Thursday, January 31, 2008

Unexpected upgrade

Last week, I flew to Umhlanga, a beautiful resort town on the east coast of South Africa, to give a shiur.

I was booked to fly on, the local no-frills el-cheapo airline (after all, do I really need a half-warmed, double-wrapped inedible kosher lunch on a 50 minute flight?).

As it happens, Kulula is owned by Comair, a British Airways partner. Occasionally, they simply put their Kulula passengers onto BA flights- which is what happened to me. In fact, not only did I get onto a BA flight, but landed in row 7!

Row 7 means I had a business class seat!
Ok, I was behind the impermeable business class curtain and I didn't get the free newspaper or peanuts. But I did have extra leg room and a tad wider armrest. My ticket was for a buy-your-own-drinks, cattle-class flight, and here I was traveling in "style" (considering that people pay big bucks for 50 minutes of extra leg room...)

You see? Sometimes in life, you get more than what you pay for.

Of course, the Talmud knew this all along. That's why it teaches "Yoga'ato Umotzoso", try and you will find.

Everyone else will tell you that, if you try, you will succeed. Only G-d tells you that you will find.

If you chance upon a wad of cash on the side of the road, it's not because you tried to find it. It's a windfall; beyond your expectations.

G-d promises that whenever you try and grow spiritually or draw close to Him, the result will be so far beyond your expectations, that you'll feel as though we found the unexpected.

You just have to try.

(Next time I fly to New York, I think I'll try this free business class upgrade thing again...)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Always look on the bright side of life

Well, this is a refreshing moment, I can actually get to my PC and use the Internet. It's not that I've been unusually busy or anything, just that we've had rolling blackouts here for nine days straight : (

Honestly, this "load-shedding" (politically correct way of saying, insufficient-power-leading-to-regular-power-cuts) is one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve experienced to date. I’m sure you’ll agree.

Like it or not, we’ve been forced to alter our lifestyles compliments of Eskom. Businesses are really suffering and even just preparing supper has become a challenge, but not every powercut-induced lifestyle-change is bad.

Firstly, families are talking again. In the evenings, without the lure of TV or the Internet, people have become social again.

Secondly, we are being trained in the lost art of patience. Have you noticed how people behave at intersections sans traffic lights? No hooting, no shouting, just waiting their turn because they have no alternative.

Thirdly, while many people fret or simply twiddle their thumbs when the lights go out at work, we don't have to. My suggestion is: Take a Torah book to work. When the power goes, head outdoors, enjoy the fresh air and read. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn in a matter of weeks.

Family time, patience and extra study are all important. We shouldn’t need a crisis to remind us.

If the world looks dark, a Jew is supposed to generate (even a little) light.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Life has its ups and downs

It's back to school tomorrow! (for those of us in the Southern hemisphere)

My younger children are excited, they have their cases packed and their lunches ready. They'll probably be up at the crack of dawn. The older kids have already reached the "ho-hum, how many days will the end of the year" stage and aren't overly excited.

I've start teaching again tomorrow. Enough said.

Whatever it is you do, you probably share that sense of excitement and conquer-the-world enthusiasm when you've had a good break and are about to start things afresh.

The reality is, no matter how excited or inspired you feel, chances are something will get in the way sooner or later. Inspiration wears off, obstacles test our optimism and boredom sets in.

Is it possible to keep the inspiration alive? Or are burnout and the doldrums realities we need to accept.

The answer may lie in the very first mitzvah that the Jewish people were given as a nation. That instruction was not belief in G-d (as many people think), but establishing a calendar. It must make you wonder: Why does the calendar take precedence over the basics of Jewish faith?

Our Jewish calendar follows the moon. Most of our festivals coincide with full moon, and we start each month with Rosh Chodesh, at the birth of the new moon.

The moon has its moments- birth, waxing, fullness and waning- and so do we. We run our calendar by the moon, because we are like the moon.

The moon grows steadily for the first half of each month, peaks and then diminishes. We also start new things with enthusiasm, then fizzle out.

What we do wrong is we stay fizzled out. G-d's very first message to the nation of Israel is "Hachodesh hazeh lochem rosh chodoshim". Simply that means: This month is for you the first month of the Jewish year.

Yet, the deeper message is: Renewal (chodesh, month comes from the Hebrew chidush, meaning new) is yours on a monthly basis. Don't get stuck in failure, G-d empowers you to renew and reinvigorate yourself on a regular basis.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Don't cramp your style

Moses had a tough job. He hadn’t even started talking to Pharaoh, when the latter basically sent him packing.

“I’m here with a message from Hashem,” Moses began.

“Well, I don’t know any Hashem,” Pharaoh cut in, “and I’m not releasing any prisoners.”

We all know the rest of the story- Moses warns Pharaoh, G-d sends ten plagues, and eventually Pharaoh capitulates. And we celebrate Pesach very year.

People often get confused about us reading this account every year so many weeks before Pesach. Surely, they wonder, if the Torah portion is about Pesach, it should be read at that time of the year.

Actually, this story happens every day, to every one of us.

Part of us, our inner Moses, is inspired to do great things. Our Moses voice says: Think big, break the mould and challenge yourself to become spiritually active.

Our cynical Pharaoh retorts: “Never! Not you. You know yourself too well. You will always be who you have always been, and you’ll never amount to anything more.”

The secret to real personal growth and to achieving amazing things: Don’t let Pharaoh cramp your style.