Thursday, October 31, 2019

First Things First

As time has progressed and the years go by, it seems we are getting busier than ever and being faced with more choices all the time. For example, the average home in the United States has a television that receives 189 channels. That seems to be a quite high number and a radical departure from the 3 or 4 channels available on the dial on their TV not too long ago. I see this in the produce section of the grocery store as well, where there are not just tomatoes, but multiple different kids that include; beefsteak, cherry, grape, vine-ripened tomatoes, roma, ugly ripe, and the list goes on and on.

I think about this as we have emerged from the High Holiday season and the Jewish New Year, and we have once again reflected on how we can engage in self-improvement. Yet, as we resume our daily routine and activities, we are once again facing the same long list of things to do, and our noble aspirations for the New Year have once again been relegated to the back burner.

There is a powerful insight from this week’s portion about the importance of setting priorities or “First Things First,” as Stephen Covey calls it. In the aftermath of the devastating flood that literally destroyed the civilization of the world, there is a veiled rebuke of Noah. The Torah refers to him as a “Man of the Earth who planted a vineyard.” This is a departure from his earlier claim to fame as a “Righteous Man”. Now he was just a man of the earth since he was planting a vineyard for the ultimate purpose of having wine to drink. Many have questioned this unusually harsh perspective on Noah. After all, this was a man who was holed up for a year on the ark with all sorts of animals, and he comes out of the ark and finds a destroyed world. Who can begrudge or criticize the man for wanting a nice glass of wine?

There is a compelling lesson in priorities learned from this episode. Of course, there would be nothing wrong with Noah having some wine to drink after an extraordinarily stressful year. The mistake he made was in setting his priorities. This was the immediate aftermath of the flood which destroyed the world because of Man’s follies. As he emerged from the ark and began to live again, there surely were more severe and critical undertakings that Noah could have started that would improve society as a whole. The notion of him hitting the reset button by planting a vineyard to make some wine from was a missed opportunity in setting appropriate priorities. Let’s hope that we can be mindful of this story as we are faced with endless choices, and we are challenged to set our priorities as well.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Understanding the Process

It seems that a broad consensus of people agree that Monday is their least favorite day of the week. Who can blame them? After a weekend of leisure, one must return to the workplace on Monday and another week of blah. For students, it’s their first day back at school after a weekend of fun and who can blame them for feeling less than enthusiastic for a return to the classroom. Some have said that was the genius of the NFL to come up with Monday Night Football to take away some of the early week despondency. It turns out that the feeling of getting the blues on Monday may have Biblical roots. In this week’s parsha of Bereishis, we learn about the creation of the world. On every day of creation, after G-d saw what had been created, He declared, “Ki Tov/it was good.” This declaration of “Ki Tov” was announced on every single day of creation except one. Can you guess which day had the glaring omission of G-d’s declaration that it was good? If you guessed Monday, then you are correct. The second day of the week may be associated with getting the blues for all time, for it lacked G-d’d declaration that all was good. On a more serious note, Rashi comments that the declaration of Ki Tov was omitted on Monday simply because the creation of the water was incomplete in terms of its assigned location. That aspect was completed on Tuesday, and indeed, G-d made the declaration of Ki Tov twice on Tuesday.

It seems that there is a larger message is about understanding the importance of the process. This is especially important in our generation when we are becoming accustomed to instant results and satisfaction all the time. It was just a few decades ago that the microwave oven was invented, and now it occupies space in practically every kitchen in America because we need things cooked in no time. The opposite of that is the crockpot, which is a slow cooker. Some dishes need to undergo a process of a slow cooker in order to achieve perfection. If you put these dishes in a microwave, the results would be disastrous. The same applies to anything meaningful in life, from spiritual growth to child-rearing. While we may desire instant results, we must understand there is a process to succeed. In fact, G-d reminded us of this on the first Monday in the history of the world by telling us that sometimes we must wait until Tuesday to hear Ki Tov.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Shabbos Shuva

The Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is famous for being referred to as Shabbos Shuva. The primary reason for this name is that the Haftorah that is read begins with this word, Shuvah. The truth of the matter is, not only is the word Shuva the root of the famous word or idea Teshuva, it is a fundamental idea in Judaism. The meaning of Shuva is return. The puzzling thing about understanding Shuvah or returning, is where exactly are we returning to? Did we get lost from any particular place that we need to return to? As far as I can tell, if I am not lost, there is no need to return anywhere.

The idea of Shuva touches on a much deeper concept regarding body and soul. Throughout our lives, our bodies and souls are in conflict with one another. The body just craves earthly pleasures since it is just a product from the earth. However, the soul craves spiritual desires since it is a product of the heavens where Almighty G-d resides. The more the body is taken care of and nurtured, and the soul is neglected, the soul will feel empty and shallow. If this goes on for a while, a person may live with many external riches but feel an internal emptiness precisely because his soul has been neglected. Can anyone say mid-life crisis? This is where Shuvah comes in. It’s a message to tell your soul to return to its calling of connecting to the service of G-d. The soul ultimately wants to connect, but it’s the distractions of the materialistic world that get in the way. Shuvah says don’t pay attention to all the distractions. Just let your soul connect to its original mission. It would be a great message all year round but especially poignant a few days before Yom Kippur.

Choosing To Be Grateful

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