Thursday, October 21, 2010

Just when you were getting comfortable...

Do you also sometimes have those frenetic, dizzying rotor-blade days that sap you of patience, humour and energy? All you want to do after the day's chaos is to settle into your slippers, a hot bath or soft bed and breathe. Only the phone rings incessantly, your daughter needs help with homework or the neighbour's dog starts howling outside your window as you wind down.

Life teases us with all sorts of "just when you thought you were getting comfortable" moments to jolt us.

We are all entitled to gear down occasionally, but for the most part, life keeps us on our toes. Maybe it's G-d's conspiracy to keep us from getting comfortable.

Avraham was the prototype Jew who is supposed to model for us how living as a Jew works. Look at his life, he barely has a chance to catch his breath. As a child he has a run-in with his dad, who hands him over to the cops, who attempt to kill him (miraculously, Avraham survived). When he's 75, Hashem sends him packing to an unknown location and, as soon as Avraham gets settled there, brings famine to the land, sending Avraham on the road again. He tries to get on with his nephew, but Lot dumps him for the emerging markets in Sodom. Not long after that, Avraham has to rush off to rescue Lot (and fight off four kings) from his abductors. Avraham's wife can't have kids and advises him to take a second wife, but when Hagar falls pregnant, Sarah insists that Avraham kick her out the house (and potentially never meet the child he so wanted). Eventually, Hagar and Yishmael return and Sarah later bears a son. When Yishmael starts using his younger half-brother for target practice, Avraham sends him away. Then G-d tells him to take his favourite son and sacrifice him on an isolated mountain.

Avraham's life is a cacophony of upheaval with sprinklings of tranquility here and there. Had Avraham ever wanted to "chill", Hashem would quickly concoct a new speed-wobble to upend his world.

And he was the first Jew.

Because a Jew doesn't get comfortable. A Jew is someone who pushes the envelope and challenges everything that he or she has grown used to. A Jew cannot pat himself on the back or count "achievements". A Jew needs to always look for new challenges, aim for higher spiritual gains and greater impact on society. If a Jew doesn't push himself beyond his comfort-level, Hashem- in His infinite creativity- will.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Back to work...

Feel like you've seen a lot of Shul lately? Yom Tov season shleps us to daven considerably more than we normally would. Then there's all the eating, the family get-togethers, Sukkah visits and Simchas Torah workout- Judaism takes over much of our lives for the month of Tishrei.

All that Yom Toving can be tiring (this year someone asked me why we don't spread the holidays over a few months) or powerful and inspiring. As exhausting as playing rabbi for three triple headers was, I am sorry to see the Yom Tov season go. I'll miss the High holiday bursting-at-the-seams vibe in Shul, the taste-of-nature Sukkah meals with the family and the pulsating energy of Torah-dancing.

Yom Tov is uplifting- a pause in the mayhem; a time to reflect, reframe, recharge and resolve. It infuses you with new life and a fresh perspective. All too soon, it's over and you're back to work and a spiritual dry spell, wondering if perhaps you could have made more of the Yom Tov season.

From Rosh Hashanah until Simchas Torah you are like Adam & Eve in Eden, a foetus in the womb. Life is beautiful, yet detached from reality. Today is Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, when we are birthed into the challenges of "real" life, expelled from G-d's protective Ark into the drudgery of earning a living "by the sweat of our brow".

Cheshvan is a far from exciting time on the Jewish calendar (there's not a festival in sight all month). We all want some excitement or inspiration to spice up our lives, but real life happens in the doldrums of everydayness. Stepping from high octane Tishrei into plain old Cheshvan challenges us to bring some of the Yom Tov spark with us into ordinary life.

Take a moment to think about one thing that inspired you over Yom Tov. If you can hold that experience or even just recall it from time to time, you'll have a meaningful- and please G-d blessed- year ahead.