Last month during Pesach we read that Moses took our people out of Egypt after the Ten Plagues hit the world of that day. Those of us who were obedient and put the sign of blood on our doorposts were safe in our little shtetel called Goshen, watching as one plague after another hit the world. Today we live in our modern shtetels and we are watching modern-day plagues hit our world. Both Egypt the Hebrews were being reminded that there is a Creator and He is in control. Whenever humanity gets out of control, He is forced to take over. The world has lost its sense of decency and morality. Those who speak up for honesty and just policies find themselves drowning in the noise of political correctness. Our health has been taken captive by an industry that forces us to take their pills and their vaccines, which they promise are for good for everyone but for the most part, turn out to be deadly.
So, a virus, smaller than the eye can see has put a stop to all the noise. We can’t fight or hurt each other when we have to keep a safe distance. We can’t go too far from our homes and quickly have to return to them. Suddenly we want to go out. I have not seen so many people on the streets since I played outside in the early 60s. The kids are playing outside again, and their parents are with them.
Right after Pesach, Moses took our people to Mt Sinai out of Egypt where my people Israel were becoming entranced with their gods of power and gold and were forgetting the God of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Is that happening to us again today in America? How is it that, so soon after the Holocaust, we are looking at a tremendous rise in anti-Semitism. No one can destroy Israel from the outside; we, however, can destroy ourselves from within.
It took ten plagues to set us free from Egypt. How many will it take now? How many Holocausts have we seen in our history; when will it be enough? Our exile to Babylon for 70 years was because for 490 we didn’t give the land its Shabbats. This was followed by Medes, Persians, Greece, Rome, Spain, Eastern Europe, Germany, Austria, Russia…and now we are in America. Our Western society has been falling into moral decay and it’s taken a tiny virus to bring the world to its knees. While we’re on our knees, let’s look up and thank God for His beautiful earth and all that is in it, which is finally getting a chance to rest from our pollution.
I peek into the world once in a while, as I am sure the Jews in Goshen peeked in to see their world being destroyed. I don’t know how many of us will come out of this unscathed, but I do hope that we are using this time for good and inner growth. If we knew that we had only 30 days to live, what would we do with our life? Isn’t that how we should live each day? We could all memorize the Ten Commandments, the single most important gift to humanity by the Creator; we repeat them every Shabbat so that we can remember His constitution for us to make good decisions, to have human kindness and goodness. They may be simple but they are not easy to do. If we forget every other rule and regulation and just focused on these, how our lives could change! It would be a Paradigm Shift for humanity.
March 23, 2020
I was starting to panic again with all that is happening in the world, in my city, in my community that I finally had to stop myself last night at 2:00 AM and write down my thoughts. Thinking things through always helps me to calm down.
I watched the movie playing out in my mind that showed me my behaviour lately and to tell you the truth, I did not like what I saw. I was impatient, judgmental, losing patience with my family, and at times rude, all the while fearful of the future. It may sound strange, but I thought, is it possible that this behaviour stems from the lack of self-forgiveness for my actions past and present which force me to try to be someone I am not? It also allows me to be that way toward others since that’s how I am with myself. That’s very uncomfortable. Then my mind wandered to my closest friends and I saw the people who always are there for me no matter what. They don’t judge me; they just tell me as it is. Then I can start over and do better the next time. That’s pretty amazing. Then I looked upwards toward the heavens and saw that the Creator does the same thing with me. How grand is that!
Then I remembered that it’s just before Pesach when all the chametz within is being revealed in order for me to cleanse out like I will clean the yeast from my cupboards and fridge. Yeast in the Torah represents pride. I saw that my fears were taking over and I was forgetting to trust in the Creator. How would I live on my present income? I am a spender. So, if that the case either I spend less or find another source of income but I’m not so young anymore. I wondered if the Creator was closing the door to my singing for the elderly. Do I personally want to close that door and head in a new direction? Perhaps there’s something else I’d like to do. Perhaps it’s time to work on my book but every time I think of my book doubts flood my brain, “who would want to read it?”. “What would catch the eye of a publisher?” “What makes me think that the world wants my story when there are a million stories in the naked city”. How did my iPhone find the word naked before I did? Scary! Blah Blah Blah!
Back to my movie. I thought of how in our lives we take two steps forward and one step backwards, which is good if we’re on an upward spiral. These days it feels like the opposite. One forward and two back. But IF my Father in heaven is truly there for me and He never let me down in the past, why would He start now. He doesn’t change as I do. He is constant and only allows me to fall so far. He disciplines and teaches me, through people who are close to me and through circumstances.
I realized that I have lived through so many experiences because I truly live. I take chances. I am challenged and take them on at my pace. Then I remembered the expression my Rabbi uses: “Our God is the God of beginning Again”. Whenever I think it’s over and there’s nowhere to go but down, I can thank God for showing me the deep areas that are calling for change and for walking me through them. He is preparing me for Pesach when I come before Him like the imperfect person that I am, who can fail but who can get up and live a new day because The Creator of the Universe loves me and is there with me. Yes, I need to work on cleansing the chametz from my heart because I can’t stand those places that darken the light inside my soul. May I be more gracious, more kind to my fellow man, more trusting of the process and not give in to fear. When I acknowledge my areas of need, my willingness to grow, He meets me halfway and leads me on the right path.
These are the best of times and the worst of times. We may have heard that the world has gone through tragedy before but now we are the ones experiencing it. People have been warning us about a financial collapse that would come but we didn’t listen because we may not have known what to do. Now we must learn to NOT worship the golden calf as we did in the desert 4000 years ago just after we left Egypt but instead to watch the miracles that the Bore Olam can do. Let us not fall into despair but trust in the One who has everyone and everything in His Hands. He will never leave us nor forsake us!
Terumah begins in Exodus 25: 1-7 to Moshe to tell the Israelites “Set aside a contribution for me; you will accept a contribution from everyone who gives it willingly with his heart”. The offerings were then described. They were things that were mined or dug out of the earth, like gold, silver, bronze and precious gems that required hard work to obtain, skins of various animals that required work and sacrifice, wood and oil, all required skills and had a special purpose – they would be used to build the Mishkan. They were not frivolous gifts like we would give on valentine’s day. They were well thought out and were a necessary part of what the Creator wanted us to achieve.
Terumah continues in verse 8, with “Make me a sanctuary so that I can dwell among them.” “Each week we meet in our various sanctuaries. The exciting part about this verse is that no matter where we are, the Creator is dwelling among us. The Mishkan was moved many times during the 40 years that the Israelites were in the desert. According to the descriptions, the Mishkan was not very glamorous from the outside so as not to attract attention from their enemies but was decorated intricately and lavishly on the inside. It was filled with everything that the Israelites had taken with them when they left Egypt. That is showing me that our “external show” is not what is important to the Creator rather it is what we have on the inside which shows in what we do. Our neshama, our inner being is filled with all the things that were given to us. He placed His characteristics within us when He breathed His Ruach into us at conception. What are these characteristics? First, “Free will” the ability to choose good over evil….to choose life over death. We can make decisions. I decide to give or not to give. I decide to help my neighbor or to turn a blind eye. I decide to use my talents to serve our community or to bury them and live an unfulfilled life. I decide whether to be willing to hear the truth about myself so that I can grow, or I can choose to be offended when someone tells me the truth, to bury it and remain in the same miserable state. I decide to love rather than to hate, to speak kindness rather than to insult. I decide whether to ask for advice from those who are wise or to continue on a stubborn path which leads me on a downward spiral. It’s my choice and the reason it’s my choice is because I have free will, so I have no one to blame but myself and I will be tested!
The wonderful part of this is that the Creator goes with me everywhere I go like the cloud by day and the fire by night. He dwells with us wherever we go, either individually or as a community. Are we willing, with an open heart, to go with Him? If He tells us not to collect the manna on Shabbat, will we decide to do it anyway even if it ends us stinking in our tents. If He tells us to bring to the Mishkan and this is our Mishkan, will we say, I am not responsible, someone else will do it? Yes, someone else will do it but we all suffer; we are all responsible whether we like it or not, especially if we say, “all that you say we will do.”
Giving is something that comes from our hearts. I have heard people say that they don’t have enough to give but I don’t believe it. The reason that I don’t believe it is that I know what it is to have nothing, less than nothing and I still gave. I have spoken about being willing in the past and this which of course, stems from having free will something that we all have. It begins with a decision, very much like the decision to be faithful to one’s spouse. There are many temptations in this world. If you are a man, there are women everywhere who may think that they will could be a better wife to you than the one you have now. But if you have “decided” that no matter what happens, you will remain faithful, then the willingness becomes easier. It is the same with giving, if you decide that you want to be faithful to the Bore Olam who gives us everything that we can then take back to Him, and if decide to follow His instructions and principles, then giving becomes a matter of the willingness of the heart. The results are in God’s hands. Once it is given, it no longer belongs to us.
I know the blessings that come from being a willing giver and a thankful recipient of those blessings. We all need to question our motives in everything we do, which makes the walk with our God such a struggle. If we didn’t have a conscience we wouldn’t struggle; everything would just be straightforward…”do as you please”, to heck with the rest. However, we are God’s people and so we have choices to make about how we live our lives daily.
I belong to a small community which has a place in this world, and I believe a very important one. We are not looking to be accepted by the world; we are looking to be accepted by the Bore Olam.” That’s not easy when it is easier to get praise from those who we see than from the One we cannot see.
This September will be my 19th year of entertaining the elderly. I can remember when I began as if it were yesterday and I can tell you that I enjoy it more now than when I first began. To me, it is more of a calling than a job. It is wonderful to find our purpose, our place in this world and I can honestly say that I sense that I have found mine. What makes it more special is that I know Who opened this door for me.
Every day I witness people who work with the elderly to whom very few pay attention. Some are private caregivers; some are family members; some are staff nursing or even cleaning staff. They go out of their way to make others feel special. They don’t only look at the ones who they are “paid” to take care of; they go beyond the call of duty. One young lady busies herself making sure that everyone who is ready, gets to my music programs. She doesn’t think of herself, only of others. As I sing I watch how a son of one of the residents looks around to see who needs help. He honestly cares about people. There is one very special young lady at Hope whose sense of humor lights up the place and she has a heart for making sure that her people are cared for. Instead of complaining about the lack of staff or the lack of money, these people and others like them seek every opportunity to give of themselves. They are my heroes! They are living the Golden Rule…love your neighbor as you love yourself. May their tribe increase!