Thursday, July 26, 2007

Road Rage

I'm stopped at a red light.

My hands relax on the steering wheel as I watch for the green. Nothing of interest happens as I wait for the light to change. Not usually, that is.

Today is different; I have front row seats for a brief drive-by show.

She's a prudent driver, staying just within the speed-limit as she crosses the intersection and turns right. He's madly rushing, stop-starting, revving and braking inches behind her.

She's calm, with both hands firmly on the wheel, and both eyes on the road. His free hand gesticulates wildly out the window, punctuating the expletives pouring from his mouth, as he gears up and steers with his other hand.

He's fuming. She's oblivious.

I'm tickled.

I wish I had a video camera and this guy's address. He obviously doesn't realise how idiotic he looks- ignored by the object of his anger; and observed by dozens of amused rush-hour commuters.

* * *

What is it about driving that transforms mild-mannered, nice people into revving road-rage racers?

I know many of these people. In real life, they are courteous, responsible and family oriented. On the road they mutate into monsters. How?

I think it has to do with the feeling of control. Take the wheel and you assume control. You direct and your car obeys.

You choose the route, destination, travel-time, speed and driving style. This is your journey.

What you haven't necessarily considered is that you don't control the traffic volumes, the red lights, the drivers next to you or ahead of you. You actually control very little of the journey.

When it doesn't go as you had expected you get upset, angry or possibly aggressive. And all because you thought you were in control.

Interesting insight into life, this road rage is.

Believe you're in control and you're bound to be frustrated. Accept that there will always be variables outside of your control, and that your job is to know how to respond to them, and you will remain calm. And happy.

* * *

Judaism centers on the Ten Commandments.

Rule #1: G-d is always in control.
Rule #2: If you think for a moment He is not in control, see Rule #1.

Friday, July 20, 2007


You may well remember the “Magic eye” 3D-poster craze from a few years back. At first, those stereograms looked like random coloured patterns splashed across a page. Once you stared at them for a while, though, you could make out a 3D picture.

Remember how many people would stare and stare and simply not see the 3D picture (you may have been one of them)? They would either become frustrated or accuse you of having them on, because there really was no 3D picture to see.

Modern science claims that this happens to us daily. We look at what is around us, and only consciously perceive a fraction of what we see. So, when people try to convince us that there’s more to life than meets the eye, we don’t buy it.

Which reminds me of a very important story.

It wasn’t long after the Roman destruction of the Temple, when a group of Talmudic Sages walked along the rubble-strewn Temple Mount. One can only imagine the immense sadness they must have felt as they surveyed the ravaged remains of Judaism’s holiest site.

When a fox darted out from the debris of the Holy of Holies, it was too much for them to handle. The rabbis cried bitterly. Rabbi Akivah, who was also there, laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” they challenged him.

“Why are you crying?” he retorted.

“How can we not cry,” the Rabbis asked, “when we see a fox exit the spot that was always off-bounds to all but the holiest Jew, the High Priest, on the holiest day of Yom Kippur?”

“That,” said Rabbi Akivah, “is why I laugh!”

“There are two prophecies,” Rabbi Akivah explained, “Uriah predicted that the Temple Mount would be plowed over like a field. Zechariah prophesied that Jerusalem would, once again, regain its stature and glory. Until I saw the fulfillment of Uriah’s prophecy, I was unsure that Zechariah’s prophecy would be fulfilled.”

Hearing that, the Rabbis remarked: “Akivah, you have comforted us.”

On the face of it, this is a particularly strange story. Yet, it provides an essential insight into the unique Jewish take on life.

When the Romans destroyed the Temple, they didn’t just demolish an important building. They disconnected the portal that connects heaven and earth. They disrupted the direct line of communication that Jews had with G-d and He with them. They snuffed out the light of the world, heralding 2000 years of anti-Semitism, plunder, pogroms.

To the rabbis, this was the devastating picture they saw that day on the Temple Mount. They saw a chaotic mess of incongruent colour splashed onto the canvas where a masterpiece had just been.

Rabbi Akivah was able to look deeper, beyond appearances. He saw the 3D picture that would emerge from that chaos. Yes, he felt the pain. Sure, he mourned the loss. But, he also saw beyond- that the destruction was also the seed of a higher, greater process.

Rabbi Akivah perceived that the fast day of Tisha B’Av is also the birth of Moshiach.

Spiritual as they were, the other rabbis couldn’t see that perspective, until Rabbi Akivah showed it to them.

We still battle to see the full picture.

To our eyes there is chaos, crime, illness and global terrorism. We see a loss of moral direction, a crumbling of ethics, a lack of world leadership.

We have much to mourn this Tisha B’Av. But, just before that, Hashem gives us a Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbos of vision. The Shabbos prior to Judaism’s day of national mourning is so named, because that’s when He allows us a momentary glimpse into the meaning behind the madness. Shabbat Chazon briefly opens our eyes to see a higher purpose.

Our wish is that Hashem allows that vision to become our reality this year.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Life's a journey(s)

And I’m not sure we always enjoy the ride…

Actually, life is a series of journeys. Some of them are long and arduous, while others are fairly straight-forward. At times, we travel on routes filled with potholes, and feel relieved to reach the wide tarred highways of life. Sometimes we know where we are headed and other times we feel hopelessly lost. Each trip, and each stop has a message and a meaning that makes our life what it is.

You may hear people talk of “Gilgul”, the Jewish concept of soul-cycles. People naturally assume that this refers to the multiple lives that a soul lives.

The Ba’al Shem Tov explains one goes through numerous Gilgulim or life-cycles within the course of a single life. If you know how to navigate them, you reach your destination whole and enriched.

We've just read the Torah portion called Massei, which lists the 42 pit-stops that the Jewish nation made en route from Egypt to Israel. If you pay attention to the opening verse, you’ll immediately discover an anomaly. The Torah starts: “These are the journeys that the Jewish people took to leave Egypt.”

Between you and I, it only takes one journey to leave Egypt. As soon as you cross the border, you’re out. Simple.

Yet, the Torah wants to teach us about life rather than about history.

Mitzrayim, the Hebrew term for Egypt, means constraints. Life’s journeys are not about getting from A to B. They represent the challenges that allow us to grow and develop into better people.
You grow when you challenge your natural limitations. Leaving Egypt means breaking your barriers and exceeding your expectations.

As soon you break out of the box, your new paradigm becomes your new “Egypt”. In other words, now that you’ve risen to the challenge, you can’t rest on your laurels. What used to be impossible has become ordinary. To grow further, you need to challenge yourself with a new “impossible”.

Do that 42 times, and you reach life’s destination - or your personal Promised Land.

Until then, you’re in a state of relative Egypt, with plenty more journeys ahead.