Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah -Va-et’chanan
I got to see an old friend this week. We go back over 30 years. We chased tornadoes, studied, laughed, and of all my Rabbinical friends, he is closest. I presided over his wedding. I drove 6 hours down and back in one day for his son’s covenanting ceremony. He helped me bury my first wife. He helped preside over my second wedding. Recently, I helped bury his wife. Usually, our conversations pick up where the last one left off – however long in between. This time was different. Sitting at my kitchen table, there was a most familiar feeling to the setting, but our conversation was really different. It almost seemed as if we were starting all over.
We were sharing in a new realm, one in which I had been for 13 plus years. As close as we have always been, even after all these years, newly widowed, he has new and uncharted waters to traverse. The familiar piece is that we will do it together.
Nothing in life remains stagnant. However much expertise we claim on any subject, there is always more to learn, and in any relationship, there are deeper waters in which to dive. Too often, though, we take too much for granted. In our relationships, we claim complete knowledge of the other. In our work, our tasks become second-hand – even rote. At the same time, we quote the philosophers who claim that life without value is a life unlived. They teach us that everything is in flux. An ancient sage named Cratylus taught us that you cannot step in the same river even once. After the heel goes in, the water has moved on, and the toe is stepping into a new river. Still, we work to control our environment (and relationships) and get stuck in everything that was. Too often, pain and fear keep us from seeing a different tomorrow, locking us into reliving our moments of loss, working to maintain a status quo, or holding on to even the discomforts for which we are familiar – in each case stuck and unable to live a new and renewing path to the future.
Oddly, Torah alludes to the mitzvah of renewal just as Moses is winding down his time with the people. From the week’s portion (Deut 3:24), we read, “You, O God, have begun to show Your servant Your greatness.” Begun? Moses is almost 120 years old. He and God have been working intimately together for over 40 years at this point. Personally, I think that some of what God had already shown Moses was quite spectacular (never mind great)!
Almost as if the inspirational force for James Collins’ book “From Good To Great,” the Baal Shem Tov (18th-century founder of Chassidism) taught us, “Moses was God’s faithful servant, the greatest of the prophets, the recipient of the Torah from God. Yet after 120 years of the godliest life ever lived, he sees himself as only having begun in his relationship with God!”
Or, as the poet Robert Browning wrote, “Come grow old with me, the best is yet to be.” Karen Carpenter sang, “We’ve only just begun,” describing how relationships continue to renew. When we are born, we know that someday we will die. When a journey begins, we know there will be an end. Ultimately, we choose to be stuck or take life’s joys and pains and use them to shape us and our path into a new journey. We grieve because of tremendous love. Let not that love that built our joy diminish life’s value. Tim McGraw memorialized his father (the late MLB Pitcher Tug McGraw) in a song, “Live Like You Are Dying.” He tells us that after his father received the news of his incurable cancer, he chose to live a new life. It was not going to undo cancer, but it would make whatever time he had left a whole lot more meaningful.
It is never too late to renew. It takes work. It may take therapy. It will be both painful and exhilarating. At whatever stage in life we find ourselves, we have to remember that at 120 years old, Moses began a new chapter with Divinity. It comes down to having enough faith to know that tomorrow will present time as yet unlived and unexperienced – and untainted by what has been until we clothe it.
At the risk of one more pop-culture cliché, Schlitz Beer used the slogan, “You only go around life once. Go for all the gusto.” We will not be given a second chance to live in celebration. Let’s not waste the one we have.