Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Just when we think that we have seen it all...

In my forty-eight years of life, I believe that I have experienced quite a number of interesting, if not exciting events. Things that would surprise many people, and even a few which might leave some in awe. In High School, while I was attempting to throw strikes to our catcher, Erez (EZ) Borowsky (later of Minnesota Twins fame), a real Major League Pitcher lived with my family, and I was able to spend late afternoons and evenings in the Dodgers' dugout and bullpen; At one point I spent time hanging out with mega stars in Cannes; Sitting on airplanes with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Pierre Eliot Trudeau and even Jack Kent Cooke (when he owned the Redskins). To me, these were just random events in my life, and looking back at these days, I am at times in awe myself. I am often asked if I feel that there had been opportunities to succeed through knowing these people, and that these opportunities were wasted by not engaging. Once upon a time, I might have contemplated that question, and may have even replied in the affirmative, but not today.

Today, I prefer to remember the more mundane experiences and wonder why I did not capitalize on them. Why did I not savor every minute that I had while swimming with my boys in the Hawaiian Pacific with giant sea turtles? Why did I spend most of my adult life trying to live the "American Dream" (which should really be called the American Nightmare) by keeping up with the Johnsons? Why was it important for me to drive a Mercedes-Benz and buy expensive shoes? Why did I prefer to play golf without my little son, because if I would take him with me, he would complain, and rightly so, about my smoking like a chimney. Today, I prefer to remember these failed experiences as a reminder of what not to do while continuing this wonderful journey called life.

As I write today, I recall that it was just a year ago that this Column came into being. As a tribute to my father, whose Marker we had just unveiled; as a burst of solidarity to friends who had been wronged in business by a Bible Thumping bigot of the 100th degree; and as a prayer for the "hope" that we were promised, once the new "Leader" took office. It appears now, a mere year later, that this manufactured hope has disappeared, and that the remaining hope is that this “Leader” will not end the world as we know it.

I remember how my father had no hates in his life, except for one, hate itself. I think about the number of people with whom I speak on a daily basis, and the hatred, disappointment and discontent that they bring to me to solve for them. I try as I might to listen quietly and offer them answers of which I am certain, I, at times, find myself wondering if life could get any more strange.

A few weeks ago, I answered the phone at my second job (a movie theatre) and the voice on the other side of the conversation actually asked me, with all sincerity, "Do you all show movies there?" We all laughed. It seems that just when we think that we have seen it all, we are hit by more of what I like to call a veritable lack of the most apparently expensive commodity around: Attention.

For many, inability to pay attention is a disease. Medically treatable and more than ninety-nine percent of the time, curable, I ask about the rest of us. Why do we find attention to be so expensive, that we are unwilling to pay it?

It is attention, or lack thereof, that causes communication breakdowns; that confuse us and that and destroys relationships, that otherwise could be healthy. Do we not pay attention because we are disinterested in the other person, or what he or she has to say, or do we not pay attention because we are so excited about saying what it is that we want to say; about hearing our own voice, that anything said before is unimportant? Why do we ask for advice, only to do whatever we want to do anyway?

In visiting several evening based networking groups over the past year, I have found that there is a whole society of people who pay so very little attention to real life, and to what is really happening around them, that they get caught up in a dream. The get rich fast dream. All they must do to achieve success and happiness is write a check for $99 and then convince everyone that they know to buy fruit juice or vitamins or a website that sends greeting cards. Then, once their friends are convinced that this is the way to instant riches, they convince these friends to write them a check for $99. And so it goes.

Many Christians wear a bracelet or Tee-Shirt that asks: WWJD? What would Jesus do? In truth, they are asking, WSID. What should I do. All of us, regardless of religion, regardless of race ask our friends: What should I do about this new job? What should I do about this, or that? Should I stay married if I don't love my husband?

In short, G-d put us on this earth with a certain level of intelligence. Believe it or not, even if we don't all use it, we still, for the most part possess it. This intelligence comes with an uncanny ability to make decisions, and many times, the unique ability to make the exact wrong decision.

This, my friends is where faith plays its role. Whether we ask WWJD? WWM(Moses)D? WSID? The simple truth is in the word: attention. If we had paid the attention required to see all sides of the question equally, then, our answer is simple: If we think that this is something that we should NOT do, we should not do it. The old story asks the question about Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws. If you have to ask the Rabbi if the item is Kosher, it isn't. If you have to ask the Rolls Royce dealer how much this car costs, you cannot afford it.

I am often inspired by a famous Hebrew quote attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, which states: "The whole world is a narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to fear." This tells us that our belief in G-d and faith in His love for us and us for Him should be enough to cross the bridge with no fear. Many times it is enough, but sadly, many do not possess this faith and therefore, retain fear and pay little attention to much else.

The Parsha that we just read on Shabbat, Vaeira, speaks of Moses' conversation with G-d and G-d's instruction that Moses go to Egypt and tell Pharoah to "Let my people go." But Moses retorted, "The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech!". G-d then repeated his commandment, but rather than use the word "go" to Egypt, He said "come" to Egypt, indicating that G-d would be with him, at his side. (Ex 4:10-12).

This is the faith that we must all have right now. This is the faith with which we must all take a moment and pay attention. With it, we can move mountains. Knowing that G-d is with us each and every moment of each and every day, just when we think that we have seen it all, G-d can work in the most mysterious of ways and bring us the comfort and happiness that we all need so very much these days.

This is the faith that we must have in our hearts when we look toward our Moledet. Our Birthright; our home, far over two seas. The small stretch of land barely the size of New Jersey, which waits for us with open and loving armsh. With an open and loving voice she calls to us and reminds us that she is there, but by the grace of G-d and that she is home to one and all of us, as granted us by our Creator to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; to Sara, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, for in reality, This land is your land. This land is my land. This is the land that needs us, and this is the land that we need. We must not forsake her, nor may we forget her, nor may we not protect her. This is the land that was made for you and me. Let us pay the attention that we must to go to her, and to be home, where G-d wants for us to be.

This week, from the not so Sunny Southern California, where it most certainly does rain, I send you Ahavah u'Vrachot. Love and Peace and wishes for a wonderful week.

--Rabbi Alan Abrams