Thursday, August 15, 2019

Bucket Lists

We know a great deal about Moses’ life and his many accomplishments. We do not know much about his personal aspirations. I do know that there was one all important thing on his bucket list. He wanted to visit the land of Israel. Sadly, he never achieved this goal. He died on the other side of the Jordan River.

He pleaded with God. “Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan…” God responded harshly, “Enough! Never speak to Me about this matter again.” (Deuteronomy 3)

Our hero’s bucket list remained unfulfilled. It was a simple list. It contained only one item. The reason why Moses is Moses is because he did not ask much for himself. He was all about the mission and little about his own wants. True, he occasionally lost his temper. And this is the stated reason why he is not allowed to enter the land.

I think, however, that his impatience, and anger, are understandable. It’s not like he had an easy job. At the age of 80 he is tasked with leading the difficult, and ever complaining, and occasionally outright rebellious, Israelites through the wilderness. He really did not want the job. God coaxed him. And then it ends up lasting forty years. His frustration is understandable.

One can imagine Moses saying, “I just want to touch the Promised Land with my own hands and feet before I die.” And I am left wondering why God would not grant him this one request.

Then again, I wonder about bucket lists. They are all about personal aspirations. I want to go to Alaska. I want to visit Vietnam. I want to climb Mount Everest. (No, not really.) I want to go sky diving. (Ok, maybe.) I want to complete an Ironman. One day, I want to sail wherever the winds and waves might take me.

Bucket lists are all about what I want, where I want to go and what I want to do. They are about the about the places I want to see, the cultures I find fascinating and the heretofore unimaginable things I might learn doing these things. They are about the people I could possibly meet on my travels and the self-discovery I might achieve. They are about the experiences I hope to achieve.

Bucket lists are about imagining the personal fulfillment we might gain in the allotted years we are granted. If only every one of us were to be blessed with a lifetime of Moses’ 120 years! This is the nature of bucket lists. Each of us writes, and rewrites, these lists. They seem to grow longer with each passing year.

Friends return from their travels and regale us about what they saw and what they experienced and most importantly about where they ate. We take notes. More items are added. The world gets even bigger. Such lists are not bad. Rabbi Hillel reminds us: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself what am I?”

It is just that bucket lists are really more about ourselves than the world.

What if our lists looked more like Moses’? What if the personal ask was only one item long and the rest of the list was about how we are going to help others get to their promised land?

Imagine that. Our personal fulfillment might better be achieved by lifting others up and helping others master their goals.

And I imagine that then the world might seem smaller. And our lives might no longer seem so overwhelming.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

No More Mourning

In 1966, the Israeli author, Shai Agnon, received the Nobel Prize in Literature. When accepting the award, he said:
As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem. In a dream, in a vision of the night, I saw myself standing with my brother-Levites in the Holy Temple, singing with them the songs of David, King of Israel, melodies such as no ear has heard since the day our city was destroyed and its people went into exile…. I was five years old when I wrote my first song. It was out of longing for my father that I wrote it.
The genius and creativity spanning the 2,000 years since that historic catastrophe found its impetus in longing.

It was about dreaming.

Tisha B’Av, which occurs on Sunday, commemorates a number of Jewish tragedies....

Friday, August 2, 2019

Tell the Truth

A brief comment on some ancient, and seemingly out of date, words.

The Torah states: “Moses spoke to the heads of the Israelite tribes, saying, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: when people make vows or take an oath, they shall not break their pledge; they must carry out all that has crossed their lips.’” (Numbers 30)

The rabbis ask, “Why did Moses speak to the heads of the tribes? Why did he direct his words to the leaders and not all the people?”

The Hatam Sofer, a leading 19th century rabbi, responds: “The reason is that it is often leaders who make all types of promises which they don’t keep. Because they often go back on their promises, this warning was aimed specifically at them.”

Such is the teaching that occurred to me when watching this week’s presidential debates.

Such is the response to those who suggest the Torah has nothing to say about our contemporary struggles.

Leaders, especially those who wish to become president, should be the most careful with their words. They should be even more careful than everyone else.

The Torah remains up to date.