We're about to celebrate Pesach. That's when the Jews left Egypt.
All of them.
Well, actually, only 20% of the Israelites made it out. A full 80% remained behind and perished in Egypt.
Shh, don't tell anyone.We prefer to keep this uncomfortable info "in the tribe".
Who would have imagined that Moses would have such a poor response to his "Let My People Go"? We get it that Pharaoh didn't get it, but you'd think the Israelites would have jumped at the chance to join a leader who could turn the Nile to blood and shut off the Sun for a week. Moses should have had a cult following.
It's the old 80/20 rule and it offers a stark insight into our people.
There are only two kinds of Jews: Those who leave Egypt and those who don't. Pesach challenges us to confront which kind of Jew we are.
Egypt represents every bad habit that we can't seem to shake and every unhealthy mindset we have cemented over time. Pharaoh's voice reverberates in ours head as self-doubt. We want to break out and shift gears, but we find it easier to flop back into the well-trodden path of past mistakes.
There are only two kinds of Jews: Those who break out and those who don't.
No Moses, regardless of how compelling his presentation is, can rescue us from Egypt. Moses cannot make us let go. He can show us opportunity, he can redirect our focus, but only we can take the daunting step to change. Moses cannot take anyone out of Egypt until they are ready to leave.
There are only two kinds of Jews: Those who take a step to leave Egypt and those who wistfully plan to one day leaving Egypt, when the circumstances are favourable.
We can only flee Egypt when we recognize that only we can take us out of Egypt.
In truth, there is actually only one kind of Jew.
Jacob's great-grandchildren who lived in Egypt were not yet Jewish. Jews only came about once the Torah had been given, which was only to happen after the Exodus. Those Israelites who remained in Egypt were genetically linked to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but could choose to opt out of their spiritual connection to their ancestors.
Most did opt out. They never became Jewish.
Every single Jew left Egypt. Had they not left Egypt, they would not have stood at Sinai and would not have become Jews.
Every Jew leaves Egypt. Nobody gets stuck.
Pesach reminds us that it is our destiny to escape. Pesach challenges us to make the inevitable move sooner, rather than later.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Thursday, January 28, 2016
We are so busy, just so very busy.
Psychologists now even have a term for it. They say we suffer from "time poverty". In English, that means that we don't believe we have enough time to accommodate all the things that we want to do.
Ironic, isn't it? In the 30's they predicted that by now we'd only work about three hours a day, because technology would take care of the rest. As right as they were, they were wrong. Technology swallows up the spare time that technology was meant to provide.
So, we're all really hectic. That hectic that we may miss breakfast. So insane that we can't even reply to each other's messages.
At least, I assume that's the reason so few people respond to each other. It surely can't be because people are outright rude, so it must be because we're all so busy.
The thing is, it feels disrespectful to the person on the other side of the Whatsapp. If they can tell that you're online or have read their message, and they get no response, they will be obviously feel offended. Someone captured it perfectly online: "It is easy to say 'busy' when someone needs you, but it is painful to hear 'busy' when you need someone".
Hillel used to say, "What is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary".
The great irony is that it's really easy to get back to people nowadays. We no longer have to compose a handwritten letter and mail it. We don't even need to allocate time for a full phone conversation to communicate. Shooting off a text response takes just seconds. Yet, in the days of snail mail and rotary phones, people managed to stay in touch better than we techno-whizzes do today.
Twenty seconds of text-response can go a long way to building relationships.
I'm not suggesting that we should drop everything to hit reply as each new message arrives. That is simply impractical. Anybody who expects us to be thumbs-at-the-ready to respond on the spot is out of touch.
But, no response? No excuse.
I am reminded of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot that says that you only enjoy honour when you afford honour to others. Profound idea.
Ah, but maybe not every message needs a response. What if the person already knows what I think or that I have confirmed our meeting? Do I need to respond then too?
Here, we can take a page from Moshe's book.
In this week's Parsha, Moshe is charged with coordinating the three days of preparation before receiving the Torah. In that time, Moshe had to shuttle back and forth from the Jews at the foot of the mountain to G-d at the top. He had to guide the Jews on the steps they needed to make before G-d would reveal Himself. He had to cordon off the entire mountain. He had to shimmy up the mountain for updated details from Hashem on the nuances of the preparation. And he had to gear himself spiritually to handle the biggest Divine event since Creation.
Now Moshe could well have had an excuse not to respond to messages until after all the chaos. He certainly didn't have to report to G-d, because G-d knows everything.
Nonetheless, the Torah reports that Moshe made the trip up the mountain (pity he didn't have Whatsapp) to let G-d know that the Jews were preparing as instructed and that everything was on course for the Great Reveal.
Rashi, the Ramban and other commentators ask why Moshe stressed so much to personally communicate this information to G-d. After all, he would only be telling G-d things He already knew.
They conclude that Moshe wanted to model the importance of communication. He wanted us to appreciate that it's only right to get back to someone who has communicated with you, even if they already know your answer.
If Moshe felt he should return G-d's messages, we should do the same for each other.
Hope you got my message...
Monday, December 21, 2015
I’ve been cut off from the world.
They tell me it’s temporary, but the last few days have felt like an eternity. I find it difficult to communicate. I have lost contact with hundreds of people.
I am isolated.
Can’t monitor your special moments in real-time. Even chatting with friends has become a burden.
My cell-phone is in for repairs.
Yes, they have given me a loan phone. My cynical side might call it a dumb-phone (as in the antithesis of smartphone). But, Its eight-day battery-life has earned it enough of my respect for me to fondly nickname it my “Chanukah phone”.
I had a phone like this once. In 1997.
To be fair, this phone can do more than just call and SMS. It has a calculator, a flashlight and even a selection of two-dimensional games. I’m sticking with calls for now, because typing messages on that push-the-button-three-times-to-type-a-letter system is agonizing.
One plus is that this phone has no auto-text. I haven’t messaged anyone “Good Shabby” or signed off as “rabbit”. But, I have no Whatsapp, no social media and I have to wait until I get home to read my emails.
Truthfully, it’s a good time of year to have this inconvenience. December is summer vacation time, and being technologically incapacitated should be quite restful.
On the first day one of this loan-phone adventure, I habitually checked that device every five minutes to make sure it was still operational. A phone as quiet as that thing was had to be comatose, if at all alive.
As the day advanced, I began to enjoy the absence of beeps and jingles. I spoke to my children with no electronic interference. I made it through a full Shul service without checking for messages and spoke to people while making eye-contact (I think it made them uncomfortable). I felt no pressure to avoid opening any app that might betray my having seen a message without responding immediately. I may not have made it to Cape Town, but I was in full holiday mode.
By day two, dim memories of life pre-technology started to surface. Now foreign experiences, like summer evening walks, Monopoly games and researching information in books floated back. Life started to feel a little slower, a little quieter.
I could get used to this!
My imagination tempted me with the promise of family fun, longer study sessions and spare time in the diary. Maybe I could simply not collect my smartphone when the service centre called. If I kept this magically non-invasive phone, surely they could sell my S6 Edge to defray costs.
But, then I realized the phone may have gone quiet, but that didn’t mean I had fewer interactions to manage. People had sent just as many queries, I just hadn't received them. Who knows? There are probably more than a few disgruntled people who think I am ignoring them. My “kosher” phone, as the frum world call it, is a great escape, but it isn't practical for 21st Century rabbinics.
Now, you can always find guidance and wisdom in the weekly Torah reading. My phone escapade coincided with the portion about Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was a smartphone person, his siblings more the "kosher phone" type.
Joseph’s siblings advocated the simple life. As shepherds, they steered clear of the distractions of society. Joseph, to their dismay, dived right into the thick of the modern world. His brothers were certain nobody could retain their spiritual integrity while living in the hub of civilization.
Joseph proved them wrong. Not only did he successfully enter the modern world, he rose to prominence and raised a spiritually-sound family to boot.
Years earlier, Joseph had predicted that his brothers would eventually come around to his approach. They had balked at the prospect. Today, Judaism is modeled after Joseph's approach; a spiritual path that engages- and shapes- the world.
That non-invasive simple-phone is very attractive, but my smartphone allows me to reach and touch the world. And to hopefully make a positive impact.
That said, my current techno go-slow is a good reminder that all-consuming connectivity is unhealthy. You can only influence the world if you are in the driver’s seat. Joseph shaped the world from a position of power. You only make a difference when you control the technology, not when you are controlled by it. And to stay in control, you need to be able to completely disengage regularly and reconnect with ancient, bedrock values.
I’m looking forward to getting my slick, connected phone back, so I can easily interact with the world out there. But, if I don’t get back to you immediately or if I’m not the fastest to like or retweet your content, that’s because my time with my “Chanukah” phone has reminded me that switching off during family, social, study or spiritual time is more valuable than being virtually present all day.