I read that a 55 year old surfer died while surfing Hurricane Irene off of New Smyrna, Florida. He was found face-down, floating. He had hit his head, receiving a large gash, and was later pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. Reading this article, I was reminded of a video that I once saw of a guy that actually made it on one of those hurricane waves in Florida; it is pure adrenaline to even watch something like that, much less ride it. Not that I could ever even consider it… but, there was that one time when I was a kid in California when I decided to take my 6’ 8” self modified pintail-gun out on a day that was way too big for me. You see, surfing becomes ‘kind of’ an addiction, causing a sort of deluded mental hysteria, and the bigger the waves, the more hysteria. Did you ever hear the word, ‘stoke?’ Yeah, that is just a buzzword for ‘adrenaline,’ as it pumps throughout your body, giving you a rush-buzz-stoke or whatever. The more your brain wants it, the easier it is to listen to your ego and deny your soul its opportunity to soar. Yes, the soul definitely responds to the stoke, that is, if the ego doesn’t hog all the glory. Ultimately, the deeper down that the soul gets stuffed by the ego, the easier it becomes for the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) to compel the 3-D’s out of you: Distraction, Distrust, and… Disaster.
Distraction: That day when I was a kid, I checked out the waves and I saw a guy sitting on his surfboard out there in the white caps, beyond the break zone; so, I thought, “If he can do it, then I can too!”
Distrust: Of course, by the time I made it out through the breakers, the guy had just enough time to tell me (while paddling by me on his way back inside during the same lull in the waves) to go back in, that it wasn’t worth it. I, of course, had to see for myself…
Disaster: And he was right. I was trapped out there by the monstrous surf, alone in the universe, freezing in the wind and head-high white caps for about 45 minutes, before I got up the nerve to paddle back between sets, trying to avoid the sharp volcanic rocks on the shore of Rock Pile, my local surf spot.
Disaster (barely) averted: My ego shrunk back to its rightful place, I lost the battle with my Yetzer Hara, but this time, thankfully, I lived to fight it another day...
After a big storm like Hurricane Irene, you always hear about the deaths that occurred. The news agencies seem to count off, state-by-state, all the gruesome details. For instance: Paramedics said that a man was killed outside his home when he was hit by a falling tree limb, a motorist died after driving into standing water and then hitting a tree, a child died when a tree fell on an apartment building, and a man died, as well, when a tree fell on his car. All these stories have one thing in common (besides death of course) — they all involve trees, which (based on the next ‘logical’ step) makes me wonder: ‘Why wasn’t there a Tree of Death in the Garden of Eden?’ I mean, there was a Tree of Life, wasn’t there? There ‘was’ that pesky Tree of the Knowledge between Good and Evil, but that isn’t really ‘death,’ is it?
What is death anyways? We could probably all agree that, whatever it is, it is the end of something ‘finite.’ You know... finite, meaning final, the end, nada, zip, no more of whatever ‘it’ is. We are now finishing up the Jewish year of 5771 as, this week we celebrated the beginning of the last month of the year, Elul. This begins a time of introspection and personal accounting for how we have behaved with each other and with God over the past year. For the New Year (Rosh Hashanah), we celebrate Adam Ha’Rishon’s birthday in the Garden of Eden. Yes, and it is also when God and all His angels will assemble in the Spirit World, up on High, open the Book of Good Life, the book that records how we will be challenged and rewarded in the year to come, and ‘wait for Mankind’ to announce that it is actually Rosh Hashanah in the first place. Yes, this whole ‘life’ business is a partnership between Mankind and God. ‘We’ get to say if it is Rosh Hashanah or not; now, granted, we have a window to work within, but if we declare the new moon did not rise for the beginning of the new month, God has to pack up the whole kit-n-kabutal and return with the angels the following day.
So, since the last year is now coming to an end, a kind of ‘death’ if you will… OK, so you don’t necessarily get it… Let’s just say that it is possible for ‘death’ to be construed to be the ‘end,’ like the ‘end of the year,’ what we are really saying is that there can’t be an ‘end’ without a beginning (or a middle for that matter). Death, therefore, can really ‘only’ be defined by life! I mean, you may be able to have life without death (i.e., the afterlife), but in order to be dead, you have to have life first, no?
Speaking of death… and of trees too, in this week’s parsha, Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9), we learn that, "When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it and to seize it, do not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them, for from it you will eat and you shall not cut it down...” We can derive from this that God is giving us an opportunity to abide by our mutually beneficial contract, our contract of ‘living.’ The sages interpreted this law, called Bal Tashchit, to bring down to us that, ‘We should not waste a resource if we can find a way of accomplishing the same task, but without anything wasted, squandered, or misused. Since God made us partners in His world, we can deduce that He wants us to take responsibility for our end of the deal. God could easily grow the slashed and burned rainforests back, put the depleted ozone back into the air, or replenish the overfished oceans with fish, but He won’t. Part of our task in this world is to respect and appreciate His creation, caring for it along the way, in order that we grow (like children) in a moral and ethically responsible direction.
I have to say that: Advice from God, interpreted into law over 2,000 years ago by our Sages, to care for our world and respect it, is much more reliable that what our slide-show-award-winning-pseudo-scientist-ex-V.P., Al Gore has been saying. I mean, he may have good intensions, but come on... Just go to the source already! There is no need to defend a pseudo-scientific method for political correctness against the principle of tried and true independent peer testing. I mean, without getting too deep into the compost pile here... in his 2006 film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” 15 of his major points have already been shown (by independent peer testing) to be outright false, misleading, or distorted.
What am I trying to say here? Well… it seems that from both sides, we just don’t need all the opinion pandering; it doesn’t help us on any level. We don’t need it anymore than we need the pantheon of environmental extremists, who were lining the streets with their soapboxes before Hurricane Irene, saying that the catastrophic storm was caused by global warming and that it is all (their now deposed hero) President Obama’s fault. All kinds of editorials have floated from the wreckage after the storm blaming everyone else for everything — Republicans, Democrats, big business, big government, economic doomsayers, and climate alarmists, one-and-all. This is way beyond bipartisanship in the buff. This is pure chaos. But, what I am having difficulty understanding is, “Why all the fuss?!” We already know what we are supposed to be doing. Just look it up in the world’s number one best seller already!
King Solomon put it nicely in his book of Proverbs (3:18), when he wrote, “It (the Torah) is a tree of life unto those who grasp hold of it.” OK, so how do you grasp hold of the Tree of Life? This is the real question, as even Adam Ha’Rishon couldn’t manage it, way back in the Garden. The Sages tell us that, after Adam was born on Friday afternoon (yes, Rosh Hashanah), if he were to have waited until the evening of Shabbat, and then partook of the Tree of Life before he partook of the Tree of the Knowledge between Good and Evil, he would have lived forever, communing with God in the Garden, in Paradise. So, why did he do it? Another quote from Proverbs (14:8) may help to explain it: “A clever wise person will understand his way.” This quote relates back to the Yetzer Hara, which has just one mission within finite reality; to guide a person’s hand over the self-destruct button and either to encourage each of us to push it or to stick out a friendly foot for us to trip on. So, it is not enough to be ‘wise,’ but one needs to be clever as well. We have to see beyond the normal or expected. We have to see beyond the obvious and the hidden as well. We have to know that the Yetzer Hara will tempt us with what ‘exactly’ matches ‘our’ specific weakness.
Adam Ha’Rishon wanted to be closer to God. He wanted to do it of his own free accord, not with the 50/50 chance of success that God thought Adam could handle. Adam wanted to tip the scale, to start behind the designated start-line, to be the first Ba’al Tchuva, the first to return to the Creator; but, this action, we can see, was driven by pure ego and the Yetzer Hara saw its opportunity and struck.
As the world gets more churned and the edges begin to blur, we can see that it will become more and more difficult to find our way through the muck and confusion. Opinions will become so righteous, that there will be little possibility to listen, much less hear the other side. We can plainly see this phenomenon in politics (as per the Left / Right schism that is driving us all into the ground between them), but we can also see it spilling over into other human endeavors; endeavors such as science (as per the Al Gore’isms above), art (this one will need another blog or two to explain the ‘Pre Mashiach Post Modernist’ movement we are experiencing throughout our collective cultures), sport (as per our story of the unfortunate surfer above and his struggle with the Yetzer Hara – and by the way, also the lunatic ranting and violence that has been pervading the world’s sports arenas), and philosophy (as per the asymmetrical, irrational, intelligent and ‘not-so intelligent’ ranting of the likes of everyone ‘Intelligentsia’ from Richard Dawkins to Steven Hawking. As we plot our course through it all, influencing the fallout and being influenced by it, let’s make sure we pay attention to the inner voices that are with us always and remember what drives them.
Maybe some 3-D logic is in order here:
“Each of us has deficiencies, but as a whole we are complete. Each one is perfected by his fellow, until we make a perfect whole.” ~ Chabbad Rabbi, Tzvi Freeman
Our deficiency is ‘Distraction.’
“The main thing is not learning, but action.” ~ Ethics or the Fathers (1:17)
Our inability to do something, without ‘knowing’ the outcome is our ‘Distrust…’
"God said to Cain, 'Why are you so furious? Why are you depressed? If you do good, will there not be special privilege? And if you don’t do good, sin is crouching at the door. It lusts after you, but you can dominate it.'" ~ Genesis (4: 6-7)
Our inevitable succumbing, to one extent or another, to the Yetzer Hara is our ‘Disaster…’
May we all beware the Yetzer Hara, as it attempts to distract us from our (Elul) soul searching, with distrust and egoism, only to invite disaster and mayhem, as we argue amongst ourselves about which road to take before we slam into the wall of finite reality and the ‘end’ of our ability to choose, to act, or to move at all...
May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Good Life!