No one said life was going to be easy. A Purim Soliloquy

I was chatting with a family member, who was venting about some of the burdens of their life. Nothing earth shattering, but enough sleep deprivation, cranky kids, and a tight budget were enough that they were on edge.

I did my empathic listening, and mirroring, and tried to just be a friend in a time of their need when I realized that they, myself, and really many (all?) of us have this incorrect perception that if fixed, really solves a lot of problems.

Why are we kvetching? No one said life was going to be easy!

There is a notion out there, pushed unintentionally by millennial’s, but in some senses believed by all, that we are entitled to, and can expect that life will be good and easy. Then when life does not turn out that way, in fact, we are disappointed and let down.

I turned to that family member and said, we are under this misperception that life is supposed to be easier. Who said so? Perhaps life is supposed to be difficult? Or at least the notion that it shouldn’t be as difficult as it is, at times, is just false?

With Purim just around the bend (easily my favorite holiday), we find a parallel and a very clear life lesson, I believe.

To sum up the story of Purim, as the old jokesters like to say, they tried to kill us, Esther saved us, lets eat, and drink and be merry. So merry, in fact, that the Code of Jewish Law instructs us to imbibe to the point that we cannot distinguish between blessed Mordechai and cursed is Haman.

Wow, that has got to be the greatest of miracles, and happiest of occasions, for the law to instruct us to celebrate and tell how hard to pound back the drinks!

Yet, if you look at the story, after the dust settles, and the genocidal pogrom is averted, things are not all that pretty in Shushan. 

Esther is still in a loveless marriage, married to the ogre Achashveirosh, the Jews are still under his dominion. The Temple has not been rebuilt, there are no choirs of beautiful people singing into our ears as unicorns fly distributing candy to one and all.

Rain (or snow if you live near me) still falls, the sun is still hidden behind clouds at times and there are dark dreary days, and things are just not perfect?

Is this the great celebration that our sages teach us about? Is the bar for happiness so low, that not-being-killed is cause for over-the-top celebration? Shouldn’t we be celebrating all that is good (amazing) in our lives, not the lack of our being eradicated?

In fact, that Talmud tells us that Akati Avdi D’achashveirosh Anan – We were still servants to Achashveirosh, once the story was over, which is (one of the reasons) why we don’t say Hallel on this holiday.

So what gives?

My supposition. Yup, no on said life was going to be easy. In fact, often it is going to be super hard. But there is always a silver lining to find and hold onto. 

Yes, Esther’s life was still pretty lousy even after she saved the Jewish people, but she chose to focus on what was good in her life. Her rough circumstances enabled her to become a major player on the world scene and save her brethren. Even if she wasn’t to have the marriage to a great Torah scholar like her uncle Mordechai, with a bunch of little cute chassidic kids singing Shabbat songs at her table on friday nights.

We too must find a way to find that silver lining in our lives. Or as that relative who I was chatting with said to me.

Thank Gd I have a great marriage. It’s because I have such a great partner, that I can get through my tough child rearing challenges. I add, perhaps, be thankful that you have children. Many others don’t have even that, as much as they pine for children. 

Here is the bottom line. No one ever promised us an easy life. All that we are told, is that if you have a win, no matter how large or small, it is a cause for a celebration. It’s worthy of writing a Megilla about it, and being grateful and merry.

Even if after the dust settles, there is still pain and suffering in imperfection in your life. There is always a silver lining to hold onto, to make things a bit more manageable.

Esther teaches us many lessons. Perhaps the greatest of which is to focus on what is right in your life, not what isn’t!

It will make you a lot happier with your lot.  

Blog 24/52

My Day At Driver Rehabilitation School

Ok, lets face it. We all mess around a bit behind the wheel, unless you are like my grandmother (who never actually did drive). Some people occasionally will text (Oy) others will go a teeny bit over the speed limit, and others may forget to get their inspection sticker done in the requisite time.

It is shameful indeed. But here here is the worst of it, Rabbi’s too are guilty of this, at least this rabbi is. Well, it finally came time to pay the piper. Thus I found myself in class at the Massachusetts Driver Retraining Course earlier this week.

In fairness, I did learn a lot that day. Most driving related, (but since I am prohibited by law to share any actual course material) I will share some of my own driving reflections and some of the other funnies that comprised my day.

For starters, the eclectic makeup of the group is a story unto itself. (I’ll get back to that in a moment.) When asked to share what brought you here today, the answer ranged from expired inspection stickers, and speeding tickets, to too many insurance surcharges which is what brought me in.

The winning answers however were for sure the gal who admitted that she had hit a parked car on the street and saw no one so she drove home, only to find out that the car she hit was her neighbors’. Or the guy that had not had his license since 2007, and was involved in high speed chases (plural) to avoid getting arrested. He failed. He was arrested.

There was a break out session, where we had to split into groups to problem solve, and I learned that I could be as intersectional as the next. Our group consisted of a bearded yalmukah’d rabbi, and golden chain wearing gang banger, to a very pierced up young woman, and not so well dressed, and very tattooed mechanic. We passed our little test with flying colors.

***

The teacher was pleasant and focused but she was all business. She threatened that if you are even one minute late to class, after a recess or lunch break, you will not be allowed back in, or if she couldn’t see your eyeballs – you dozed off – that you’d get an automatic fail, and have to retake the class.

Well, she was true to her word. There are two folks who will be redoing this class for one of each said offenses.

Lesson: Rules are rules.

***

Being the diligent student that I am, I of course had pencil in hand ready for important notes to be taken. Invariably I found myself writing some of the funnies as well. Some comments included the following.

“I drive really good drunk.”

“I haven’t been in prison in over ten years.”

“I don’t get tickets, my problem is driving on a suspended license.”

***

On a more serious note, since the above funnies, are really not very funny. Peoples lives are at stake. The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that whatever situation we are in there is a lesson to be learned (and shared), so here are a handful of what I will call fun facts, though they are more like real truths.

The Left lane is ticket lane.
If you don’t submit to a breathalyzer you lose your license for 180 days.
Just because you get there first, doesn’t mean you get to go first.
Saying the name “Nechemia” correctly is not possible for people without a Semitic background.
The aggressive move is a ticket-able offense.
The only one who can control your behavior behind wheel is YOU!
Slow down, no emergency will be resolved if you are dead.
Better late alive than dead on time.

In closing, while driver rehabilitation school was not what I had in mind for the day, every one occasionally needs a “wake up call” and this was one for me.

It was educational and informative, but most importantly, to taught me, to quote the instructor, “Slow down Rabbi, and put your phone down, the world needs you and your sermons.” (That’s a direct quote – I didn’t add anything of my own in that quote :-))

SLOW DOWN AND PUT DOWN THE PHONE! (I am talking to myself, and anyone else who wants to listen in.)

Blog 23/52 Photo Credit My Iphone X

Stuck – Getting Out of Ourselves

I recently watched a YouTube (not sure how it came to my attention) of a fellow who tried to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

It was a sad story of a fellow who was struggling with a deep depression and he describes how all he wanted was for the pain to end.

He took a bus to the bridge, and described how no one, not even the driver or fellow passengers cared how miserable he was, no one even asked him if he was ok. He was hoping someone would just acknowledge him, or ask him how he was doing, but alas, everyone was busy with their own lives.

The moment he leaped off the bridge, he continued, “all I wanted to do was live.” Well he did live. When he was fished out of the water by the Coast Guard, they told him how lucky he was, despite his completely broken body. “We fish out some 60-70 bodies a year, and they are all dead. You are the first one I’ve ever pulled out who was alive. GO LIVE! You have a lot to live for.


This fellow turned his life around and is now a motivational speaker and encourages people to find what they DO have to live for. He also encourages people look around them, and see the people next to them. If they seem agitated, ask them how they are doing.

***

Last night, I was in BIG Y picking up drinks and other supplies for this weeks Shabbat Dinner. There was a fellow behind me on the line hopping from foot to foot, looking agitated and sad. Red and tearing eyes, and seemed out of sorts.

I saw that he had one item and I had a whole conveyor belt of stuff and offered him to cut the line ahead of me. After refusing a few times he thanked me and did so.

As he was fumbling for his payment, he still seemed so sad, so I asked him if everything was OK. He kind of half nodded and cried a bit harder.
I said, “hey, can I help? I am a rabbi, I don’t know if you are even Jewish, but I do help people, perhaps I can help?”
He walked over to me, shook my hand, and said, “pray for me rabbi, just pray for me”

***

He left the store, and I wondered what the end of the story was.
Was he so down on his luck that perhaps, like in the YouTube, I may have saved his life?
Was just in the midst of a bad break-up and this was a non-event? Who knows? I certainly would never know the end of the story? I thought that was end of it, and hurried to our Chabad House to give my Torah class before I was late.
***
Well, I got home from class later last night and the following email was waiting for me.

Hello Rabbi Nechemia, My name is xxxx, and I was the guy purchasing flowers at Big Y tonight. I found this email on google and wanted to reach out and thank you again. There is no doubt I had a hard day.I spent most of the day with my mother at the hospital. She is currently battling cancer and has been going through chemo treatments since October.Today was hard for her and she was sad and crying for a lot of the visit. Most of my energy was spent trying to keep her positive and happy.After I left the hospital my first stop was Big Y to buy flowers. The flowers I purchased were for my girlfriend and her mother. 9 years ago today my girlfriend lost her father to cancer. From what she’s told me about him, and stories I’ve heard from family and friends, he was a kind man who went out of his way to do nice things for people, even if he didn’t know them. When you offered to let me go in front of you, as well as offered to help I could tell you truly meant it. It was a pretty special moment. So that you know I’m not in need of help, but your offer and kind deed to a stranger was much appreciated and made my day a lot better.
Thank you
xxx xxxx
P.s I think I have the right Rabbi.
***
So, you never know. Just ask… Sometimes, you will save a physical life, another time you may just help a struggling fellow human being having a difficult day, and sometimes you may be asked to mind your own business.
The reality is we are (self) absorbed with our own lives, our own problems, and our own to-do lists. Life is busier than ever before and there just isn’t space for extra things on our plate.


The fact of the matter is, despite apps like InBoxZero and other things meant to give us more time, there never is enough time. So the endless to do list will remain without a few check marks.

However, if we are so stuck in ourselves that we cannot see another, and try to help, we will miss out on those once in a lifetime opportunities to make a difference forever.

Blog post 22/52 Photo Credits – Huffington Post

Seeing From The Other Side

I am standing tall in my place, but I am chilly and dark. I see all those around me hustling about, in their fancy clothing passing by me as if I don’t exist. I wonder about my value, and my worth to them. To myself. I am truly unsure if I matter at all. I stretch myself as tall as I can get my 3 inch wax figure to go.

And then, it all comes to a halt. I hear the mother summoning her young daughters, “it’s time to light.” The pitter patter grows louder as a small group of angelic faces gather around me.

I see them take a little toothpick with a bit of red and strike it on a box, and suddenly there is a small flame at its end. Woah, it is getting close to me now, why are they bringing that blinding light so close to my head?

I am scared by that light, but as it nears me, I am also intrigued by the warmth it seems to be offering. I am not sure what will happen if it touches me, I don’t know if it will hurt, but I am kind of hoping they will touch me with that fire-light. Life has been dull and cold until now. This may be the change I have been looking for?

I don’t have to wait long, as that flame was brought to my head. They lit my little wisp of hair at my top, and for a moment it flared up as a bright flame, but then it settled down to a lazy rocking flame as my head was warmed by this calm and comfortable light.

I hear the mother uttering soft prayers with her girls, after waving her hands softly. It almost seemed as if she was beckoning me to bring that light and warmth that she had just given me, back to her and her family.

I am honored to be part of this sweet ritual that this family is doing, but that light and warmth that I now possess is starting to eat me up. Literally.  For the first time in my life, from when I was a baby, in box with so many other candle babies, I clearly matter.

All that time, wondering what I am, who I am, what is my purpose and do I matter or make a difference, has finally come to an end. I clearly do matter, and clearly do make a difference. I am able to warm others as I am warming myself. I can provide light to a dark room, I matter. I am an influencer.

As the house lights start to go out after a watching a festive meal of food and song and prayer. I am frolicking happily, feeling good about my being.

The house around me silences as the household retires to their beds, and couches, reading and sleeping. That nagging feeling I had earlier has returned. I’m disappearing. All this giving has started to diminish me as well. Earlier I was a large candlestick, now I am barely a quarter my size.

Some of my siblings have finished their journey and have started to disappear altogether, ending their life with a small wisp of black smoke, a final cough, as they went to their eternal rest.

Did my sacrifice that gave light and warmth, warrant my eventual demise? Large tears of wax of now flowing freely as my existence starts to fade. Was this my calling in life? To be a “one trick pony.” To have one show, and then have my act retired?

Then from the distance I heard a gentle voice. I heard that woman of the house softly tell her husband, that it was a beautiful Shabbat meal. That everything was perfect, and the light and warmth that me and my siblings provided will be a warm memory that she will cherish forever.

It was then that I realized, that in fulfilling my destiny to light up that home, I didn’t cease to exist, I actually began existing. All my history in a box, and even in a candle holder, were all part of my time as the walking dead. I was present but I didn’t exist.

Tonight, for the first time in my existence, I actually lived. I actually mattered. I actually made a difference.

And in so doing, I didn’t disappear, I actually began. While this particular light I provided may need to be brought in by my siblings next week, my light did not stop existing. The happiness and warmth, the light and love, the inspiration and joy that I brought is beyond time and space. Now that it is in this world. It won’t (can’t) ever leave.

Thank you pretty mother and girls. Thank you for taking me out of my boring box, and making me matter.

Blog 21/52

Photo Credits thriftyfun.com

Do the clothing really make the man? Nah

(Older blog from a few years ago, edited) There is an old expression, “the clothing makes the man (person).” Google attributes this to Mark Twain, regardless, I beg to differ.

Oh yes, on a very basic level, if you dressed like a slob you will be perceived as being a slob, and if you are dressed in a nice suit and tie, clean, neat and perfect, you are associated with success, being organized etc. (At best I’d concede that the clothing makes the already good person look better.)

That said, I think the person makes the person more than their clothes.

As parents on the relentless journey of raising a family we spend enormous amounts of time and money getting clothing for our children. Clothes that fit properly (and are then outgrown in what seems like minutes) and look good on our children, but still, it is not the clothing that make the man/kid.

Every morning at my home begins with the daily rush of trying to get out of our house by 7am so we can sit in only moderate traffic vs. heavy traffic. (What is less than 20 miles can often take longer than an hour and change if things don’t go right.) Part of that morning rush is the ongoing battle of getting the kids dressed. The older ones, Thank Gd can do this job on their own (wasn’t sure that day would ever arrive) but the younger ones need some help. (Side bar, why they need to kick and fight you on this is totally beyond me, but I digress.)

Recently, one of our boys, and now copying him is his younger brother, began a new phenomenon; complaints about what he will be wearing. Now, I can’t remember life at 6 or 7, but I am pretty confident that if my mother laid it out for me, it would be sufficient. However, the most recent complaint was that it was “not cool enough.”

I don’t know what cool means to a child, however, apparently peer pressure and the like are starting younger. Then again, when I was a kid there was no such thing as a computer and smart phones – Thank Gd -, so everything is different from what it once was.

But to my point; When I hear from the teachers at school, that my kid left his lunch at home and his siblings all gladly ponied up something from their lunch box to make him whole, that to me is what a mentch looks like. That’s cool. When I hear a story about a child of a family that I tutor that was “sneaking” extra snacks in her lunch to hand to a child from a less affluent family in her class, that to me is a what a mentch looks like. That’s cool.

When I hear stories of one of my older boys, reading to their younger sibling, whispering, lets be quiet so mommy can sleep a little longer (this is at 5am), that is what a mentch looks like. That’s what cool looks like. So if the shirt is a bit tight, and the pants a bit rumpled, so be it. I will take the former over the latter, any day of the week. 

Of course there are times when being a dressed like mentch is out of place, like when you are shoveling snow, and there are times when being dressed down in the shmates is also out of place like when you are at a business meeting. (I pulled up to the house the other day to see my kids shoveling snow in a tee shirt…oy.)

Indeed in this week’s Torah portion, where much of the discussion is about the clothing worn by the priests and high priests in the Temple, it is very specific. So much so, it would make a fashion magazine editor blush by its nuance. Now of course, like the “Royals” in England, our Priests are our representatives to Gd so we can’t let them go into the service looking plain and ordinary, so we have strict guidelines how they must dress.

That said, I suspect that while the Torah put rules and regs on how the priests and high priests were to dress, it put just as large a premium on how they acted and if they were a mentch.

Blog 20/52

Yes, you do you have something to be happy about!

Yes, you do you have something to be happy about!

We are told by the code of Jewish law, that when the month of Adar enters (which it did on Tuesday and Wednesday) we are to increase in joy.

The problem is how can you mandate a feeling? What if I don’t feel happy? What if I don’t have anything to be happy about? How can you expect me to increase in joy if life isn’t joyful? What if I have many problems and I am unable to increase in my joy?

The answer to that question, might depend on your perspective. Literally.

Let me explain in a Jewish way. A question. Is truth arbitrary? The answer is (also very Jewish) It depends. It depends on whose truth we are talking about. What does that mean you might ask, it either is true or isn’t, it’s black or white, it can’t be both.

Wrong, it depends.

Fundamentally the common mindset; “what is your truth”, ie. that truth is whatever you make it to be is not correct or accurate according to Torah.

However, to my knowledge there is no Mitzvah to “tell the truth”. (Please correct me if you know otherwise.) There is a Mitzvah (in last week’s Torah reading) “midvar sheker tirchak – distance yourself from falsehood”, in other words don’t lie. But, not lying is not the same is telling the truth.

Why would the Torah not have a Mitzvah to tell the truth?

I think the answer lies in the question above, there is a dimension of truth that is dependent on the perspective of the beholder.

When it comes to our own internal truth, there are layers and layers. Today’s truth is false tomorrow, and tomorrow’s truth is false today.

When it comes to external truths, eg. the sky being blue, the grass green, the earth round, these are things that there isn’t space for “your truth”. But when it comes to your own self awareness and self knowledge, the more you know the more you are in touch with your truth.

What you know about yourself today is today’s truth, but once you learn more about yourself (tomorrow’s truth), what you know today is false in comparison. And so as we grow we peel away the external false layers and keep accessing deeper layers getting us closer and closer to our truth.

One will journey this road an entire lifetime and still be peeling away layers.

***

(It is interesting to note that the next verse in the Torah after “distance yourself from falsehood” is the Torah’s instruction about not taking bribe.

Why shouldn’t you take a bribe? The obvious answer is because it is dishonest, it is a perversion of justice. However, that is not the reason the Torah forbids taking a bribe.

The Torah says, “don’t take bribe, because bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and makes crooked the words of the righteous”.

The Torah is telling us something fascinating. The concern with taking a bribe is not that one will tell a lie, because the Torah just told us a verse earlier not to lie. The issue with bribe is much more nocuous. The bribe taking messes with our subjective truth-o-meter. The issue is that our mind is susceptible to thinking that we are being truthful about a situation when in fact we are being dishonest. The shift in our thinking is a result of the bribe we have taken. Once we have taken the money we are now compelled to argue in favor of the person who has bribed us.

Our self love is the bribe we take each day. It is the bribe of self love that doesn’t allow us to look more deeply at ourselves and find our deeper truth, tomorrow’s truth today.

We can wait for tomorrow and/or life’s experiences to learn a new truth, or we can have a good spouse, mentor or friend who will help us see ourselves for our own inner truth.

This then is the deeper meaning of the prohibition of not taking a bribe, a deeper understanding as to why there is no specific mitzvah of telling the truth and an understanding of truth from the Torah’s perspective.)

***

As it relates to happiness, your happiness will depend which truth  you want to adopt. If you want to put on your myopic lenses, and see only today’s truth, then indeed it is true.  Life may be very hard right now, I am going through so much stuff how can you expect me, in fact command me, to be happy?

However, if you can, and I suggest this is what the Code of Jewish Law is expecting of us, to get in touch with tomorrows truth, then you can, will and must be happy. From the vantage point of tomorrow, today will indeed be great. I just can’t see it yet.

Hind sight is 20/20 they say. Perhaps, this is what is being asked of us. Be happy now that Adar has entered, because I, Gd, am giving you a special gift, the power to get in touch with your deeper truth. In that truth, happiness is attainable to all.

Blog 19/52

Picture google.images

Screen Time – Shtisel – and An Ox that Gored a Cow

Screen Time – Shtisel – and An Ox that Gored a Cow

There is a lot of buzz lately about the dangers of screen time, too much social media, its connection to anxiety and depression and even suicide and beyond. (I know for myself, I took the Facebook app off my phone (one month today) requiring me to either go onto Facebook on my browser, slow and glitchy, or do it on a PC or IPad, and I simply don’t get around to it much. Hours have been added to my day and life. Here is the greatest shocker, I don’t think I’ve missed much. (If I’ve missed your birthday another significant event, and you only posted it to Facebook, please don’t be offended, I most likely didn’t see it.)

You’d wonder what the Talmud written over 1500 years ago might have to say on the topic. The truth is, as our sages say (Ethics of our Fathers), “Delve into it, delve into it (referring to the Torah) for everything is in it” rings very true here as well.

If you’ve ever peeked in on a yeshiva or cheder classroom, (or if you’ve been watching a little too much Shitsel) you may have run into the a few students singing to one another, about a Shor Shenogach es Haparah – if an ox gored a cow, and the ensuing tort laws.

However, as outdated as these laws may seem, the laws of an ox goring a cow actually have some deep lessons to teach us. How? Follow me here a bit…

Here is a concise summary of the laws. (Bava Kama 37a) A normally docile animal – an ox for example – has a presumption of being docile, domesticated and safe. As such, if it breaks from its normal habit, and attacks and maims/kills another animal – a cow for example, it is not considered the full fault of the owner (different from American law where you are always responsible for damage done by your possessions)) for what should he have done different? Put it on a leash? Lock it up in a pen? There was no reason to assume it would commit any damage. It’s bad luck for both parties, and the law is they must divide the pain. They split the cost of the damages.

If, however, the ox gored 3 times, it is now considered a muad, a violent animal, and it loses its presumption of docility. Now the owner must put it on a leash, or lock it the barn or whatever is needed to keep it from maiming/killing other animals. If he does not put adequate protections in place, and it goes out and harms another animal/property, the owner is considered to be negligent and must pay the entirety of the damages. 

This is the gist of the laws. 

There is however an interesting exception. You can have a scenario where the ox can be docile all week, but be considered a violent and dangerous animal on Shabbos. This would happen, if it gores three times, and each time is on Shabbos, then it is now considered a muad, a violent animal but only for Shabbos. Thus, Sunday through Friday it is a docile animal, and on Shabbos it is now considered a muad/violent animal.

Why? What could be the meaning and reason for such a strange exception to the general law?

There are many commentaries that explain this, however Rashi, the quintessential commentator,  explains, that the reason is boredom. Since a Jewish animal owner must let his animal rest on Shabbos, and it cannot plow or do other things to allow it to blow off steam and express its animal self, the animal is bored. When it is bored and doesn’t know what to do with itself, it acts out, and often violently.

Thus you have an animal can be considered docile all week, except for Shabbos when it is bored.

Do you see where this is going?

Let me help: All of us has a little animal inside of us. It is often known as the animal soul. Not a bad soul, but a self-centered and self-oriented, self-aggrandizing part of ourselves. It has a proclivity towards bad things, but doesn’t necessarily act on it.

We also have times when we suddenly find ourselves bored and often that causes us to act out.

Try this experiment at home. Take your teen’s (or younger -oy vey) cell phone away for an hour at any random time. See what happens?

If you get lucky, they will start to do the dishes, or perhaps fold some laundry. OK or Okay Ok, just kidding, that is not happening, no fantasies here, but perhaps they may draw, read a book or some other healthy way to spend this sudden free/bored time.

More likely they will start to flip out.

Confession time: When I inadvertently leave home without my phone, it feels like I left a limb at home. It takes a long time for me to rid myself of that feeling that I left a limb at home. Why? Why is this? The simple answer is, that we’ve lost the art of just being. 

Just being present, mindful with ourselves and our thoughts. If I, who remembers a time pre-cell phones, struggles with this, then children who have no recollection of a time before phones, Facebook and the all-knowing Google, who can blame them?

So what then is the solution? And how do we manage every Shabbos, going offline for 24 25 hours?

I believe the answer is the same. 

Let’s get back to the ox that gored the cow. Can it regain its status as a docile animal once it earned a title of damager? 

The Talmud teaches us that it required intense re-training. Animal anger-management classes. Thorough behavioral modifications, to the point that it loses that angst within and can become calm again. Teaching it to find something productive to fill those empty spaces of time and times of angst so that it can find another healthier outlet for that overwhelming passion flowing through its veins.

Similarly, us with our inner-animal and our inability to free ourselves from our screen time. We must put our inner-animal through intense retraining. More importantly, to teach ourselves to replace the device with something else that fills that hole of existence that exists within all of us.

For myself, personally, I began a study regiment of the Talmud nearly 5 years ago, that requires me to study a designated amount every day, so that I can finish the Talmud in just under 8 years. It is burden, but one that keeps me focused. I have a default, go to position when my device is unavailable. 

Apple phones, now have a feature called screen time, where you can monitor your usages of each specific app, and more importantly, you can put limits on each of them. Allow yourself some time, but then, like any good diet, put restrictions on yourself. 

Replace that time with something filling.

You can’t stop smoking, without replacing that time and feeling with something else, like exercise.

You can’t stop eating unhealthy, without replacing that garbage food with good and filling healthy food.

You can’t replace that device (which feels like your best friend, that only smiles at you and tells you good things about yourself, (it is better than a dog, it doesn’t need to be fed or cleaned-up after)) without replacing it with something meaningful that helps you feel just as good.

For us, it is Shabbos. Yes, there is some detox time and pain. There are times when Shabbos observers struggle without their technology on Shabbos, but with time, they learn to make it habit and even enjoy it.

And so, when you think about an ox goring a cow and all its associated laws, and think this is an outdated useless piece of data, you can now realize that everything in our eternal Torah has a practical application. 

A Woke Article About Nothing

A very different kind of article – your feedback is welcome!

I pledged to write 52 blogs in 52 weeks, based on personal experiences and attempt to be vulnerable and share personal thoughts, feelings and ideas. To write stuff that goes beyond the occasional inspiration Torah thought that goes with the territory of my life. You can catch up on old blogs at www.rabbischusterman.com. However, not always are you motivated and inspired? Sometimes you are just not feeling it.


I know, it is a foreign concept, but even rabbis wake some days (weeks/months) not very inspired. To go and write something deep, vulnerable and sharing actually requires more effort – at least for this writer – more energy and strength than a complex philosophical analytical piece.


Having said that, being the competitive – no room for failure – guy that I am, I am not about to fail my commitment, even if the only one monitoring or caring is myself.

Remember the old Seinfeld days, where a show about nothing was great entertainment, and actually deep? I am wondering if that is replaying itself with some on fleek modification for today’s woke generation.

I opted to write about this, a topic about the nothingness of some of today’s enlightened woke, rather than not write at all.
My kids introduce me to the latest of lingo, and while I hear the words and the explanations, I cannot say I alway understand, and I most certainly don’t always agree.

So here was the latest one. Woke. I used to understand that to mean, I am now awake. As in, “I woke up.”

In today’s woke generation, It is not a description of sleep or its opposite, it is now a description of how progressive you are – as in you are awake/woke(n) up to an issue that they deem important. Here is an example from the urban dictionary. 

“Yeah most people don’t care about parking spaces for families with disabled pets. I wish they were woke like me.”

I guess I am seriously not woke at all. Certainly according to my kids. Though I did score a three pointer (a term that worked when I was their age, and still works a bit now, at least for me) when discussing life and Gd with a couple of 20 year olds at our Shabbat table a few weeks ago. They were dismissing the relevance of religion and Gd in today’s world and to today’s youth, and responded “what are you talking about? Gd is so woke.”
They fell on the floor and nearly died. Then again that may be because I misused “their” word. Who knows.

I knew I was seriously irrelevant when I had a little incident with one of my kids the other day. It highlighted the intensity to which today’s generation (Millennials, or Gen Z or Snowflakes – they can’t even decide what they want to called their self-absorbed selves) are speaking in a different tounge.
We were having a disagreement about something, and I told him – not my best parenting moment – you need to relax, don’t be so mad at me. To which he replied, “I am not mad at you, you are just perceiving that I am mad.”
In other words, he was fine and perfect, and any imperfection that I was sensing was coming strictly from my side.

So where is all this leading?

Back to the show about nothing, the nothing in that show actually was so deep, it was a show about everything. It highlighted, mocked and just brought funny awareness to the ridiculousness of real day to day life.
I wonder if today’s kids are the rebirth of that. Are they really woke? Is their awareness and focus of certain social issues that many of us either take for granted or don’t care much about, a clarion call for attention to themselves or are they onto something?

Do they only care about themselves and use extraneous issues to draw more attention to themselves, or are they miners canary to the issues of tomorrow?

Who knows? I think the jury is still out on that but I will be monitoring.
The good news is …

I set out on a journey, to use my pen to express

Ideas and thoughts, to explore not impress

Even when not inspired, and struggling to write something of meaning

We discuss an article about nothing, and conclude blog number seventeen.

17/52

A Car Named Green

(A secret window into our life – Ushering a child to adulthood)

Green, Green, Green, you have become a part of the family at this point. If you could talk, oh, the stories you could tell. You have seen and witnessed and heard some of the deepest secrets of our family.

As we near a quarter of a million miles with you, and as we sadly need to slowly part ways, I reflect on some of our wonderful and not so wonderful times together.

When we first met you, it was not love at first site. Your mint (or booger) green was a bit off. But your other features made you worth it. You had all the other things we were looking for. You could keep the kids happy with your entertainment systems, you had leather seats that heated up in the cold weather, frankly, you were ugly on the outside but beautiful on the inside. 

You were a metaphor for the life and the children we were/are raising while owning you.

In the beginning we were so careful with you. Not to hurt you, or break you, but as time went on, you became one of the clan. We beat up on you when we were frustrated, you got dings of your own. The little ones wrote on you even though it was against the rules, in all you had settled comfortably in the family.

All those miles spent together, it really was incredible. By my math, we could have driven back and forth from California close to 80 times. You have witnessed more fights than I am proud of, both the adults and the kids, but you have also seen some of the greatest kindnesses that we have to offer as a family.

You’ve been to more states than most of your friends, and we hope that you’ve enjoyed the ride (pun intended) as much as we have.

I remember that time, that you got stuck – my fault – in the mud/ice/snow near the Topsfeild fair grounds. That kind tow truck guy hooked something up to your underside and pulled you out. I distinctly remember hearing some kind of crack as he was doing that, only later did I realize that he broke you in a deep deep way. We fixed you, but you were never the same. I attribute the much of your struggles, to that time.

I remember when we got stuck in the snow in the mountains in New Hampshire, and had that other suburban push us from the back. That’s how you got that deep dent in the trunk.

Despite our harshness, you were friendly, you started up (most of the times) and gave it all you had.

We drove to Bubby and Zeidy’s house with you so many times, and they got to spend time with you as well. You provided some kind security when we went anywhere with you. You were just ‘ol reliable. You got us there and back, no complaints. 

This doesn’t mean you didn’t talk back ever or misbehave, boy oh boy did you ever, but usually there was a good underlying reason for it. You didn’t run out of gas on your own, we did forget to do that so you sputtered. There was that time that you kept on ruining your tires, that is when we learned what a tie-rod is and that if it is bent, it had ramifications elsewhere on the body.

You seemed to have a knack for driving on nails and screws more than any other one I know, but we dutifully patched you up, and got your road worthy again.

You didn’t comment when we spoke roughly with one another. When we spoke about others. When we discussed our deepest dreams and fears about our children. You just listened, and let us process our thoughts. You’ve seen us laugh harder than anyone else has, and you’ve seen us crying from the deepest pains and panic.

You’ve seen us at our best, and you’ve seen us at our worst. As much as you have seen, there is so much more that lies deep in our hearts, so deep, that we couldn’t express them, even in front of you.

You know better than most the sacrifices we made/make to give our children a Jewish education in Boston. Though it is merely 20 miles or so away, the average commute takes an hour or more.

We have learned so much at your expense, including the traffic patterns. We learned that Sunday mornings, roads are wide open, Sunday evenings, not so much. We learned that if you leave NY after 9:00 and before 11:00, you can be back home in just over 4 hours. We have learned that after a late Red Sox or Celtics game in the post season the ride into Boston would be much faster the morning after.

You witnessed us being good parents at times, and not so great at others. You also have a stake in this journey. You have been a good example and a bad example at times.

You’ve shown the kids good, religious and educational videos when we were focused and dedicated, and stupid mindless, useless ones – usually from a Redbox (those were hot when we got you) – when we were tired and lazy.

You’ve seen us yell at our kids, when we were tired and venting other frustrations, on our unwilling participants, and you’ve seen us do the mature thing and apologize when we owned up and recognized that they hadn’t deserved it.

My my, you’ve seen a lot.

You’ve seen meltdowns over homework loads that were too heavy, and catty fights with friends, and you’ve helped carry more Science Fair and Torah and Math Fair projects than I can count to school.

You’ve driven in rough weather, and all terrains even though you were not made as a 4 x4. We pushed you, hard and on occasion you groaned under the heavy weight we put you under. Like the rest of us, you’ve learned that to be a honest part of our family and real life, you don’t have to love everything that you do, you just have to do it.

You’ve been rewarded (usually after significant neglect – remember when it took us two weeks to find the source of the fruit flies- ) with thorough cleansings, both inside and out. The reward for cleaning you super well, often led to our greatest times with you, in the car wash tunnel, laughing and shouting in excitement and fear at the huge brushes and swirly rags that washed and wiped you. Remember those huge air blowers that blew so hard, that they made air come inside the car as they blew all the residue water off of you? We did have some special times together.

We’ve taken care of you, but like everyone in this family, you may have had to wait a bit longer at times until your needs were fully addressed. And like with the kids, unless it was a life and death situation (brakes and the like) a squeaky sound sometimes got pushed to the corner until there was time to investigate and resolve.

You were always fed (gas and oil changes etc.) but sometimes you didn’t get the flavor, brand or speed you were hoping for.

We get it, we’ve seen it, there are times when you not-only feel, but you are literally are being held together by whatever (color) tape was available at the moment, but you know what, you did and continue to keep it together.

We were good parents to you. Flawed, but good. I can’t say we couldn’t have tried harder, because we could have. I am comfortable saying we tried really really hard. Hard enough.

You’ve seen life. You’ve seen us, regular folks, trying our best to be our best, but in reality just struggling day by day like everyone else make a meaningful life out of the material that Gd gave us.

So, while this particular chapter with you is slowly coming to its end – your replacement has been identified – take the lessons we have taught you with you, wherever the next phase of life brings you. You are an adult now in the eyes of your car religion, it is time for you to cut the cords and become a man on your own, and fend for yourself. We will always be here for you, to reminisce, review stuff we learned together, to laugh and cry about times and experiences gone by, but now you need to chart your own path forward.

Go out there and get ‘em! You got this.

***

Go back my son, read this article again. Now, this time, every time I write the word car, insert your name there. Know how much you are loved. How much we have invested everything we have in you. Know how much we have tried to prepare you for this time you are in now. Independence isn’t fun, but its so real, it is what makes you a man. We messed up often, but hope we have made up for those lackings and shortcomings.

Blog 16/52 – Picture – My Iphone

Yings and Yangs

Yings and Yangs

Ying and yang, highs and lows, ups and downs, two sides of a coin, you get my point. It seems that everything in life that is good has its counterpart that is quite the opposite.

It seems as if we are not allowed to experience simple and straight ecstasy without there being some kind of pain to mar the perfection. Why if something is going well, is it “too good to be true”? Why can’t good, happiness, joy and fun be the given, and the sadness, pain and suffering be the anomaly?

I understand that Gd in His infinite wisdom created this perfect world, and He likes it just as it is, but if we, the little minions who are along for the ride don’t have the lenses to see the truth behind all Gd’s wisdom then why bother putting us through the wringer?

Do we gain by suffering that cleanses if we don’t see the cleanliness that follows? Is that suffering not in vain?

The past week held many incredible celebratory events for me and my family, birthdays of two of our precious children, an anniversary, AND a great surprise party for my wife, that went off without a hitch. By all estimations, my own included, I am a very, very blessed man.

So, I ask you, why then the need for the “flip side” of the coin? I am not going to turn this into a kvetch piece – much as I think this would make for an interesting column unto itself – but suffice it to say, that there have been many micro-crisis to potentially have ruined the joy of the week.

If it were not for my constant – literally, ongoing – focus not to let the negativity interfere with the good, I could have easily lost all the goodness in the face of the negativity that threatened to invade.

I wonder, if in fact, that is the very point of the yang, the low, the other side of the coin. Perhaps it is a requisite part of good that it be blended with bad, or holiness with evil, or pleasure with pain by some Divine instruction, but perhaps the purpose is not to ruin the ying or the high, rather to accentuate them.

Perhaps the way to make joy truly joyous,the happiness complete, and the gratitude absolute is by relishing it, holding onto it, and most importantly, protecting it from the forces that threaten to drown it.

Meaning to say, as wonderful as a celebration is, it is, indeed, fleeting. I hate that. You bust your chops for many days, weeks, even months to setup and execute a successful event or celebration, then after a couple hours it is all over.

How do you hold on to that joy, that happiness, that ecstasy? Well, nowadays we have pictures, and video, but those only help you relive the surface of the party. The exterior part of the celebration.

How to stay “online” with the experience, how does one live-stream in real time something that has already concluded?

I suggest that this doable as a result of the ubiquitous yang to every ying. The yang that threatens the ying, forces you to dig deep and find the inner ying and push the yang away. While that is painful, and can threaten to ruin the joy, it actually forces you to access the essence of the joy to not fall prey to the pain. It forces the goodness to be reignited and fuel the fight against the pain.

Is there another way? I am sure the big Boss upstairs can find another way. But until I am made aware of what that is, I want to look at life’s yangs as a means to a deeper and more continuous ying.

Blog 15/52

Picture commons.wikimedia.org