Two Fallen Trees Leaning On One Another

Two Fallen Trees Leaning On One Another

I feel some guilt writing about struggle during this time of year where everyone is off from work and taking it easy. It seems that the world has heaved one collective sigh of relief, and exhaled all their stress and anxiety in that breath.

I am sitting in a Starbucks on December 25th in the morning, because nothing will stand in the way of my cup of Joe, and to my surprise, this place is busier than a train station during rush hour.

I guess (I am not the only addict) perhaps, as much as we want to put all of life’s challenges and worries aside, they still gnaw at us and don’t let us really sleep in late, even on a day when we are “supposed” to focus on ourselves and families and leave our troubles outside. So people find themselves keeping some of their usual routines at the only establishment open on this quiet day.

I am taken back to a conversation had with someone close to me going through a very difficult chapter in their life. Ironically, it was at this very same Starbucks just a short while ago that this conversation took place.

Without compromising the rules of Rabbinic Hipaa laws, one spouse is facing some very unexpected challenges in life, things that are so unusual and upsetting, that even a fantasy writer would be hard pressed to come of with such incredible circumstances to make a person struggle. At this same time, this person’s spouse is batting medical issues, may they have a speedy recovery.

After chatting for a bit about all the ails of this person’s life, asked, simply “how is your spouse holding up with all this?”

That answer given, was a wonderful, deep and bittersweet response; “We are like two broken trees, that have fallen onto one another and are thus holding each other up.”

As beautiful as that was in its romantic poetic-ism, it highlighted something I have always known but struggled to find the correct wording for.

Everyone, literally everyone has something to contribute to this symphony called life. All of us, at one time or another find that life has broken us down to the point that we wonder if it is worth the struggle. We are too beaten down to do any lifting; Lifting of ourselves, much less the lifting of another.

Yet, even a broken tree, cracked at its base, if leaning into and onto another, even a broken other, can actually help them stand up.

The idea is profound, it means, not only do you matter when when feel/think you are down and out. In fact, sometimes the only way you can be that supportive tree is because you are broken. A healthy tree, won’t bend over to support another struggling tree. Only one that feels it is broken at its core will get out of itself enough to to be there for another.

I think that is the real joy and special-ness of this quieter time of year. When we are not just enjoying the down time, but when we can really enjoy, or at least accept the time that we are down.

Happy lifting.

Blog 13/52


Complex People – Do you really know your friend?

Complex People – Do you really know your friend?

We spend our lives with those around us, family, friends, acquaintances, business associates etc. knowing them but not really knowing them. You think you know your spouse, your child your friend, only to find out that they have skills you never knew, or alternatively, traits that you find less than desirable.

Is this who they always were, and I simply didn’t notice, or did they change? How could I have known someone so well only to learn of a new feature so many years later? Will the real you please stand up?

Even more common, is the dual personalities of someone in your orbit. One minute they are happy, the next minute they are sad. One minutes motivated and ready to conquer the world, a minute later they are negative and dark and lousy company. Well, which one is it? Who is the real you? Will the real you please stand up?

There is a great story in the Talmud of one particular sage – R. Gamliel –  who was very meticulous that all his student have “their insides match their outsides.”

Meaning, no duplicity, you either are one in mind, body, heart and soul or not. Either you are a good and dedicated person through and through in which case you are welcomed into my Yeshiva; If however you haven’t mastered this uniformity, you are not allowed in.

This was a very high bar, so high in fact that his yeshiva remained relatively small. When, in fact, he was dismissed from his position as Headmaster of that Yeshiva (due to rabbinic politics – an accusation that he did not afford another colleague – Rabbi Yehoshua – the correct honor) the sages debate if 400 or 700 benches of new student were brought into the school.

The story is very instructive, I believe, since while in a perfect world, we would all be clear and one minded and undivided internally. We’d be one with ourselves, and what you see would be exactly what you got.

In fact, however, we are layered. We are not one dimensional. We are made up of multiple shades and personalities. We are like the layers of an onion, and our environment, and external circumstances influence who and how we are and most importantly how we behave at any one given time.

We are not solely who we are at a given moment. We are the cumulation of all our different selves as influenced by both nature and nurture. And that is ok, because we are layered.

Yes, Rabbi Gamliel’s high standard of our “insides matching our outsides” – uniformity or thought, speech, action, mind and soul, is ideal, and a bar we ought to strive for, but in fact we are flawed human beings. Imperfect and journeying.

Having this awareness not only helps us be more understanding of those around us, but allows us the ability to be more at peace with our own fractured selves.


The epilogue of the Rabbi Gamliel story was that he was eventually reinstalled as Headmaster (after the internal politics has been resolved) but his replacement – Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria – was not fired, rather he was now associate Headmaster.

To me this means, that the real goal is to struggle with finding this very balance. R. Gamliel’s high minded goal has value. It can’t take you to a point where you censure those who disagree with you (his crime for which he temporarily lost his job) , but it does have merit. Thus he was reinstalled to his position.

On one hand we need to aspire to higher, aspire to internal and external uniformity, on the other hand we need to accept that we are fractured and struggling souls. These to components as illogical as it may seem, CAN co-exist. This is actually called life. Layered life, but life.

Happy journeying!


Blog 12/52


Today was one of those days that you usually hear mom’s kvetch about. Except that today, mom was out of town. On an early flight to Atlanta for a family celebration. So I was mom. 

Today began, well really today began last night. All parents have such days, when it seems that all that can go wrong, will.

One kid woke up with fever about an hour into my nap (calling it a night’s sleep would be overstating things) complaining of a sore throat. After settling him, the coughing began with another one of the children. It really didn’t stop. Still hasn’t. Post nasal drip is what we were told again and again.

There was a bar mitzva scheduled for this morning so I was grateful when I managed an early doctors appointment. Wasn’t as grateful when they 2 kids came back strep positive. 

Then the whirlwind began, baby sitter, bar mitzva, older kid to the bus, Chanukah party in Boston, dinner baths, Menorah etc.

I had really looking forward to lighting the entire eight candles of the menorah. To me this has always been my favorite time of the holiday, the culmination of an awesome holiday. I don’t always get sentimental, but this is my thing. 

Bleary eyed, I gathered the kids around and we lit the candles. However one of my wicks just wouldn’t say lit. I lit it and re-lit it again and again but it wasn’t working. I pushed the wick deeper into the oil hoping that it would absorb more oil, perhaps then it would light, but that too didn’t work.

I then pulled the wick out more, even though the bottom of the wick would no longer reach the bottom of the oil glass (meaning it would burn less time than the others) but this way at least it would stay lit.

It worked. In fact it worked so well, that now that flame was larger than the others. Then it hit, me. 

What to do when your oil is running low? When you feel like you’ve run out of fuel to keep your flame lit, what can you do? Most people (myself included) try to bring the flame to it again and again. But if the fuel injector is not working, it still won’t light, no matter how many times you try. Then, common sense would be to stick the wick deeper into the oil trying to immerse yourself in your source of inspiration thinking that this should for sure work. But alas, this too does not always do the trick.

Sometimes, you have to trust that the fuel that has been previously injected is sufficiently potent.. Rather than go back for more inspiration – pushing the wick back into the oil – trust that the given inspiration is enough to keep your flames lit. Pull that wick a bit further from the source. See if it will light and stay lit? See if you have now mastered the message of the lights of the holiday, not just to light them but for them to be lights that are oleh me’aleha, are self sustaining lights. 

In all likelihood, you will find, particularly on this 8th and final night of Chanukah, that the light has so permeated you and your candles that when you pull it from the source, not only will your candle light, but it burn better and brighter than before.

Is this not the whole point of the holiday of lights? To take that light and bring into the cold bitter winter that follows?

This last day of Chanukah is called ZOS Chanukah, meaning THIS IS Chanukah. And well, isn’t this exactly what Chanukah really is all about?

Trust yourself and try it.

Blog post 11/52

Picture credit – Mordy Schusterman

To Influence Quietly – Being the light

Oh Chanukah oh Chanukah, come light the menorah…

As Chanukah goes, we light those lights, doing our best to make each night, just a bit brighter. We’ve heard all the expressions, “a little light pushes away a lot of darkness.” Or “in these dark times, we need to show how to be bright.” My favorite one is “be the light you want to see.”

I want to be the light.

Do I want to be the light or do I want to be the candle? Does it matter? In this case, the light is also a flame of fire, fed by oil or wax; however, fire, while bright and warm/hot, is also the source of great destruction and devastation. Perhaps “being the light” means being good light or flames. Flames the that heal and help, not flames that destroy and hurt?

Fire is a mixed bag in that way. We thank Gd for the fire that He gifted us when we bless the Creator of flames during Havdadah on Saturday night. Yet in California, or Israel and other places, those same flames, when misused wreak total havoc on land and lives.

Some people, like some fires, are loud and bombastic. They do create light and noise, but even though they are generating heat and illumination, they are not necessarily creating healthy light. They are not being the candle, they are not being the light.

Sometimes, you can create a lot more light, quietly and efficiently. Sometimes bigger, just is not better..

There is an ongoing debate of power vs. influence. Which is more valuable and important. Power typically meaning might, and strength, is usable for both positive and negative. A powerful person can affect change that a weaker person cannot. However, a powerful person can also misuse that strength to force their will on others. A powerful person can use their strength to crush and destroy others.

So too with influence. To have the ability to influence another is a great gift, which can be used and misused. To be an influencer for good makes you both great and powerful, and if used to lead others astray, is, well strong but bad.

I think this may be what it means to be the light.

Everyone has the ability to be powerful and influential. We all have light and warmth to share. We need to simply decide how we are going to unleash it. Will it be soft, influential and enduring? Or will it be destructive and temporary?

Those forest fires that ravaged Northern California and Ventura Valley, were mighty and strong, but they will never be remembered as being beautiful and wonderful. They were powerful but mercilessly destructive.

Being the light, means accessing the inner resources that I have within, and using them to make me both powerful and influential in a kosher way, in a helpful way, in a healing way. Then, and only then am I the light. And you can make a bracha on it.


Blog 10/52