CAN’T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

It’s carob time again! Come Tu B’Shvat, congregants, Hebrew School students and those who attend Jewish Day Schools prepare themselves perennially to hear all about their “raisin” d’etre.

Perhaps it’s time to branch out, and leave the almonds, figs, and dates alone and look to the trees for a different source of nourishment. Perhaps its time for the trees to whet our appetite for everyday living.

It was the French philosopher, mystic and political activist Simone Weil who taught us: “Whoever is uprooted himself, uproots others; whoever is rooted himself doesn’t uproot others.” Have you ever wondered why with but one exception throughout our  history, we Jews do not seek to persuade non-Jews to see the light and embrace Judaism? Can it be that that our religious leaders have been so well rooted in the religion they represent, that it never occurs to them to try to get those of a different faith to see the light? Conversely, have you ever wondered why over the ages, Church leadership, particularly in Europe, went to such great lengths to get Jews to abandon and forsake Old Israel and embrace Christianity? Were they really that concerned in saving Jewish souls or perhaps subconsciously, they themselves were anything but firmly rooted in their own faith?

In my talk this past Shabbat, I spoke about how I “played hooky” the previous Monday morning  and traveled to Hunt County with Sue Kretchman. Our mission was to visit a nonagenarian who, as a teenager in Germany, was part of the Kinder Transport. Truth be told, my ego got the better part of me, as we set out. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t repress feelings of self-righteousness. After all, I reasoned, how many other Dallas rabbis would go out on a limb and  visit someone they had never met, who had no connection whatsoever to their synagogue? On the way back from a most delightful, eye-opening, unforgettable visit,  I realized that it was not I who went out on a limb, but the countless, remarkable, selfless strangers first in Holland and then in England who went out on a limb for Jewish children escaping Nazis. These strangers were part of a godly group who dared to refuse to succumb to the Machiavellian machinations  of the Third Reich. Amidst the many trees at Yad VaShem in Jerusalem, where the Six Million are immortalized, there is the Avenue of the Righteous, a walkway where tribute and honor are bestowed upon those who saved Jewish lives. Given the many trees, I cannot help but feel that that section of Yad Vashem ought to be referred to as “Our undying gratitude to those who went out on a limb.”

If there was one thing in common shared by our prophets in the Tana’ch, it was their inability to see the greater picture. Moshe (yes, Moses is considered a prophet) saw a burning bush. Amos HaNavi or the prophet Amos saw a plumb line. Yirmiyahu HaNavi or the prophet Jeremiah saw the staff of an almond tree. None of them could see the mission that they were about to be sent on. Being able to see the bigger picture is a rare gift among humans. All too often, one small item catches the human eye, blinding that person to the bigger picture.  Adam and Eve were so focused  on the one tree that was off limits to them, that they lost sight of the lush forest full of trees bearing luscious fruits that were theirs for the taking.

As one who spends hundreds of dollars each year planting trees in Israel, I have every reason to believe that in addition to trees and fruit, the message of Tu B’Shvat ought to go far deeper. Aside from indulging in figs and prunes as well as all other fruit associated with Israel, in addition to planting trees in Israel, I ask that you see Tu B’Shvat as a harbinger of codes to live by. As we are asked to focus on trees, I ask that you bear in mind that those who are firmly rooted will not uproot others and that those who are uprooted will try to uproot others. I ask that you recall how indebted we ought to be to those who went out on limb for us. Above all, I ask that you never forget the price that is paid, when one can’t see the forest for the trees.

A meaningful Tu B’Shvat to all!

METAL FATIGUE

The Talmud tells us Rabbi Akiva was pretty much illiterate until the age of forty. Earning a meager living as a shepherd, he passed by a well and noticed a carved stone. He asked who carved this stone, and they told him that it was the water that constantly dripped on it. From this, he said: “if water was able to carve this stone, words of Torah could surely reshape my heart.”

I thought about Rabbi Akiva’s deduction last week, as I read about the tragic mishap involving Southwest, Flight 1380 bound for Love Field from LaGuardia Airport in New York. If metal which knows neither birth nor death is vulnerable to fatigue, how much more so is a mere mortal whose life begins at birth and ends at death, vulnerable to fatigue.

“I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you’re not patriotic. We should stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration” said a contender for the office of President a decade and a half ago. A clinical psychologist, I’m not. I dare say however, that this aspirant for the White House was exhibiting “motile fatigue”. The frenetic pace of campaigning notwithstanding, candidates for president are plagued by disbelief (“for the life of me I can’t believe why everyone is fawning over my opponent. I’m superior in every way!”), anger (“it’s simply not fair”) and dread (“there’s no way I’m going back to Nebraska! They aren’t going to vote for me anyway”). Moshe Rabbeinu demonstrated signs of “motile fatigue” when, in exasperation he exclaimed: “How can I myself alone bear your problems, and your burden, and your strife?”

Despite his mother’s cajoling, Xavier refused to get out of bed and get ready for school. Xavier had good reason. The students made fun of him; the teachers talked behind his back. Xavier’s mother was adamant. Her son had no say in the matter. After all he was the principal! Xavier was exhibiting symptoms of “mettle fatigue”.   Xavier simply lacked the mettle – the fortitude to confront his job as well as the courage – to confront the teachers and students and demand the respect that came with the office of principal. When Moshe Rabbeinu fell on his face when his leadership was being contested by Korach, he too was showing signs of “mettle fatigue.”

“Hard work never killed anybody” is a quote attributed to the renowned ventriloquist Edgar Bergan. Mr. Bergan followed up by asking: “But why take a chance?” What Mr. Bergan should have said was “Hard work never killed anyone, but in addition to physical fatigue, it can also cause ‘mental fatigue’”. There was a certain irony in the life of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe began his career by confronting “mental fatigue”. The Torah tells us that the Israelites did not pay Moses any heed. They were victims of hard labor. They were also mentally exhausted.

Moshe ended his career confronting his own mental fatigue. His eyes had not dimmed, and his vitality had not diminished. Physically, Moshe was in excellent shape; mentally, Moshe was totally exhausted.

Motile fatigue is caused by oneself. Occurrences and situations that leave most others unfazed, cause those susceptible to become “sick and tired” purely through perception, attitude, fear or just because.  Mettle fatigue is caused by others. Those who suffer because of the behavior, comportment or attitudes of others are so worn down, that they lack the mettle to confront or stand up for their rights. Mental fatigue is when hard work, drudgery or demanding schedules with little or no reward or recognition finally overwhelms the individual.

Our prayers go out to the family of Jennifer Riordan, the only casualty aboard Southwest flight 1380. Our best wishes go out to the seven injured. Our admiration goes out pilot Tammie Jo Shults and crew. Our hope is that the NTSB succeeds in its investigation of what went wrong. Whether or not it finds that metal fatigue was the cause, we now have a better understanding of other types of fatigue that affect our lives on a daily basis.