Friday, September 15, 2006

Fear (a Pre-Rosh Hashana Primer)


This week's Table Talk is dedicated by Gregg Jackson and family in memory of their beloved grandfather, Teddy Niad for his survival and perseverance through the holocaust, and being a loving father, husband, grandfather , brother and Jew. May his dedication and passion to these be examples and motivation for our family and all who knew him.

To dedicate a future Table Talk, or to make a small contribution to say "thank you" for the weekly message and to support the work of Jewish Spiritual Literacy, please see below.

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There once was a king who had a castle that he wanted to give to his son. But this castle was very special: it was at the center of the kingdom, and everyone saw it as the symbol of the kingship. So the king told the son that he could only live there if he followed certain rules, a certain decorum. The castle could not be used for wild parties or immoral behavior. It had to be a place of dignity and righteousness.

The king even warned his son that if he did not live according to these rules, he would have to leave the castle. And to help him remember the rules, the king added a rule that the prince should study the rules - even a little bit - every day.

Well, the son agreed, but after a few years something changed. One day he was very busy with his princely duties and said to himself, "I know all the rules already, I think I can skip one day of studying so that I can get my work done. After all, I'll pick it up tomorrow."

Can you guess what happened? It felt so good to have that extra time in the day that the next day he made the same excuse and skipped the studying. Soon, after not too many days, he had given up the studying altogether. But he kept telling himself, "that's OK, I know all the rules already".

Over time, someone asked the prince if he would like to hang a certain picture in the castle. He liked the picture and thought it would be nice in the castle, and he forgot that there was a rule against having exactly this kind of picture.

As time went on, little by little, he started to do things in the castle that the king had expressly forbidden. And little by little the castle became a less-dignified place where immoral and unrighteous things were happening.

The king knew what was going on, but he loved his son and wanted to help him stay in the castle. So he sent him a stern message that said: "Your stay in this castle is not a right, it's a privilege. If you don't shape up, you're going to ship out!"

The prince was scared, and for a short time, he thought seriously about his behavior, and for a short time, got seriously back into studying the rules again. But soon the memory of the comfortable times when studying wasn't so important came back to him.

What would you advise this prince? How can he get out of the cycle of laziness, warnings and fear?

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What are you afraid of every day?

Please rank your fears in order of greatest to least:

  • A speeding ticket
  • Global warming
  • Losing money
  • Gaining weight
  • Dying
  • A loved one dying
  • Other ______

Just a month ago or so, many of us were afraid for the future of Israel. It was a terrible time, and the effects are still being felt. The Jews I know in Israel were completely prepared to suffer for a few weeks for the sake of a decisive destruction of the missiles and the ammo supply-route from Syria. That did not happen, they rained rockets with the intent to murder civilians, and Israel was not able to stop them.

And so the people who hate us and want to destroy Israel and the Jewish People are still there with the capacity and desire to hurt us bad. And their blood-brothers across the Euphrates are probably building the capacity to carry out their leader's public wish to destroy the Jews.

What is the spiritual message in all this?

First of all, the world is divided into two kinds of people: those who do good out of fear and those who do good out of love of goodness.

For example, it is a fact that more Israelis have been killed in automobile accidents than all the wars and terror attacks combined. What causes all these accidents? The Citizens for Safe Roads are of the opinion that the primary cause is excessive speed.

However (typically), it was not enough to point to the wisdom gained in America about the benefits of enforcing speed limits. The Israeli government wanted to see an Israeli test. So the Citizens for Safe Roads worked with the police to set up a speed trap on a certain stretch of highway near Tel Aviv.

The fist week, they issued some 2,000 tickets. The second week, it was more like 200.

The lesson? People are most motivated by fear.

Now, please work with me for a minute. Let's pretend you're a parent of children whom you naturally care about very much. And the thing you care about most is that they grow into healthy well-rounded adults of sound judgment. But the world is full of truly harmful things, so you give your children strong guidelines to help them avoid truly destructive behavior, such as walking across the street without looking, drugs and alcohol, and so on.

What do you do when your child starts running into the street without looking?

If he's old enough to know better but too young to reason with, I hope you would give him you give him a very harsh response. If you care about him you certainly will. Something harsh enough to significantly diminish the chance of him doing it again.

I did this with at least one of our children. He was six years old, old enough we felt to cross our residential street on his own, and yet I saw him run across without looking. He got chewed out so strongly that it brought him to tears. And he got the message.

The source of our modern connection to the Land of Israel is the Torah. Besides idolatry, the Promised Land is probably the most prevalent theme. But that same Torah states at least twenty times that our privilege of living in the Land depends upon our behavior. If we behave morally and righteously, we get to stay. If not, we ship out. The Torah in fact mentions specific behaviors that we should cultivate and others that we should avoid. Many of these you can probably guess.

Let's go back to our prince in the castle. His problem is that he is only motivated by fear. The king's problem is that the prince is only motivated by fear. Fear means that as long as there is a perception of danger, then I change my behavior, but if the living is too easy, I easily get lazy.

The only solution to this problem is for the prince to return to the dignified model of princeliness that he was raised with. If he can envision the castle's potential and his own potential for dignity, and if he can cultivate the desire to get closer to the king in heart and mind, then that vision can motivate him to live according to the high standards and avoid the unbefitting behavior.

If he can reach that level in his mind and heart, then the king will have no reason to send his son harsh, threatening, painful messages. The son will have become worthy of his place in the kingdom.

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Rosh Hashana is not about dwelling on my mistakes. It is about envisioning my potential - the kind of person I want to become in five or ten years. I will say more about this next week.

In the meantime, please do this homework:

Write a short paragraph answering one or more of the following questions:

1. What kind of person you would like to be in five or ten years.
2. What are you living for?
3. What would give you more pleasure than anything else in the world?

4. What is missing from your life that you wish you had, or did?

When you finish this exercise, watch this short video on youtube.com and then review what you wrote.

We've all had the wake-up call. The missiles fell, the planet is warming up, etc. etc. Does global warming motivate you to change your behavior? It probably does because you can perceive a direct connection between human behavior and the environment. What about falling missiles? What about anti-Semitism? If you're less sure of the connection, I wouldn't expect you to change your behavior so quickly. But I would expect you to investigate what it means to live as a dignified prince, and to do everything you can to help the entire Jewish People learn what that means.

If you do nothing else for Rosh Hashana, please do this: make a commitment to give ten percent of your income to Jewish education at any level, both locally and in the Land of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.

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5 comments:

julie s. said...

What an excellent paradigm shift--fear verses potential as a catalyst for right living. During this introspective time we now find ourselves in, I have spyed fear as a consistent undercurrent. This discovery has been both exciting and disappointing, in that, it's good to see my "blind spot" and yet--how to erase fear is discouraging. And yet, I have found a key, here, within the text I just read: aim high, stop bowing low.
Thank you!

julie s. said...

What an excellent paradigm shift--fear verses potential-- as a catalyst for right living. During this introspective time we now find ourselves in, I have spied fear as a consistent undercurrent in my own life. This discovery has been both exciting and disappointing, in that, it's good to see my "blind spot" and yet--how to erase fear is not as easy to figure out. And yet, I have found a key, here, within the text I just read: aim high, stop bowing so low.
Thank you!

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