Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Birthday reflections: Hearing what we are supposed to hear, The Rebbe Reb Zisha and (lehavdil) Charles Darwin

So often I speak with patients about how incredibly important it is to not be apathetic, and to consider how everything that comes our way...everything that we are exposed to, hear, see and are touched by is meant to affect us and is guided from above. Birthdays are times of reflection and teshuva (returning back to the main highway of life after unconsciously detouring ourselves). I am now between my two birthdays: My solar birthday was yesterday, and my lunar birthday (19 Tamuz) comes out next week, and I've been thinking alot about all that has come my way, not just in the past year, but throughout my very blessed life. I've reached many conclusions in my rich 59 years. One of the most important ones I constantly think about is that there are no coincidences. It is interesting to note that the word for coincidence in Hebrew is "Mikreh". Yet when we rearrange the letters of mikreh, they also spell "rak me Ha-Shem" that all coincidence are guided by the A-lmighty. The most important response that we must take is to sensitize ourselves, contemplate and learn to understand why what comes our way is significant. By the same token, we need to discriminate, and hear what really is important, while at the same time filtering out the noise which we are not meant to hear, and is not good for us to hear or see, for that matter. The story is told of the holy Master, Reb Zisha of Anipol, who while still a young man, took upon himself the exercise of "exile" or "praven golus" in Yiddish. As the Tomer Devora suggests, by doing this we are able to feel the pain of the Shechina and help bring about the process of the redemption and deliverance. Anyway, while in a strange city, as usual The Rebbe Reb Zisha went to the house of study to sit and learn. Suddenly, in barged a woman screaming, "Where's my husband?" Reb Zisha looked up, and calmly told her to look in the "hekdesh" the communal poor house. The story it turned out was that this woman was an aguna, a halachically "chained" woman, whose husband had disappeared 10 years earlier. Unable to divorce him, and not knowing if he was dead or alive, she was unable to marry anyone else. So she goes to the "hekdesh" and lo and behold there he is! Astounded, the entire community rushes over to seek consultation and blessing from this "hidden" Tzadik (holy man). But Reb Zisha's response was one of surprise with all the excitement. What happened was as follows: That morning, he had had breakfast at the local "kretchmer" (coffee house), and heard two guys at the next table talking about some new guy in town who was staying at the hekdesh (communal poor house). It bothered him all day, why he would hear such a useless bit of information, until when the woman burst into the beis Hamedrash (study hall), he realized why he had heard it: For him it was obvious and simple. But the lesson for us is emormous! ADD is rampant. And especially our children are hyperstimulated by computers and PDA's. I am absolutely convinced that this epidemic of attention deficit disorder comes from a lack of boundaries, not knowing when to stop. When my son was a teenager it was unheard of for him to have his own cell phone (he's now 27). Yet today, it's unheard of for a preteen NOT to have their own cell phone! I believe that this is a terrible mistake. When are we going to say, enough already! When are we going to reclaim our free choice and stop being slaves to technology? I see so many teenagers whose eyes are constantly blinking in nervously, eyeing their PDA's waiting for the next message that they can respond to. This has also fostered an amazing narcisism, lack of patience, and selfishness. I tell you, my friends, that we will reclaim our free choice only when we realize that we have been swallowed up. (Rabbi Nachman uses this imagery of being swallowed up thoughout his stories). It's now much worse than it's ever been, but truth be told, narcissism, insensitivity and apathy go back to the beginning of time, to when Kayin(Cain) answers Ha-Shem when his is asked where his brother Hevel (Abel) is, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Yes, we are our brothers' keepers, we are responsible for each other, and what we do does affect each other. Isn't that the essence of quantum physics? Well mystical Judaism applies this principle to metaphysics as well. This is the principle of "areivus," that we do impact each other and are responsible for each other. This principle is also in stark contrast to the spirit of "Rome" or Western capitalist civilization which can be so callous as to ignore obvious injustice and abuse, as is posited by Darwin in his writings on Natural Selection, that "only the fittest survive." Judaism, on the other hand takes the approach that rather than being descendant from apes, our ancestors were holy people, each generation one closer to our ultimate ancestor--Adam, the first man, who was the handiwork of the A-lmighty. Let us try to always remain focused, to connect the dots that are presented to us and to consider how our actions impact our world.