What's Charging You?
As I scroll through Facebook Market place, I can almost conjure the musty smell of estate sales wherein both the objects and their one-time owners have become obsolete. The resulting feeling is always the same: A waft of sadness overtakes me. Items once cherished-- --are being sold off by a new generation who couldn’t care less. How meaningless it all seems, the summation of a life that can be auctioned off for cheap on Facebook. In contrast, I can’t help but think of the enthusiasm and the long lines that form on Black Friday for the latest things and devices. Sophist that I am, I’m compelled to examine the life that lies between. What is it all really about in the end? What remains of us if the lives we sweated through are trivialized by an “everything-must-go” sale.
In this week’s Torah portion called Toldot, we read about the birth of twin brothers, Esav and Jacob, who were so opposite in their view of life that they began fighting while still in their mother’s womb. Their respective affinities were clear: Esav lived only for this material world and all it has to offer and Jacob lived for G-d, for family and the world to come. Esav was so carnally invested in the physicality of this world that for food, lentil stew, he sold his firstborn birthright to his younger twin brother in order to satisfy a life-sapping hunger born from his exhaustive and exhausting sins. That birthright involved responsibility, accountability and obedient behavior, and thus it meant nothing to him. It was just a potential burden to him or as we would say, a pain in the neck. Even without FB Marketplace, for a mess of pottage, he successfully sold his divine mission for which both his grandfather and father had lived and risked their lives.
Often people who eschew the commandments, like Esav, tend to believe that doing what G-d wants is burdensome and tiring. And yet, the first words we ever hear about Esav in the Torah are that he’s “exhausted” (Genesis 25:30). The rabbis teach that he was exhausted because he was so busy living for the pleasures of the moment that his energy was depleted in the service of himself. And make no mistake about it, Esav was not 100 years old and burned out from his “party animal” lifestyle when both he and the Torah tell us that he was “exhausted.” He was 15. By then he had already been sleeping with betrothed women, was hunting, killing, manipulating, etc. He was already a stalwart example of what NOT to do.
How often in our own lives have we said and hear people say, “I’m tired and burned out,” and “I’m not what I use to be.” Observing some people’s lives can be like watching the battery bars on a cell phone. Slowly, slowly we watch the life force draining away. And they are always far from the charger just when it’s needed most. But in truth, we only decline and drain away when we attach ourselves to false G-ds, when we spurn morality and vacate religion from our lives and unplug ourselves from the ONE true "charger": G-d. The love of money, the fancy cars, the toxic quest for perpetual beauty, the fame, the gadgets, the unbridled promiscuity, the mind dulling entertainments are all false “insulin spikes” that temporarily thrill us and ultimately drain us of our life energy.
All of our forefathers were very wealthy. Where are their riches now? In the dust with all things that don’t matter. Their last will and testaments did not bequeath us ornate trinkets or mahogany chairs that need slight refurbishing. Their legacy is eternal; it is the Torah and its life affirming light that illuminates our lives in the darkest moments, that energizes us with G-d’s own life force when haSatan tries to deplete us and depress us. When G-d is our “charger” we don’t burn out and fade away; we become like the Chanukah miracle where the light lasts longer than nature expects. We become like the burning bush that is aflame and yet not consumed. We become the radiant light unto the nations that no Nazi’s black boot can stomp out.
I think about Black Friday aptly named for a dark mindset that sucks us into believing that we need “stuff” and more stuff. Gadgets rendered into G-ds until they become obsolete, until they end up on an online marketplace, until a stranger with a pickup-truck hauls away a life once treasured. And so my friends I must ask you, what do we leave behind that endures? Every moment is a fight for survival and offers us the opportunity to choose between life and death, to be an Esav or a Jacob. Will we live solely for the here and now and for the immediate gratifications which leave loneliness and painful emptiness as they quickly evaporate? Or will we triumph over the hours, days and years by efforting to be better Jews on all fronts and create a lasting legacy.
And for the self-excusing delusory romantics who tend to believe that the Almighty loves all His children regardless of how they live their lives, let the L-rd’s own words end this article: G-d says, “...I loved Jacob. And I hated Esav.” (Milachi 1:2-3).