5771 – Re’eh — “There is No Overtime”

03/09/2011 at 21:40 Leave a comment

“There is No Overtime”

 

Parashat Re’eh

Neil F. Blumofe

27 August 2011

 

When do we know enough is enough?  Throughout our lives, many of us establish goals that may shift a bit over the years, yet act to keep us engaged and on track to work towards specific things.  What happens when we can no longer apply ourselves to work towards these goals?  Even if we have gained much accomplishment, our premature retirement due to health or changed circumstances or other factors is bittersweet at best and life crushing at worst.  We may not be ready.  How do we prepare for such a thing?

 

This week, amid many of the larger stories that have held our attention, are two stories about two lives that seem lifted out of the pages of this week’s Torah portion.  The first is about Pat Summitt, the University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach, who holds the NCAA record for most wins in any sport, men’s or women’s.  She has revealed this week that at age 59, she has been diagnosed with early onset dementia — Alzheimer’s disease, and while she suffers memory loss from time to time, will continue in her position as head coach of the team she hopes, for another three years – a position that she has already held for 38 years.

 

Also, the world certainly took notice this week as Steve Jobs, 56, the visionary behind Apple, announced his immediate resignation from the company that he founded – having people speculate if his health is failing – knowing that he has suffered from pancreatic cancer and underwent a liver transplant in 2009.  In his letter of resignation, Jobs wrote, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know.  Unfortunately, that day has come.”

 

These are two examples of leaders in their field, who have encountered life-threatening illness that now block them from their career and their craft.  Already highly accomplished, this sobering reality of diminished function unalterably changes their life – reminding all of us that if we don’t have our health, then everything else suffers.

 

Ultimately, we do not know the true measure of another – and we can only speculate on what motivations keep people alive.  We consider how people compensate and compromise to remain active and vital.  We conjecture about the rationale people use to convince themselves of things and to continue to act, even when apparent that their time, perhaps tragically, has come to and end.

 

These are the themes that we are encouraged to bear in mind in this season — our own mortality, how our circumstances can change in a flash, and how nothing compensates for our physical and spiritual wellbeing.  Ultimately, we may find ourselves alone, possibly taken care of by trained staff, or aided by a tight circle of family or friends.  In our Torah portions, we listen as Moses, on the brink of his contemporary obsolescence, retraces his story for the gathered tribes and in the greatest miracle of all, he tells his story also for us to hear, so we can learn and apply his hard earned lessons to our life as well.

 

In hearing the words of Torah, we hear Moses’ fear and trepidation, we hear too, his tendency to repeat himself and to add new details to an already established narrative.  We hear too, how he picks a successor, Joshua, to lead the people, which will insure that the ideas and inspirations of Moses remain a part of the unfolding strategic plan.

 

As John Wooden, a revered men’s basketball coach at UCLA, who won 10 national championships in a 12 year period in the 1960’s and 70’s, said, “things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out,” and as our Torah teaches us this week, v’achalta lifnei haShem elokecha bamakom asher yivchar l’shakein sh’mo sham…l’ma’an tilmad l’yir’ah et haShem elokecha kol hayamim – and you shall eat before haShem, your God, in the place that God will choose to rest God’s name, so that you will learn to have reverence for God, your God, all of the days.

 

There is no magic potion that will convince us to have yirat shamayim, or reverence for God.  Even a bolt out of the blue, a health scare, may not bring about a change of our attitude as it may inhibit us and force us to change our ways.  We do not get a bonus round, or an over time.  As Rabbi Simcha Bunim, an incredibly insightful and creative Hasidic leader in the 18th and 19th centuries, taught on this verse – yirat shamayim is just one step in self-awareness and thus, self-improvement.  The most important thing is tilmad, you shall learn, in the days that you have – it is learning that will see us through – through learning from our experiences and our mistakes, we will realize that the entire world is filled with the radiance of God and that every thing, no matter how much we consider it to be a setback, has a spark of the Divine contained within.

 

We know that sometimes in our life, it seems that our priorities are not duly honored.  We cannot know the plan that God is on, or if there is a plan in the first place, or why certain things happen to us that seem unjust, or cause us pain, and sadness.  So, taking a page from the Rebbe, Simcha Bunim, what can we learn from Pat Summitt and Steve Jobs this week – I am not asking if each did the right thing in how they are handling their health challenges – let us apply their stories to our timeless story of Moses, who will be back in this situation exactly again, next year.  How will we have changed?  How will we have lived our lives that will bring us a better sense of how we are connected – and will also bring us composure, even in the face of the most trying circumstances?

 

It is not the blessing and it is not the curse – it is the learning that we do everyday that compels us not to say, “is this all there is”, or, “I’m not finished” – rather our lesson is to appreciate what we have in this moment and to express ourselves with all of our might, with gratitude and appreciation, certainly for our past triumphs, but more so, for how we have even unwittingly influenced and changed those who will follow us after the time that we pass from this stage, and God willing, learn from what we have patiently and skillfully modeled and taught.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

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5771 – Ekev — “Reward and Punishment” 5771 – Shoftim — “A Civilized Disobedience”

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