Did you ever notice that your body and your soul feel they are just as hostile as towards each other as Muhammed Ali the famous boxer would be if he had to fight the angel Gabriel? Your body and soul engage in no holds barred battles at times. What makes it more complex, of course is that it is you against you. Both sides of you are creations of G-d. They have one source, and its up to you to do what you can to make peace between them. The Torah tells you “be holy”. If you were in the midst of the battle between you and you, what would this tell you to do?
The literal meaning of sanctity in Judaism is being separate from everything that limits you-subjectivity, time, and space.
TIME our lives are short, far too short to do and see everything that came way before your entrance, and will continue afterwards. I personally suffer from a permanent case of FOMO (fear of missing out).
SUBJECTIVITY begins when you interpreted life from the vantage point of your personal experience as a child. I still remember our cleaning man, Buzzy. He had gold teeth. He was tall, and to me as a young child was almost mythic in his presence and strength. My impression of Black people is altered by his presence in my life. How can you possibly move beyond subjectivity?
PLACE You also live in your own “space”. I will always be touched by the combination of the secular but very Jewish Flatbush of my youth, Crown Heights, Yerushalaim and more. Each place left an imprint. How can the Torah possibly expect me (or anyone else) to rise beyond the inherent limitations that are part of living?
It doesn’t expect you to win the battle. It expects you to keep fighting.
There are two separate but not contradictory paths to walk. One is facing up to the enemy. Escape is neither possible nor desirable.
Learn to say “no”. I have my ups and downs. Once, when I realized that fudging things when cornered is a real limitation, I resolved to stop. No more semi-truths. I was crossing the street at a red light in the Central bus station here in Yerushalaim. A young policewoman stopped me with a real “gotcha” look in her eye. She asked me whether I noticed that the light was red. I knew that the line she expected was “no. I just was in such a hurry that I wasn’t paying attention”, which most likely led to a “next time pay attention!” song of victory and a ticket. Instead, I told her the truth. “I noticed.” “Was there some kind of emergency?” “No’. By this time her sense of victory had melted away. She was not used to fighting when there was no enemy. She gave me a ticket, and she was almost in tears as she handed it to me. I didn’t know that this is how things would have worked out. We were both more human at the end of the less than five-minute interaction. If it hadn’t, I still would have gained something real by resisting the very real temptation to save myself 180 shekels by fudging it. I won this round.
The other path is learning to say “yes”. I will do what Hashem wants of me, rejoice in the feeling it gives me, and use the same energy for something better in the future. Fiery orators who changed the world for the good could have been manipulative domestic monsters if they had not used the love of combat for the good. One path is conquest, and the other path is redirecting. Either way, your victory will be real, strengthening you for the next round. The Torah tells you “Be holy, because I Hashem your G-d is holy”. He is transcendent, beyond limitation and most relevantly willing to give you something of Himself when you ask for it.
He did something more. He gave us the rules. If you look at Shabbos for a minute, you see both paths merging. There are all the don’ts. No phone. No car. No fast food. No limitations. No ego. No “it’s all about me”. You win this one. There are all of the “yes”. Can you handle eating exquisite food (okay, maybe my food isn’t’ exquisite, but the Moroccan fish (or Yellow Nile Perch) isn’t bad. Neither is the mousse. It certainly lets you step back and recognize that the world Hashem made for you is one in which there is so so much pleasure given as a free gift. You like the way your house looks; you like the way you look. You like your guests or your hosts. There is al awful lot of “yes”.
Your life is unique. There will be many times in which you are challenged, and you (hopefully) will have to courage to say no. To dishonesty. To despair and fear. To rejection. To losing your bond with Hashem. There will be many times in which you will have the opportunity to say yes. Use your talents and abilities meaningfully. Take the material realities of your life, and uplift them. Make the world a better place by giving charity. Talk to G-d so you feel His presence as an alternative way of communicating your vulnerability to other people. Let Him into your life. Talk to Him as you would talk to good friend.
Your life has so many chapters! This is not only true of your personal history, but it is true of the flow of time and its faithful diary, human history. Every era has its challenges and its inspiration. Sometimes there are gigantic people, such as Avraham or Moshe, who find Hashem through the depth and commitment of their personalities and righteousness. Their lives were extraordinary, but one thing sticks out. They didn’t have it easy. They didn’t have constant visible interventions. The miracles that they experienced were enormous, but infrequent. This was the path that Hashem set forth for them. Later generations (especially in the time of the Temple the miracles were more frequent (imagine going to the Bais HaMikdash just to see a few of the constant miracles).
In the time of the Second Temple the miracles were even more frequent, almost unbelievably so, because the darkness of the time demanded that the people (who were no where near the level of Avraham or Moshe) be fed more light. Hashem makes each era uniquely. The one thing that is true of every era, is that Hashem gives you the way to reach out in its frame. All of the streams lead us to the era of Moshiach, each era in its own way.
The trick is to figure out YOUR live, and YOUR times. The Corona virus challenges you in every way. You don’t know where your life will take you. No one is really “safe” (and no one ever was). You are facing uncertainty wherever you look. Don’t feel lost.
The path is the same one that humans faced all along. Learn to say no. Learn to say yes. Learn enough Torah to fit it into your moment to moment reality. No matter what, your stream will take you to the great river of the era in which the whole world is full of knowledge of G-d as the sea floor is full of water.