Irma and Harvey. Two names I never considered giving any of my children. These names won’t be easily forgotten.
I have been watching unending images of the hurricanes. They aren’t meant to be ignored. The Talmud tells us that thunder is meant to straighten out the crookedness that lives in the human heart. Instinctively you think of yourself as eternal. None of us is. My daughter in law sent me a clip of two teenage boys who were (apparently) taking a selfie. You can see the tornado in back of them. The tornado was so beautiful! It was pure white against a backdrop of blue. It moved forward zigzagging continually it reached them. They didn’t see it coming, they were facing the other way, enjoying being outside in the midst of the drama of the storm. The cars on the road flew into the air falling to the ground and crumbling. The houses were reduced to blacken particles the size of two by fours. I don’t know the fate of the two boys with absolute certainty I don’t know who found their camera or phone. I do know that the laughter and fun that they wore on their faces with the bravado of being a teen is gone.
Imagine an eight month old baby crawling across the floor. He is busy experimenting with the planet. He is on still another search and gather mission. The entire world is food. Everything has to be tasted. He sets his eye on the electrical socket. It has two holes just the size of his fingers. Who know what treasures are hidden inside its interior? His fingers are damp from continual tasting. He is about to put them inside. You see him and grab him off the floor at the last moment. “No! No! NO!” The baby trembles and finally cries. You are not being abusive. You are being human, caring and loving. There is one problem. The baby doesn’t have the emotional or intellectual ability to connect the two experiences that he has just had. To him eight months, exploration is part of life. Hearing the one person you trust with absolute faith shout at you is more than frightening. It’s inexplicable. You can’t explain natural disaster. You don’t have the emotional or intellectual ability to fathom its purpose or the specific message it has for each individual.
You have both good and evil within you. G-d makes you encounter events, people, situations, that can challenge the balance between good and evil you may have built over decades. Every step along the way is calculated by the only One who can see the entire picture simultaneously. He can see you, your potentials, your limitations, and your backdrop and determine what you need next. Your set of character traits is unique to you. Your basic character is a mixture of some traits that take you towards spiritual self-actualization when you tap into their power (such as generosity or humility), but can be surprised by ego or desire. That doesn’t change the fact that these traits are inherently good by default. You have other traits, such as self-absorption, and impulsivity that also have almost unstoppable power. They can be redirected and used for the good, but their default is that unless you do something to reroute them they take you further and further away from being the person you wish you were. On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem looks at you, and sees what you built. He is unwilling to give up on you. He will pull you away from the socket.
One of the most sobering lines in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy (what a fancy word for prayer!), is “Who shall live, and who shall die”. The truth is that physically we all will eventually die. It is also observable that many people who are complete moral failures were here last year= they didn’t die. The kind of death referred to is spiritual death.
You get to a point where you put up so many defenses that no matter what you encounter, you don’t force yourself awake. SPirtually you are dead, but there is somehow hidden possibilities that things can change.
One of my Neve students told me about her mother. Her father died when she was young. Her mom was left with three kids, no family support, and no real desire to live. She chose life anyway. She decided to bring joy to her family, and to work as hard as she had to keep them together at the same time. Every step along the way, from her husband’s diagnosis to her final (and most unusual conscious discussion to choose being really alive) change the quality of her life and that of her kids. Every step was orchestrated by G-d. He wanted to offer her life. There were always two choices. She chose life.
Now is a good time to examine your choices. You have all chosen life many times. Look at the moments in which you made that kind of choice, and make a resolution.” I want to continue choosing life”
This choice doesn’t just affect you. The world itself is compared to a gigantic person. You are part of the whole. The entire “body” needs the life-force that you generate by being yourself in the highest sense. Don’t compromise your integrity as a part of the body.