Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Rabbi’s Dark Side

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I teach Prophets (Shmuel Bet) to 7th grade girls and today we had a nice long discussion about arguably the most complex and controversial chapter- Perek 11- the topic of Dovid HaMelech (King David) and Batsheva. I first gave the girls just the basic text (with Rashi commentary) and a worksheet with 8 “fact” questions.

The story-line sounds something like this in case you aren’t familiar: King David spots a woman, Batsheva, bathing on a roof and finds her beautiful. He inquires about her and confirms she’s the wife of a soldier named Uriah who is away. King David summons Batsheva and they are intimate- and she gets pregnant. Batsheva tells the King of her pregnancy who orders Uriah home so he will “lie” with his wife and assume it’s his baby. Uriah refuses to go and instead lies at the palace gates saying there’s no way he can go home when the Jews are in battle. Dovid Hamelech gets Uriah drunk in the hopes that he will put aside his principles and enjoy his wife but no dice- he stays at the palace gates. Having no more option to cover up the pregnancy, King David has Uriah sent to the frontlines of a bloody battle where he is killed and Batsheva is a free divorcee available to marry King David. Perek (Chapter) 11 ends with God being “displeased” with the whole incident.

My worksheet contained a 9th trick question. I asked the girls for their opinions about Dovid HaMelech’s character and they unanimously had less than favorable words to describe him. This was, of course, all part of my evil plan as I then discussed all the reasons why Dovid’s actions were, at times, understandable:

  1. Dovid knew Batsheva was meant for him due to his Ruach HaKodesh (divine providence).

  2. Dovid  asked to be tested by Hashem (to prove his dedication to Him)

  3. Uriyah (Batsheva’s husband) was “mored d’malchus” – disobeyed the king and deserved capital punishment (death) according to Jewish law.

  4. Dovid didn’t kill him directly, rather set Uriyah up to be killed in war- a war Uriyah wanted to fight.

  5. Batsheva seduced Dovid.

  6. A Jewish principle: The size of a person’s righteousness corresponds to the size of his/her Yetzer Hara (evil inclination).

  7. Hashem is very midakdek (exacting) on a Tzaddik’s (righteous person’s) behavior.

(P.S. King David is punished with four severe decrees consequently) Each point above is a longer conversation and there’s a lot of sophisticated concepts that are not easy to understand. Part of me would prefer that we never know of this sordid affair. But apparently no one consulted me when writing Shmuel Bet as it’s plainly stated in the text that King David sinned.

Great people sin. Righteous people can make bad choices. I always remind my 5 year old that if he makes a bad choice, no bubble of greatness has popped. Each moment is its own entity and every choice in said moment defines us- for the moment. Our character now is a composition of millions of choices over the course of millions of seemingly small occasions. Judaism not only admits that the sages can sin, we write it in black & white and discuss it openly in order to learn.

Having said all that, we are supposed to trust these fallible rabbis an awful lot. Ethics of the Fathers preaches this in its first chapter that documents the chain of tradition beginning with Moses at Sinai. We are told to “make fences around the Torah” which empowers rabbis to safeguard us from getting dangerously close to sin. Most of the halachos (Jewish laws) we observe are rabbinical or have at least some rabbinical component.

I’ve seen so many people- particularly online- belittle rabbis as if the laws of Lashon Hara (negative/destructive speech) don’t apply when we’re typing. All rabbis sin. All rabbis are capable of evil. In no way does this dark side create an obstacle in guiding the Jewish people. In fact, I’d argue that a rabbi who has overcome temptations and developed himself into a person of integrity is far more capable then a “blank slate” rabbi- an impossibly sinless Jewish leader.

The key to greatness, I am so comforted to suggest, is weakness, sin, and failure.

We Don’t Need No Education

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I dedicate this to the 12 year old girl who found my blog. She knows who she is- I teach her Jewish General Knowledge, Laws and Customs, Jewish Prophets, and the Torah Portion daily. I’ve encountered a variety of people from my past and present who have read my posts and given me feedback- none took me by surprise the way she did.

I also dedicate this to my teachers- the formal ones who stood in front of a classroom and my teachers of life who I learned from simply by spending time with them, observing their behavior, and interacting.

As a child, I thought my teachers were one-dimensional figures who fed us information, graded our work, and were authoritative. I never thought my teachers had a casual side- even the more laid back ones- and I certainly couldn’t visualize their lives outside our classroom.

As I got older and matured, my image of teachers evolved into a more 3D approach where I could reconcile an authority figure having a private life, flaws, and vulnerabilities. Still, when I walk into the front of my classroom everyday, I’m very aware of the persona I’m portraying and the duties it involves.

What blindsided me about my student (I’ll call her Sarah) finding my blog (and proceeding to read its entirety!) was that I really lay it all on the line here- no sugar coating- in order to give myself a space to let my hair down (figuratively!). It’s been therapeutic and provided me with a much needed mode of connection. While blogs are obviously public and completely accessible, I just assumed my writing was for adult consumption alone.

Lucky for me, Sarah is an awesome 12 year old who has all the innocence and sweetness of her years with the sensitivity of a grown woman. Every so often, I break with protocol and stop teaching Prophets to rather focus on Jewish Outlook or how the Torah weighs in on various relevant areas of life. When Sarah explained that she found my blog- smiling widely!- the one she took an interest in was this one where I discuss feminism and Madonna. I spent my class time on Wednesday lecturing and moderating a lively discussion about how feminism has developed over the past 60 years and the current day perspective of an empowered woman. We ended with the Jewish vision of a strong woman.

I like learning the text of Samuel II as much as the next gal- likely more – but I floated out of class on Wednesday because we discussed incredible mentors in the Jewish world and nothing inspires me more than envisioning people who are living the values I aspire to personify. Also, bringing Judaism to life with controversial discussion makes me feel 18 again when I spent countless sleepless nights debating and soul-searching. On Wednesday afternoon, I could close my eyes and virtually transport myself back to seminary in Israel where some of my highest-impact mentors modeled extraordinary living.

This week has involved a late school night at the annual Open House, a trip to the emergency room, a somewhat explosive exchange with an acquaintance, a disappointing interview, tragic news of Jewish children’s death locally and in Israel…it’s easy to feel tired, negative, and about 100 years old. Thanks to Sarah, I am renewed and feel blessed to make a feeble attempt at becoming the person and example I hope to exemplify.

Bedtime or BUST

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For many parents of young children, the most feared and anticipated portion of each day has a name. It’s alive and we wait for it. You guessed it…Bedtime.

The complexity of  bedtime lies in its duality of good and evil. The evil?  Bedtime takes place at the end of an exhausting sequence of events that are likely to include driving, working (at home or in an office), errands, laundry, phone calls, bills, homework, meals, bathtime. We, I speak for all parents now, are TIRED. Maybe more tired than the kids. Worse yet, the kids are tired- and tired often means cranky (for both parties). To boot, it’s a transition period and transitions are always rough.

The good? There’s a preciousness to bedtime when the children are clean fresh out of a bath, teeth brushed, hair combed. They look so sweet when we give them that final kiss and exchange “good night” and “I love you” to one another. I was chatting with my girlfriend just before I put my kids to sleep the other night and she admitted that a tranq gun would be a helpful weapon at bedtime. (Agreed.) Children have this annoying tendency to be demanding – especially so at 6:45pm- but in those jammies?? Irresistible. The Parents’ Paradox. So there you have it- the scene that repeats itself day-in, day-out. Kids, around the world, are forced on a train heading towards Dream-Land, most children’s least favorite destination point.

One sobering video comes to mind when I think about bedtime that straightens me out quickly. An interview with Chava (Eva) Sandler, a woman who lost her husband and two sons to a horrific act of terror in Toulouse, France nearly two years ago.* The interview was conducted during her first week sitting shiva (mourning) and is incredibly powerful. In it she describes her last night before the attack:

“It’s funny, because when I went to sleep the night before the attack, I told my husband, “Oh no! Tonight was busy and I didn’t say Shema Yisrael (Jewish prayer) with my children (before bed).” Every night I would make sure to say Shema Yisrael with them. Even on Shabbat I would leave the guests behind in order to say Shema Yisrael with the children. That very night I said to my husband, “I wasn’t here on Shabbat because I was with my parents (in Paris). I didn’t say Shema Yisrael with the children since Wednesday, in fact.” And I said, “Okay, tomorrow I’ll get back into routine. This is important!” I see now that even when we are busy, we need to take time.”

The full interview is worth the 5.5 minute watch (link below) and sucker punches my (our?) crabby musings about bedtime in the gut. Bedtime is when we leave our final kisses and comments lingering in a bedroom for ten plus hours. It’s Important. Let’s (attempt to) wipe the exhaustion away from our eyes and savor the last beautiful moments of our little ones’ evenings with infinite gratitude.

*The interview was conducted in Hebrew with English subtitles. Full version can be found here: http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/1816172/jewish/Tragedy-in-Toulouse.htm

Ruining Connie’s Childhood

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Recently, I bumped into a woman who hadn’t changed since I’d seen her last…twenty years ago. I can’t believe so much time has passed but passed it has. When I stop to recollect my social experiences as a pre-teen, the good and bad come to mind. The good being moments that I felt on top of the world and the bad being when I felt the world on top of me. There were instances that life felt somewhere in the middle, but they’re not very memorable.

When I ran into Connie* at a local Jewish organization a few days ago, I almost immediately recognized her from school and flashes of girls mistreating her came to mind instantaneously. You’d never know that this grown-up, attractive, put-together, and self-assured woman was the same girl teased for poor grooming habits, lack of social skills, and very little confidence. Young girls don’t need a reason to identify a vulnerable person and pounce so I won’t offer any. Suffice it to say, our class of pre-pubescent girls was catty (I was on the receiving end plenty) but Connie probably bore the brunt of their nastiness.

I couldn’t recall many interactions I personally had with Connie. I remembered sitting next to her one day at lunch when no one else would. I remembered mentally patting myself on the back for being nice even if it meant jeopardizing my reputation. Fast forward twenty years, should I approach Connie? Would she remember me? Did I treat her properly? I couldn’t remember.

After some consideration, I eventually decided to say hello. I approached her with a wide smile and she responded with a blank stare. “My name is Rachel. We went to school together.” I tried to jog her memory. She answered, “I know who you are.” (Is it just me or is she being cold?) We made small talk for a bit and she openly shared that she was traumatized by her poor experience at our old school. I told her that it pained me to know she had such a hard time. I was surprised she was still thinking about it after all these years.

I spent the next 24 hours thinking (read: obsessing) about Connie. The idea that this woman was so profoundly negatively impacted by a childhood experience I witnessed day-in-day-out disturbed me to no end. I summoned up all my courage and showed up at an event the following evening that I knew she’d attend. I spent most of the time staring a hole straight through her. I just couldn’t get myself to walk over to her.

Finally, as the event neared its end, I forced myself. “Connie?”, I approached her tentatively, and she spun around. “I want you to know that our conversation really upset me… One thing, I have to ask, was I part of the problem?” At this point, I assumed she’d reassure me that I was the only saint in the class and recall that lunch period that I chose to do the right thing over protecting my image. Instead she said, “Yeah, you were part of the problem. You locked me in your garage when I came to your house. You thought it was funny.”

I stepped back, unwittingly, shocked at this revelation. I didn’t remember locking her in my garage. I really hoped she was thinking of someone else or mixing up a critical detail. I stammered through a horrified apology which she accepted and we parted ways. The next day, I called my parents and sister to find out if they remembered Connie or the incident. They all vaguely recalled Connie and even that she came over but, like me, had no recollection of any nastiness.

I’m left with Connie’s word and I don’t know what to do with it. I can’t believe I was capable of such bullying. My sister keeps reassuring me that either the whole story never happened or perhaps I thought we were playing a game. I’d like to believe she’s right. I’ve apologized already so I don’t know what I can do to make this thing better. I’m leaving you with the same lack of closure I feel. Perhaps there’s a lesson in sensitivity here but I just don’t know if Ruining Connie’s Childhood was worth a lesson two decades later.

*Name changed to protect identity

God’s PR People

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I’m friends with professionals who are in Judaism’s marketing department. They are synagogue leaders, teachers, non-profit directors, counselors, rabbis, rebbetzins, youth group advisers, and the list goes on.

My question is this: Is custom packaging Judaism for any given audience wrong?

I am confident that enriching and expanding the Jewish community is a good thing. My question is one of parameters.

It seems that Judaism – and the Torah specifically- should be enough. The wisdom is rich and relevant. The values are clearly for the good of the people. Why should the Torah need PR?

On the other hand, those said values and guidelines have an image. Like it or not. When any given person thinks about living a Jewish life, a picture is conjured up. A picture also comes to mind when considering the G-word for that matter (rhymes with cod).

For some, God is Santa and He needs to hand out presents to us so we know we’re loved.  For others, God is a deadbeat dad who created a world and walked away. Worse yet, God is a sadist who takes pleasure in the world’s clashes and suffering.

So too with Torah Judaism. Picture Judaism. (I’ll give you a minute…) Did  you think of a faceless old rabbi with a silver long beard and dusty black hat sitting in a stuffy room hunched over a book?

Surely our definitions of God and Torah Judaism needs reworking.

Obviously Judaism isn’t just for the old Torah scholar. Judaism is for all of us.

Packaging God and Judaism has already been done by every single one of us. Every Jew who’s spent two minutes thinking about his/her own heritage.

Not only is it right to repackage Judaism and God, it is necessary since there are so many distorted images already out there. In order for us all to be great Jewish leaders (which would be ideal), we need to have a mature grasp on what God and the Torah is really all about.

That way, we fully understand the content to ensure it’s not manipulated. The message must always stay intact. But the packaging? That’s up for grabs.

How Madonna and College Girls Are Ruining Feminism

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I’m a die-hard feminist. Have been since I can remember. There was really no choice since adults always described me as “feisty” and “outspoken”. When we’d have company over as a kid, I’d usually sit on the men’s side of the table to discuss current events and ideas (as opposed to recipes and diapers- sorry ladies!). Maybe if authority figures noticed any shred of deference or submissiveness, my life would have taken a different track. But I doubt it.

Let’s define our terms. What is feminism? I think it’s generally understood to mean the desire to have equal rights and treatment to men. Also, an acknowledgement that women are as good, smart, strong, and capable as men. Lastly, women are equal to men.

I’m not a feminist under those conditions. Judaism recognizes women as having incredible power and abilities but are different than men. We look different – I don’t think I need to draw you a picture. We sound different- men’s voices are generally lower in pitch and women’s are generally higher in pitch. We usually make decisions differently (see Myers-Briggs for evidence). We typically excel in different areas of study. Notice all my qualifiers: “usually”, “typically”, “generally”.

Turning a blind eye to these vast differences is the ultimate slap in the face to our gender.

I don’t even think the words “equal”, “better”, or “worse” should be used in a conversation about women and men because of our extensive differences. Would we use those adjectives to discuss giraffes and elephants?

In my opinion (like all things you’ll find here), the newest wave of American feminism was led by Madonna (her 80’s version- not current day). I was at a laundromat the other day and I saw an interview with Madonna from the 80s where she declared that she didn’t care that people had a problem with her being so sexual. She was “taking back control” of her sexuality. That’s why she was dressing in black leather with plenty skin exposed, in seductive poses, with a long blond ponytail, and a cone-shaped chest. Here’s the thing. If she didn’t claim that she was in control, we might think that it was the men controlling her and Madonna creating an image of male fantasy. Beyonce is considered to be a feminist with you-go-girl songs but her videos tell a different story.

It’s difficult to determine just who is in control, after all. When the sorority girls use Halloween to dress up like a Playboy bunnies, can we really say that they’re “in control” of their sexuality? Or are they, like Madonna, dressing like pin-up girls to gain male (and female) attention? Was Marilyn Monroe a feminist or was she objectifying women by just being a physical object to be lusted?

When I gave a series of classes on modesty to a group of co-ed college students, I was fascinated with the reactions I got. The girls just didn’t seem to care about feminism (secular definition). When the boys saw how little the girls cared, they gave up answering my questions with what they thought would impress the girls. They – the girls and boys- unanimously agreed that cat calls and whistles was in no way demeaning to women. Many of them agreed it was a compliment and would be pleased for their mothers or sisters to be on the receiving end.

Ultimately, Judaism’s view on women and modesty appealed to most of them because it’s so much more rational than this new definition of female power. Women are to be treated with respect, like queens, for their innate worth. A woman’s physical appearance is a beautiful shell but pales in comparison with the beauty of her mind, heart, and deeds.

I hope my boys grow up valuing women for their internal worth and not just their physical appearance. Sadly, this generation’s college girls are following in the footsteps of Madonna and true feminism has taken an enormous step backwards.

Cut My Life Into Pieces

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How can Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits shlita be in the same article as Papa Roach?

I’ve decided that imperfection is the great equalizer for humanity. Not one of us is perfect. So it is. If you cut my life into pieces, you’d see disjointed roles, relationships, and goals. I’m teaching, mothering, trying to build up two personal work projects, support my husband with his schooling and a small business plan of his own. The common thread that ties these pieces together is that I’m one person with the same strengths, weaknesses, dreams, challenges, values and temptations. When I begin to feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities, I remind myself of the message my husband’s rebbe, Rabbi Berkovits, lives and teaches over and over and over…

Are you ready for the message?

This is the big secret your kiruv (Jewish outreach) rabbi isn’t telling you.

😉

We’re all here to attain greatness. Slowly, brick by brick, we are here to become great people. Dignified, honest, disciplined, generous individuals creating happy, refined families and developing thriving, vibrant Jewish communities. In that order.

When I attended Rabbi Berkovits’ classes in Israel every week during my husband’s fellowship at the Jerusalem Kollel, the lesson never changed. Somehow, though, it sounded different, taking on the shape of the area we discussed. How does one prepare for each holiday physically and spiritually? What constitutes dignified speech, behavior, and appearance for Jewish leaders? What does it mean to be a truly GREAT person as defined by the Torah (given all our limitations and weaknesses)?

From the age of 13 when I got my Alanis Morisette audio cassette, I realized on some level that we enjoy wallowing in our feelings. We’re all fortunate enough to be incredibly self-indulgent and just sink into the pit of anger, depression, frustration, or disappointment we carve out for ourselves. It’s interesting that seniors and teenagers have the highest incidence of depression. Do you know there are more deaths from suicide than homicide each year? We statistically hate ourselves more than anyone else. Or we just hate our lives. Isn’t that the same thing?

Let’s not get super heavy. Suffice it to say, the Torah outlook on what drives us to get up each day and live our lives no matter who, what, where, or when is the universal obligation to recreate ourselves each day into our absolute best selves.

Papa Roach, allow me fulfill your wish: You’re fine. This article is named after a song that glorifies toying with suicide; I’d like to propose a different interpretation. “Cut my life into pieces.” Break down our lives, every moment spent, every dollar, every exchange.  “This is my last resort.” We have to be determined. It’s life or death. We’re either zombies, just surviving, looking forward to the next nap, movie, drug, distraction, or escape of choice. Or we’re living. Relishing and cherishing the effort we make to improve ourselves, the attempts, the falls, the fails, the fruits of our labor. These are the real joys and the point of life.

Honk if You Hear Me

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This is important, people, we need to have this talk. There is a Drivers’ Etiquette. Truth. Don’t deny its existence just because no one wrote it down. You know it and I know it. It’s out there and for a country that coined the term Road Rage, it’s critical. For example, Driver A lets Driver B into his lane or allows Driver B to precede him at a stop sign (even though Driver A has the right of way). Driver A nods his head towards Driver B to confirm.

Driver B obliges and drives through. What must Driver B do at this point?

The Wave. You’re a heathen if you don’t (not to be judgmental). There’s no excuse for not waving even if you have a crying baby, a wife in labor, or you’re drunk; if you’re on the road, you can manage The Wave. Look, I’ve gotten a peace sign before but I’ll take it. Most any gesture of goodwill from the recipient to the giver qualifies but without it, we have lost all decency, people. The Wave: It’s a Do. Now let’s talk about a Don’t.

Changing lanes like a boss

This might be a guy thing (I hope so) but there’s this really short-sighted, inflated-ego move that some drivers do that makes me crazy. Picture this: I’m driving in the left lane, minding my own business, when suddenly I see the car behind me in the right lane floor his gas. He’s going about 70mph and is centimeters away from crashing into the car in front of him but, at the last moment, switches lanes and slams his brakes so he’s sandwiched between me and the large truck behind me. What happened? The driver needed to do a lane switch but didn’t want to get stuck behind a truck so he decided to put everyone’s life at risk. While this may be classified as dangerous driving, I’d like to stick it in our “Impolite Driving” category because it’s super inconsiderate. Right??

The next item is Polite Uses of the Horn. Correct me if I’m wrong but there’s a right time, place, and intensity level to honk and then there’s the Honk Happy folks who think they can use it liberally and frequently to communicate (cough-seniors-cough). The HH community isn’t up for debate in this forum because I’d like to draw your attention to a more delicate use of the horn. The Light Tap. The Light Tap is great to encourage a driver to speed up, warn a fellow driver of imminent danger, bring a green light to the driver’s attention. It’s a wonderful tool. Some don’t appreciate The Light Tap but I do. It’s friendly and jovial- it means no harm.

So why have I received angry threats when executing The Light Tap? The answer is always because the people on the road are out of their minds. When did we get so caught up with being cut off, honked at, or a moving violation that we completely lose all sense of what’s good and just in the world?? If we didn’t know that the person outside our car would (usually!) only see us for 2.4 seconds perhaps we wouldn’t freak out so easily. The Drivers’ Etiquette doesn’t end here- I’m sure you can think of many more nuances that I haven’t touched upon but I’ll say this- the nice drivers are making this world a better place. Those that aren’t will surely burn in the Road Rage Inferno. Honk if you hear me.

It Could Have Been Me

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I was stuck in massive traffic driving home from work today. I’m not one of those frenetic drivers that take pride in how many minutes I can shave off my trip. I prefer to leave early and arrive early- I’ve been known to spend four hours in an airport to ward off that “rushed” feeling. So there I was at a complete stop for what felt like eternity despite numerous green lights assuring me I’d have my chance to lift my right foot from the brakes to the gas. I began to feel the slightest bit antsy. My chance, it appeared, would never come. I started looking around at the cars ahead of me in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the freeway entrance. I lightly tapped on my horn once but stopped immediately after the muscular, tattooed guy  with hair that defied gravity aggressively and obscenely gesticulated at me in a wildly successful intimidation technique.

My kids were in the back of the car so I had to stay cool. I pushed my annoyance down and tried to distract myself by replying to texts and listening to the kiddies’ day. That went fairly well and pretty soon I began inching forward. That’s when I saw him. The policeman that reoriented me from feelings of frustration to concern in half a second flat. Then I saw three police cars, a tow truck, and an ambulance. Someone was directing traffic and several others in uniform were dutifully taking notes and speaking to bystanders. My stomach clenched in dread of what any one of us could experience any day – a tragic car accident. I sucked in my breath preparing myself for a grotesque image of mangled cars and injured passengers. I worried in those moments about what my kids were about to witness.

When we finally were in view of the actual accident, it was thankfully milder than I expected. I saw no one hurt and while one car’s hood was all but lopped off, the windshield was in tact. Another car had significant damage at the rear but also nothing that looked like impacted passengers. Still, the scene was a sobering one and my kindergartner and I discussed it. He told me he was feeling “cautious, careful, and anxious” having witnessed such a scene. I confessed to him that I shared his feelings.

What began as an ordinary drive turned into recognition of life’s fragility and gratitude that people were spared. That’s the power of witnessing tragedy or even near-tragedy. The Torah discusses how merely observing the trial that follows a woman suspected of infidelity obligates an onlooker to take extreme measures to strengthen boundaries and self-discipline. Reacting to disturbing events with a detached “thank God that wasn’t me” is how we squash anxious thoughts but what lies beneath is really a much more connected “that could have been me”. And that’s appropriate. It could have.

Drowning in Good Fortune

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Do you have different versions of yourself? I know I do. My favorite is the one where I’m sitting at my Shabbos table with guests all around me who are totally different in background and attitude toward Judaism. Somehow, over the roasted chicken or salad we unify into a group that makes sense- all the while sparring about different ideas (we are Jews after all). That Friday night ambiance is unbeatable. The house is filled with yummy smells and is immaculate. The kids are angelically sleeping upstairs. I’m in my element having facilitated a situation where all these random people are enjoying Shabbos and I feel as connected and alive as ever. My husband is not too tired yet (he’s been known to doze at the table or to mysteriously appear on the couch asleep). I myself am pretty tired having spent a good portion of Thursday night cooking for said Shabbos meal but this experience is too divine to miss. The guests leave having made a new friend or two or- minimally-with a full belly and meaningful memories.

It’s interesting that this is my go-to image. I love my children more than anything but let’s face it, they’re practically persona non grata in the scenario I just created.  I picture other “favorite versions” of myself that are maternal like the one where I’m discussing philosophical matters with my 5 year old son. Another is smushing his little brother’s cheeks (Maternal or Sadistic? hmm…). Anyhow, In these images, I’m smiling and blessed too. Still, there’s something very special about those Friday nights. My guests assume I did them a favor inviting them to share a meal but the reality is they were helping me bring my favorite self into fruition.

Judaism posits that true and absolute happiness comes from our closeness with Hashem (God) and by closeness I mean similarity. In all my images of “favorite versions” where I’m feeling my happiest – whether it be the role of a hostess, parent, or giver in any capacity- something deeper is at play. I’m feeling spiritual. I’m feeling connected to something Higher. I’m feeling Godly. (Side-note: This is why I am not a fan of The Giving Tree by Shel Silversein which probably means you hate me now but here’s why: A tree that spends its life as a giver should look big and beautiful with tons of fruit growing- an orchard even- by the end. But a stump?? Who wants to give if giving means we’re left with next to nothing? Giving should create expansion!) On the flip side of giving, I loathe asking for favors or being in a vulnerable position for this very reason. If I am not giving, I don’t feel happy; I don’t feel  powerful; I am not impacting for the better.

One way a Jewish person is supposed to view tzedakah (charity) is that the purpose of poverty is to create opportunity to give. But, where does that leave poor people? Poor, poor people. Come to think of it, we’re all poor in one way or another. Some are searching for financial security, some for a spouse, some struggling to have children, others wishing for happiness, connection, and meaning. The list is endless and I have yet to find someone who couldn’t identify an impoverished area of life. Step up if your life is perfect but careful, it’s ghost town for miles.

So why DOES Hashem want this vulnerability in us? Why does He want us dependent? Is this a punishment? Are we all punished? Judaism teaches us that there’s a reason. This area of emptiness/damage is our life boat. We are otherwise drowning in good fortune. Perhaps it’s counter-intuitive but if I’m sitting at the head of my table, serving dinner, I’m feeling Godly (like I wrote above). The problem with feelings of Godliness is that they need to be tempered lest we have delusions of grandeur. It would be a recipe for a very miserable life if I walked around feeling like God constantly. Talk about fear of failure and unrealistic expectations! Talk about isolation and haughtiness! Humility is one of the most difficult traits to acquire and there is no better way to experience humility than being forced to acknowledge our  weaknesses, voids, and obstacles. May our strides toward humility be paved with plenty sweet and happy blessings.