Can You Feel It?
We are a generation which is quite adept at deadening life’s pains in a variety of creative ways - from popping pills to pursuing seductive pleasures. We reason that all our troubles will just go away with just a bit more alcohol, a few more puffs of marijuana, more online shopping, another vacation, or another Botox injection. We close our eyes to reality and open them instead to mind-numbing entertainment - from TikTok to Netflix to social media. We have become so good at distracting and fooling ourselves that some of us even convince ourselves that we love our lives even while everything is crumbling around us. But if we really loved our lives, would we be running away from it?
What people mistake for “love” is the need for certainty. Change can be so terrifying that instead of facing life with open eyes and courage, we pretend things are ok by dulling our senses in a variety of ways. We keep hoping that our denial will prevent things from crashing in on us. But hope, my friends, is not a strategy.
We are like Europe’s Jews preceding the war. We try to preserve the status quo — often at any price — and the price, my friends, is very high. We surrender life itself.
We just don't want change and will avoid it by any means. But we are not born to stagnate, as we know even standing water breeds bacteria or fungi. We mustn’t let our comfort zones paralyze us, always keep moving—there’s always room to grow in our service and commitment to G-d, our community and in all aspects of our lives. In fact, the first Commandment to man is to be fruitful and multiply -- not only by having offspring, but by being productive ever-changing ever-refined conduits for Divine light. We are not supposed to go with the flow…. but grow with the flow.
When the lives we build seem to be crashing in on us, we should not be reaching for the vodka or the TV remote control, but rather asking, “What is G-d trying to tell us?” In fact, all of life is a conversation with G-d - not just with our mouths, but with our entire beings.
We are antennas and the only way we can pick up G-d’s frequency is by keeping His Torah. If we move the dial and step out of frequency with His will, our reality becomes filled with chaotic static. It is no wonder that some of our lives feel like a death spiral as we willfully and arrogantly detach from the very Source of life.
While Jews across the globe are lost in summer’s pleasures and diversions, “loving life” -- life is not loving them back. Antisemitism is now at an all-time high, not only in the usual places, but in such bastions of freedom and democracy as Canada and the United States. The hate is growing in a world which has been destabilized by Covid, economic woes and unsettling world affairs. Unfortunately, not the frostiest seasonal popsicles or ice creams can freeze that grim reality. The only way to better our world and our lives is to return to Hashem. We know that because He told us and G-d is not a liar. “And it will be if you obey the Lord, your God, to observe to fulfill all His commandments which I command you this day, the Lord, your God, will place you supreme above all the nations of the earth…And all these blessings will come upon you and cleave to you.…” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2)
Instead, we take pride in our stubbornness and sinful ways, dig in our heels not realizing that we are digging our own graves. Perhaps it’s time to stop numbing ourselves and lend ear to what G-d is telling us, personally and as a nation.
In this week’s Torah reading of Devarim, Moses reminds the Israelites of their errors throughout their 40 years in the desert. As Moses recaps their journey, we twice read how G-d told the Jews that it was time to move on: “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain,” and then, “You have circled this mountain long enough.” These are not merely prompts to command the Jews to travel towards the Holy Land. They are rather messages to continually remind us to stop being comfortable with what we’re doing and who we are. We must keep moving, keep becoming and never glorify any one spot physically or spiritually.
For if even their camping at a place where they studied Torah had an expiration date, just imagine how ruinous it is to remain stationary in lesser plateaus in life. If we regard ourselves as good Jews, it’s time to become better ones, practicing ones. The sentence “I love my life” calls for cross-examination. I’m not advocating to hate one’s life, but rather to challenge it, look at it, better it and sanctify it.
In Judaism, we believe that if one changes one’s place, one changes one’s fortunes. On a simple level, this refers to a change of physical location. On a more profound echelon, it means continually shaking up our spiritual realities. If we continually improve ourselves as people and as Jews, we will never walk in the same place twice, but rather transform ourselves and the space we occupy. After all, we were not mandated to go silently into that good night, but rather to light the way. The trick is not to deaden ourselves while we live, but to ensure we live on after we die. It is incumbent upon us to leave the light on.