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.

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