop the world was destroyed. The lessons should be clear to us all: little things should never go underestimated or unguarded. They are like little docile pellets that cumulatively act as a war of attrition for that which they seek to bring down.

The Palestinians first fought their war of attrition against the mighty Israeli army with pebbles; men can whisper soft sweet nothings and woo open brassieres fashioned in Fort Knox; little droplets of water over time will eat away at solid stone; it was a tiny gnat that brought down the great Roman Emperor, Titus, by slowly eating away at his brain for seven years.

We learn this week in the story of Noah that God did not destroy the world because of rampant and brazen BIG sins but rather, the world was destroyed because the people were guilty of chamas (not to be mistaken for chummus or Hamas). Chamas means “taking” something of an insignificant amount which cannot really be defined as stealing. For instance, someone goes to a market and tears off a grape and eats it — not much damage done. However, then the next person comes along and does the same thing, and so on. It is not long before that bunch of grapes, or nuts or olives is diminished both in appearance and quantity — and the owner really has no one to blame for the theft. Nonetheless, the damage is done.

In our own lives, we too must remain vigilant to the tiny tests that surround us and not let them trick us into thinking, “Ah it is so small and irrelevant that I have nothing to worry about.” These tiny tests dress for Halloween all year long and cloak themselves as being innocuous. That “harmless” person you shouldn’t be friends with, that small sip of alcohol that can do no harm, that married woman with whom you are “just” emailing — all these benign little things that twirl around you like a soft summer breeze can eventually pick up momentum and ensnare you in a hurricane and whisk you away. And then we awake one morning too late and question: “How in the heck did this happen to me? I didn’t see it coming.”

Yet, all this talk of mighty little things should give us hope, not despair. Using the same argument, we must realize that no challenge is too great for us, whether it be keeping a diet, conquering corporate America, winning the woman of your dreams, or felling large trees — sometimes showing up as consistently as a snowflake instead of a chainsaw will lead to a steady and sure victory. As a society, we are trained to think in Costco sizes, but I say, "Think small friends, and you will soon find that 'little strokes fell great oaks.'"

Sue Yourself for Theft

I saw a silly teen-oriented movie a few weeks back; but wisdom can be found, I believe, in all places. One great line from the film hit me on the head like an old lady pummeling a mugger with a handbag. The main character in the movie, who was a vivacious, young, American girl, tried to subdue her free-spirit to fit into a starchy, upper-crust conservative milieu to please others. All the things that made her special soon became unrecognizable. It's at that point her boyfriend wisely said to her, "I don't know why you are trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out."

The thing is, we were ALL born to stand out. But, we become afraid. We kowtow to peer pressure and conventional ways of thinking and living because we don't want to look like an idiot and want to be liked and accepted. It takes a lot of guts to be different and sometimes it's a lonely road.

But, you can be sure that if you are not being yourself then you are living a lie. That is not the reason you were born. You were born to shine and to share with the world all that is uniquely you. It is ironic how we boldly fight for liberty while at the same time forsake so easily the "freedom to be ourselves." Does it really matter at the end of the day what is oppressing you?

I even feel that while we all need advice, there is a point of excessive dependence. If you ask for others' opinions too often, you will find yourself living someone else's dreams and fears — and someone else’s mistakes. In that case, they may as well put someone else's name on your cemetery headstone. After all, whose life did you live?

The Biblical commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Steal," does not only pertain to physical items, like money and gold watches. It also has its philosophical, intangible and spiritual correlatives, i.e, you are not permitted to manipulate others, to steal someone's time or rob them of their good name. AND you are not allowed to steal away your own destiny/potential from yourself by giving in to fear-- through which you'd also be guilty of robbing yourself of your own time and talents.

Last week in the Biblical portion we read about the birth of Jacob's twelve sons, the fathers of the twelve tribes. What really was the need for twelve tribes? Wouldn't the Jewish nation be better served if they pitched themselves under one figurative tent? The answer is, no. Each tribe had their talents and strong points and destiny which were vital to the greater survival of the whole. This point is further driven home by the blessings Jacob gave his sons before he died. He does not give one blanket blessing to them all, but rather hones in on their individuality.

My dear friends, do not be afraid to be YOU. Stop empowering others by being oversensitive to their opinions and judgments. Take yourself off of auto-pilot and stop auto-silencing the voice that is uniquely yours. Dare to think and live out of the box for soon enough we will all be in a box permanently. Cookie cutters were made for cookies so don't let anyone shape you; and stop trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out!


Click to watch: Me, Myself & I: The Age of Narcissism  
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