Friday, August 24, 2007

Gain the upper hand

There’s a rather strange new Nike advertising campaign that’s popped up all over Joburg’s billboards. Each billboard depicts frame-by-frame shots of a sportsman in mid-game. The campaign’s theme is “This is how I war”.

We all know there is a huge amount of violence in our society, so Nike probably figured they’d advertise their brand and make a social statement at the same time.
It really is a nice message and let’s hope it succeeds.

Seeing as we’re generally expert armchair politicians, we tend to notice the battles around us and ignore the battles inside us. We all have them, they’re uncomfortable, and they’re for real.

People battle depression, laziness, temptation and a host of other personal weaknesses. If Judaism had to create a “This is how I war” campaign for those battles, what would the message be?

Luckily, the answer’s right at the start of this week’s Torah portion. It starts “When you go to war on your enemies, G-d will deliver them into your hands”. To use correct grammar, the Torah should have said “When you to war against your enemies”. On your enemies? What is that supposed to mean?

Human nature is such that we take our enemies really seriously; maybe even more seriously than they take themselves. “I have a big problem with keeping my mouth shut”, “I battle to motivate myself”, “I’ll never manage to break my bad habits”.

Such an attitude doesn’t help fight the war, it predisposes us to lose it.

That’s why the Torah says go to war “on” your enemies. Our challenge is to remain above it. G-d says He will deliver them into our hands, He’ll guarantee success for our personal challenges. All we need to do is rise above- and trust.

Pretty appropriate at Rosh Hashanah-time, don’t you think?

Access Control

Security is a hot topic in Joburg. Actually, since 9/11, it’s become a hot issue throughout the world.

We have surrounded our homes with high walls, electric fences, security gates and burglar bars to keep the baddies out. Airports around the globe have introduced security screenings that would unnerve even the most ironclad heart. Our home PC’s and office networks are protected with firewalls to keep the rubbish at bay. It’s now not only acceptable, but fashionable to limit access on just about every level of our lives.

We know how to keep the burglars, terrorists and spammers out. Ironically, we still remain vulnerable to trespass of a different kind.

A wise man commented: “Jews have always considered it taboo to enter a church, yet nowadays they bring the church into our own homes”. “Church” represents more than a place of worship, it symbolizes anything antithetical to Jewish values.

You could sit in the comfort of your Jewish home, flanked by a silver mezuzah, Shabbos candle sticks and a portrait of your zeida. Flip a switch on the “black box” and you invite people, images, sounds and themes that are contrary to every Jewish value.

“Judges and policeman you shall place at all your gates”, states the Torah. You could just read that at face value- a Jewish town needs to have a judicial system. Or you could approach this line as a Jew should: The Torah is a book of personal lessons. If you cannot find the relevant lesson in the story for you, you have missed the point.

Let’s read that sentence again, with different emphasis this time. “Judges and policemen you shall place on all your gates”. Your gates are the access points to your soul: your eyes, ears and mouth. That is what the Torah is talking about. Just as it’s important to keep unwanted visitors out of your house, it’s just as important to keep them out of your head (and your kids’ heads).

We’ve invested a fortune in physical security, we should at least equal the effort for our spiritual security.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Run away!

Everyone likes to get away from it all at some point. Forget work pressures, even just driving down a Joburg street is stressful. It’s a relief to get out of town, find a serene spot and unwind.

The truth be told, though, it’s not always that easy. While we can get away from the external pressures of life, we tend to carry a full array of internal baggage with us wherever we go. Even on holiday, our doubts, insecurities and regrets come along for the ride. None of us is perfect, we’ve all made mistakes that we wish we could undo. Even in those quiet moments, we often feel we cannot shake them off.

Imagine if we could.

“Holidays from conscience”- now there’s a great business opportunity! I’m pretty sure if someone would offer us a place to escape our closet skeletons, we’d snatch it.

The good news is that we get a 30-day getaway opportunity every year. It’s called the month of Elul, and it starts next Wednesday (August 15th).

One of history’s greatest debacles was the crumbling of Jewish resolve at the foot of Mount Sinai. Just days after G-d’s unequivocal message that He is the only One, they traded Him in for an inanimate dummy-god. After Moshe gave them a piece of his mind, the Jews surely felt terrible. One can safely assume that they would have carried guilt and a sense of fickle-failure with them for long time.

That would have been the case, had Hashem not unveiled the Elul paradigm shift. He invited Moshe back up the mountain for a 40-day session. During that time, he allowed the People to escape their mess, and start with a fresh slate.

Like the Biblical Cities of Refuge, Elul created immunity for the Jewish People from the faults that threatened to haunt them.

It does so every year.

Escape to Elul. Invest some extra prayer, study and charity in the next 30 days and you’ll start the New Year on the right foot.