I am writing this in Israel’s north, where it seems the entire religious population has migrated for the end of the bein hazmanim vacation. The yeshiva bachurim, young mothers with strollers, middle aged folks who look like pictures from “Chareidi Illustrated”, a mythic magazine that I made up for this letter. It features the kosher eateries that spring up this time of the year, with reviews ranking them from “edible bidieved” to gourmet. It will have the hours of the separate swimming beaches and the easiest way to get to the holy tombs, along with first person stories of interest (“How I Got the Driver to Stop in Meiron”, “Ten Things to Know if You Get Lost On a Mountain Top as Dusk” etc). The mood here is generally upbeat, relaxed which gets me wondering.
All these people will soon be back to real life. Not only real life, but Real Life. Elul is around the corner. It can be a natural transition if you happen to be amongst those who like life, or a really hard adjustment if you don’t…
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the normal stresses of regular living. Check up on yourself. How do you feel when you hear your alarm clock ring? Do you force yourself to get out of bed with a feeling that if articulated would be, “once again”? Nothing terrible. Just the usual stresses of a life in which you may feel unfulfilled in many aspects of your day to day being.
Stop right here
Notice the light piercing the edges of dark. Listen to the flow of traffic attesting to the miracle of human beings on their way to making their day work for them. Look at the marvelous sight of the myriads of buds the come into bloom simultaneously when spring comes, and the darkened silhouette that the same trees cast in the winter. Ask yourself, “Who is breathing life into all of the pulsating creation around me”? Could it be that you are weighed down by the stress of mere survival because you feel that you have to shoulder the burden yourself?
Like the spokes in a wheel that connect to the central hub, all of the events in your life are driven by Hashem. Once you recognize Hashem’s fundamental role in your life, things change. All the obsessive concern with petty wants and imagined needs that hound you in your desperate pursuit for security become stilled. Stop feeling so needy! Hashem is above all of your needs and He is taking care of you. You can decide not to put off thinking about Hashem’s presence in your life for tomorrow. Each day has inherent value.
Do you know anyone who has fallen into spiritual apathy? Is that person you? The environment is so morally ambivalent, and so coolly indifferent to anything real! Avraham lived in times like these, and decided to make every day count. He is described, at the end of his life as “Old, and his days came”, meaning each day reached its target. How did he do this?
He never chalked up a day as “bad” or write it off as a failure.
Stay focused on today. Take a small step today in approaching G-d. The Zohar tells you that every person has something of Hashem’s presence within him, but it can be concealed, so your awareness of Hashem’s presence is dimmed by whatever you added to the inherent concealment of just being human. When you miss the central concept of the puzzle that is life, you can find yourself seeing life as though it is a bunch of random pieces that don’t come together. The sense of arbitrariness of life makes you feel exposed and vulnerable, to the point that you think that the world around you is a dark a friendless place.
The way out of this ennui is recognizing that the cause of all of this is your perceived lack of common ground with Hashem. There are times that you may feel close to Him. There are other times when you don’t. You may perceive Hashem’s presence in the abstract, and if this is the case, you have to make changes down here in real life to develop your inherent commonality with Him. Start by displaying generosity and good will to the people around you. When you learn to love people, you will learn to love Hashem and to feel your inherent connection with Him.
It isn’t easy. It’s easier and easier to find yourself connecting to Cyberspace more than you connect to people. There are fewer emotional demands on you, fewer faults that demand you to learn to be tolerant. and no one to genuinely love. If you retreat into yourself you can end up in a vicious cycle of avoiding all real connection. Instead of asking yourself the hard questions about who you are, and what you are dong to make your day the gift it could be, you can end up blaming others, painting the rest of the world as cold and unfriendly land and become even more bitter. If you want to break out of the myopic thinking that start seeing life objectively in terms of your connection to G-d, you must begin by connecting to others.
Follow Avraham’s example and treat other people with love a tolerance. Being tolerant by definition means accepting people (and entire communities) with their faults as part of the package, it is defeated when you find yourself unwilling to love them unless they are faultless.
When you do this, you can make every day a good day. When you feel Hashem is with you, you will automatically seize every opportunity to do good. You will end up changing other people by the example of your faith.
Vacation is always a good beginning. The extraordinary beauty of Eretz Yisrael, its people, and its past can be an eye opener and a heart opener Even if you don’t have vacation, your mind can take you wherever you want to be.
You can step back and find yourself in places that bring out the part of you that you want to know.
Then you are ready for Elul, the last year of the Jewish calendar, the month of stepping back, redefining, reframing, and coming to love Hashem for what He has given you, and to love your fellow man for what he is.
And the Beginning are
And both Yours