Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Biggest Turkey of All?
I have often questioned if our mission in life is about becoming all we can be or about maintaining who we started out as? There is no better place than New York City to watch that experiment unfold. Wannabe actresses, singers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and others come from across the nation and across the world believing the city’s sparks of magic and opportunity will turn them into the next American Idol in their respective fields.
Indeed many come armed with great talent, but from the moment they unpack their bags a war of attrition is launched against their values, their upbringing, their religions, and their innocence. The road to success is rough and tough in a big city and for every beauty there is a younger, better looking beauty, for every talent there is a greater talent. Thus, often that trunk we packed at home with all our beliefs and belongings can burden our pace. So, ever so slowly, imperceptibly we lighten our load shedding that which shackles our rise to the top--kindness, integrity, morality, our small town mentalities and God. We begin to ask ourselves: How can I make it in the movies without sleeping with a producer? How can I make it by being mister nice guy? How can I make it if I observe the Sabbath? These doubts don’t happen overnight, and yet they do as night after night, in unguarded moments, Satan taunts us and teases us and lures us away from ourselves, breaking down one barrier at a time.
It is often during such times as Thanksgiving and other holidays when we return home to our familiar surroundings and look into those mirrors that watched us grow up, that we can see how much we have changed.
The big city is but a metaphor for our life’s journey. God sends us to this earth with our talents, our desires and our ambitions. He also sends us tests along the way which we can use to refine us or to redefine us. But when we return to our heavenly maker, will He recognize us? Will we resemble the innocent soul He set upon this earth? How many of us have had a New York “makeover” that has rendered us unrecognizable even to ourselves and to all that we used to be.
It is said that after Adam and Eve took a bite from their “big apple” God called out to them in the Garden of Eden and asked, “Where are you?” Certainly an All-knowing God knew where they were, but it was a question meant to instigate introspection. “Where are you in this world? What do you stand for? What do you fall for? He asks them where they are because once they sinned their souls became unrecognizable.
As a journalist who interviews the who’s who, I have a staple question I ask: “Was there a price to your success? The answer is always, “yes.” And many, depending on their age, say the price wasn’t worth it--usually the older, the wiser. It evokes a term that stuck with me from my torturous economics classes: the law of diminishing returns—at a certain point producing “more” actually decreases the value of returns.
In last week’s Bible portion read in synagogues, we learn that the same God who commanded Abraham to leave his place of birth tells the patriarch Jacob to do the complete opposite: “RETURN to the land of thy birth.” For Jacob, unlike Abraham, home would be the uncompromising backdrop that would reveal if and how he had changed.
When Jacob left home he possessed nothing but his will to serve God. His propensity was toward spirituality, not materialism. Yet he returns with great wealth, with wives and children and herds of animals. This accumulation of worldly things was so uncharacteristic of him that when his brother Esau, who had not seen him for 20 years, saw Jacob’s entourage, he asked, “Who are these to you?” It was not the same Jacob who had left home. Leave it to family to remind you.
It is thus only upon Jacob’s return to the land of his birth that he wrestled with an angel-- a symbol of evil born out of his new found materialism. Now that Jacob had a foot in both worlds, the material and the spiritual, each was struggling to dominate him. In his fight with the angel, Jacob’s spiritual strength won, but his leg was injured and he walked forevermore with a limp. The biblical lesson is clear: The attempt to live life with our feet planted in two worlds so far apart is a hard way to travel and often extracts a painful price.
So many of us walked away from the Thanksgiving table popping antacids not only because we overate but because some annoying family members made us nauseous, criticized us, told us we changed, got on our case, or simply bored us. But perhaps the better remedy is to take a brutal look in that old and honest mirror and question how many miles and morals away from home we have traveled and what is the full price have we paid?
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