Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayak’heil – P’kudei
General Colin Powell taught us, “Always focus on the front windshield and not the review mirror.” All State Insurance Company runs a commercial where their driver “Mayhem” badly tailgates the car in front of him. He so distracts the driver of the other car that the front car rams ppl the back of a truck, as Mayhem’s car drives off. We spend a lot of time thinking and rethinking yesterday.
Too often, we spend more energy stuck on what happened to us yesterday than we do planning for a better tomorrow. Living in yesterday defies faith. Torah teaches us, “uv’charta b’chayeem – always choose life.” Whether it is pain we experienced our joys we celebrated; when yesterday’s news continues to be tomorrow’s prayer, we find ourselves out of synch with life.
Sometimes, a past joy locks on to our hearts as if it is the only celebration our hearts will ever know. Sometimes, we are running from a hurt. In “The Lion King,” Rafiki teaches us, “The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” As the musician “Meatloaf” sang, “Objects in the rearview mirror may appear closer than they are.”
We have to choose to live. While we have no guarantee as to how much time we have, we have to remember that God guarantees none of us time with each other. It is a sacred and indefinable intangible gift. When we fill the time we have with acrimony, pain, or even longing for the past, we waste this most precious gift. Our tradition teaches us that this act is blasphemy. Faith defies holding grudges. Further, our tradition reminds us that God created us to celebrate life. We have to seek atonement for the joy we deny ourselves in life.
Today, we find ourselves stuck in the harshest conundrum. As devastating as the illness sweeping the world impacts our physical health, it has brought fear into so many hearts. The social distance command threatens (albeit with necessity) our social and intimate relationships. Decades ago, commercially, we asked the question, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” Later AT&T acknowledged that long-distance was, “The next best thing to being there.” It was, at best, a distant second best.
My grandson lives in Louisville, KY. Video-chatting is lovely, but it does not let me hold him or him, me. It’s not the same. Today, he could live next door, and I still might not be able to hold him. I know that for all people, whatever one’s religion, politics, elected or empowered status, economics, orientation, race, or other distinguishing philosophy, biology, or culture, each of us stands susceptible to being ill or spreading the virus. Countless children will be without food because of school closures. People are losing jobs, and ultimately homes, because of the economic impact of the virus and the only known path to keep it from spreading. Shutting down society may stop the spread, but the economic calamities it will leave in its wake are disastrous. One month without income can be the difference between security and homelessness. It seems to me that this is the time to remember that the barriers we build between each other do not ultimately matter.
They say that in a fox hole, there are no atheists, and religious differences have no place. Everyone in the fox hole prays for safety. We all want to get out alive and whole. Why then, when we are facing the same risk of loss, are we still fighting over politics and power? Knowing that the foundations of society are at risk, we are still intent on abusing each other to gain an upper-hand? Yesterday’s indignities cannot define our future needs for each other. Yesterday’s power elitism cannot dictate a path for our universal healing. We cannot live emotionally or politically stuck in yesterday and have hope for a “whole” tomorrow.
We end the book of Exodus this week. Throughout the book, we have wandered. We are free from servitude to Pharaoh but still lost in the wilderness. As the book ends, though, we say the words, “CHAZAK CHAZAK, V’NITCHAZAEK- Strength Strength, let us all be strong!” Even as we have no clue as to how long we will wander, Torah commands us to remember to forge ahead and be strong. When we return to seeing each other as human beings sharing in this experience, only then can we grow from it. If we continue on the path of “us vs. them,” the freedoms and opportunities that we do hold dear will become only distant memories. The sun will come out tomorrow, and we must be strong enough together to welcome it.