May 31, 2018


6.1.2018 Weekly Torah Portion

This week’s Torah Portion is Be’haalotcha. This translates to “in his arising/going up.” This Parashah has a lot in it. I want to focus on the problems that are encountered this week. The people became unsatisfied and complained again! They remembered the great food they ate in Egypt and wanted the meat, fish, leeks, etc. again. Every time I read this, I have the same reaction: They were slaves, and none of this great eating happened! Yet, in their euphoric recall of “the good old days” they lie to themselves and find someone/something to blame for not getting everything they desire.

We see this each day in our news, in what is being said in Washington, in the way we deal with family, friends, etc. We have become a people that seems to want to be unsatisfied and complaining. In the days of my grandmothers, they wanted to complain in order to ward off the ayn hara, “the eye.” We think that we are not superstitious, yet I wonder if this isn’t the reason so many people continue to be dissatisfied and complaining. I know it happens even in this Holy Congregation. I hear the whisperings and so do you.

What do you have euphoric recall about? What are your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly complaints? What are the false stories you tell yourself?

Yet, I wonder, what do you and I get from these euphoric recalls and from this complaining and being dissatisfied? I believe it is the “satisfaction” of blaming my errors, my failures, my not getting what I want/envy on someone/something else. When I hear people say, “If God wanted you to be rich, you would be” – I want to scream and yell. This is a total bastardization of God’s love for us, and when used as an excuse is a subtle form of blaming God for our lot in life, much like Tevye did in the play/movie Fiddler on the Roof. And many of us continue to do this shaming and blaming. I know that I cannot change you, AND I can be an agent of change, just as you and everyone else can. However, what change agent we are depends on whether we want to grow in Truth and to better serve God or we want to grow in dissatisfaction, complaining, and serving only ourselves. The beauty of our tradition is that it confronts these issues in our Holiest Books – Torah, Talmud, etc. These issues and paths are not relegated to antiquity, rather they are current in our lives, and we have to find a solution. In looking at these words again this year, I recoil at the number of times I encounter this issue each day, in both myself and others.

So, what is the solution, Rabbi? Each day, in my prayers, I remember what is True and real as a way of defending against these false stories. I try to help others do the same. Yet, these thoughts never completely leave me. I understand the experience of the Israelites and of Moses and God. It is frustrating and anger-producing for me and about me. This is why I am so deeply passionate about prayer.

What do you do to guard against keeping these types of thoughts/feelings from ruling and ruining you?

I keep asking: How does this happen to us? We are smart, educated, experienced and have read the “Good Book” (to cover all faiths) for a long time. Yet we still indulge in this way of being. WHY? I look to Rabbi Heschel and the Kotzker Rebbe for an answer: because “we want to be deceived” by others; because “self-deception is a major disease.” AA says that the deception of others is rooted in the deception of self. I ask people to write down the lies they tell themselves each day so they can be aware of them and see which truly serve them.

We are unwilling to truly serve and love God with all our Hearts, Souls, our Everything until we stop blaming, shaming, and deceiving. We have to stop living like this in our own lives, and we have to help our loved ones, our community members, and our Government folks stop their lies. We have gone from a society that was formed on an eternal truth: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Bible says each of us is created in the Image of God and has the Spirit of God in us. Isn’t it time that we “throw the lying bums out” – stop them from tearing our institutions and foundations of liberty and freedom down? Yet we won’t because some part of us is being satisfied in watching destruction. It is like how people stare at accidents, not because they are worried about the people, but because they like the spectacle, sort of like the gladiators in Ancient Rome.

Living a life of righteousness, justice, kindness and mercy is difficult. While we are not going to be perfect, we are able to live at and on a continuum rather than from self-satisfaction only. When we take You/I Matter seriously, we are able to improve one grain of sand each day. We can do this only when we are engaged in seeking Truth and are not one of the complainers, as in our Parashah.

Where are you on the continuum between complaining/blaming and Truth/serving God with a whole heart? How do you grow one grain of sand more righteous, more just, more kind, and more merciful each day?

When we do this, we begin to know God, others, and ourselves on a deeper and richer level. When we live these words, we blame others less and see more of our own worth and goodness. May this week be the start, restart and/or continuation of our knowing that we are loved, we are important, and We Matter.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mark