Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah–Ha’azinu

First, I wish to all, a healthy, happy, joyous, and prosperous new year. Rosh Hashanah is not a Jewish holiday. It is a holiday created in scripture … a scripture owned by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. So much of the Torah comes from traditions that pre-date it. I know that in many more ancient eastern cultures, festivals existed celebrating birth and rebirth, creation and re-creation. So, whichever our tradition, this season represents cause for celebration. Second, we know that most people reading this have “first world” perspectives. We get upset over technology, fashion, and social status. We have to remember that a large segment of this world exists without indoor plumbing, a permanent shelter in which to house indoor plumbing or any real means of income with which to buy/rent a permanent shelter in which to house the indoor plumbing. Not being able to predict next meals … or the next day’s security from war … these are problems that most of us reading this do not face … a fact that most of us probably take for granted. We should enjoy that we have technology, fashion, and status issues, over which to be upset … as our main problems every day. The new year is a good time to think and rethink our priorities, and however much we really do pay attention to what is happening in the world, there is always more we can do.

There is no question, but that we rely on each other to get through our lives in a meaningful way. However independent we think we are … or want to be, the fact remains that unless we choose to live as recluses on a mountain somewhere, we need each other. Ok, this is somewhat of a “no brainer.” What we often forget is that needing and sharing with each other is a multi-dimensional endeavor. Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream. There are at least 20 of them that I would have no interest in ever eating. There are 5 or 6 of which I might partake in, if someone else had them and my spoon found its way to their bowl. The remaining few are the ones which I would spend a lot of energy talking myself out of (another “first world” problem). IF Baskin Robbins was to base its entire marketing plan on my likes and dislikes, there would be no Baskin Robbins. They know well enough that different palates exist in the world, and they try (within reason) to cater to as many as possible.

So it is with the real world. Martin Buber taught us that each of us has a unique “I & Thou” relationship with God, with spirit, with conscience, and with each other. As such, we have to recognize that this world is uniform only in that everyone (without exception) is unique. This reality makes it hard for us to plan for large groups, for there is no cookie cutter approach to living in this world. Every day, we have an opportunity to broaden our horizons, enlarge our perspective, and learn to better appreciate the blessings that we have. We take for granted that there are some things that we all have in common, and plan accordingly, and yet, sometime find that we were way off base. The problem is that we were not wrong about the reality that we share so much, but we were wrong about some of the default answers that became our gospel.

An easy example of this truth roots in fundamental religionists who believe God only hears their prayers and speaks only back to them. Of course, modern day politics probably qualifies, as well. I wonder how many of us think about this in the course of our daily lives, though. This week’s Torah portion helps with a little perspective: “Let my teaching fall like rain, and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. (Deut 32:2). If we read “teaching” to be the source of life, then we equally share life. The sages, rather than scoffing at the simplicity of this statement, call on us to take seriously that in all matters, even in our diversity, we come from the very same stuff. The truth is that there is very little in this world where one size fits all. We default to creating “bunched norms” so as to accommodate lots of people, but the text reminds us that one source of rain equally waters all plants and every blade of grass … even while all are absolutely unique: and all are equally included. We know that this is how we want to be treated. We will buy clothes off of the rack … and then go get them personally tailored. We order off a standard menu, and then modify the ingredients and preparation. We want professional services tailored to our wants and needs. Knowing that we make these demands (because that’s what God tells us is appropriate), how many of us welcome these demands from others? Are we prepared to say that the fact that we do not understand or agree with someone’s desire or need does not invalidate its value in their lives? How many joyfully appreciate standing in line so that the persons ahead can get the very same service that we demand when it is our turn? How many of us diminish our own dignity, relinquish our rights to live a way that makes sense, to avoid having to put up with others exercising the same rights? It’s the new year. Let’s be intentional in how we see through other’s eyes, to give them the same dignity we want when seeing through our own.

Shabbat shalom.