Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Boston Terrorism

On 9/11, terrorists attacked our national innocence. At the Boston Marathon  two people terrorized and shut down an entire city--they attacked our freedom to pursue all-American activities.  They attacked our way of life and our belief in ourselves. How do we get it back?

The spiritual anthem we sing at sporting events, which is a symbol of the American dream is: God Bless America. Please God, bless our way of life. Bless our pursuit of the American Dream. You, God, gave us our lives, our freedom- and our way of life. You gave us our “selves”-our national and personal identity. God gave us freedom and democracy and when we call upon God to “Bless America” we are asking Him to help give us back our national pride and our personal self esteem. 

So, sports and faith have a lot in common. The common denominator is belief; belief in ourselves-that we can live and enjoy our national pastimes-baseball, football and running for sport or recreation. With faith that God believes in us and our pursuit of good clean, healthy American values we can win back our faith in  the American dream--and in ourselves. God Bless America, indeed.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Self - Part 2

Now that we discussed the importance of a tree’s roots, a second aspect of a tree is its species or type. There are many trees, including, for example, eucalyptus, birch and oak trees. As with different types of trees so, too, there are different personality types; outgoing, warm, shy and generous, etc. If the spine or trunk of the tree gives a tree its strength, what is my strength? What do I stand for? What are my values?
Sometimes even at the time of a  person’s death it is unclear to relatives what the deceased stood for, what their values were. When the unfortunate happens and I have to conduct a funeral I ask the family what they would like me to include in the eulogy. I ask the next of kin to describe the deceased for me and to tell me his or her values.
“What was the theme of his life?” I will ask. “What did she stand for? What is the most important idea or message that he taught you about life? How is the world a better place now because of her life?”
Often the family members give me a puzzled look. “Well,” said one, “My mother loved to play bridge and loved the theatre.”
“That is helpful,” I would say, “but is that what you want me to use in the eulogy? Bridge and theatre?”
“What do you mean by ‘theme’ of her life?” they will ask.
In order to drive the point home I would usually have to say, “What was the legacy that the deceased taught you, that you can now give over to your children? That is a tough question. Or is it?
Isn’t that the question that we should be asking ourselves during the developing stages of our lifetime, rather than only at the end? What contribution am I making to my family, community and ultimately to society? What makes me unique? In essence, what is the special mission that I was put into this world to accomplish? That is an ongoing question which we need to place within our consciousness.
Each person has a special contribution to make to society. Not everyone can discover the vaccine for polio or cure cancer. What, however, is my unique mission or responsibility within my corner of the world? I can and do have an important influence and I do affect the lives of the members of my family, friends and community. My actions have a ripple effect on others. I should not underestimate the significant affect I can and do have on those around me.
In order to figure out what I am doing here, I have to take an inventory of my good qualities and strengths. Write them down. They could include qualities like: caring, compassionate, courageous, friendly and resilient. Based on an honest appraisal of my strengths, set in the context of my personal circumstances, I can begin analyzing what contribution I am expected to make. How can I use my talents and abilities to change my community for the better? How can I make my life count?
Each of us must constantly take stock of our abilities and ask ourselves: am I making the highest and best use of my personality, both in my  personal, family, and community life and in my professional, and business life? Once I am aware of the contribution I can make, then I can begin to become aware that not only do I have value and intrinsic worth just because I “am” but that I am also “competent.” I am a capable individual who can make a difference in the lives of others. This is what is called “making a name for oneself” in the world. This awareness—that I am a capable and competent individual—is the second component of self-esteem.
The third part of a tree is its crown, comprising its branches, leaves, blossoms and fruit.
This is the dynamic part of the tree that visibly changes from season to season. The crown of the individual represents a person’s deeds or actions. The root system, the core of my self-esteem, establishes my value by virtue of just “being” rather than doing or accomplishing. I have worth because I am part of the world and I am a player on the stage of life. I am okay merely because I am here.
Appreciating just “being” and being aware of my independent self-value is the root of my “tree” of life. Secondly, I have a trunk—which means that I have a name by which others identify me by. Being aware that I am a capable individual and that I am competent to provide my unique contribution is symbolized by the type of tree I am-the talents and abilities that give my tree its unique “name” or substance. 
The third, or crowning part of my self-esteem is actually getting out there and doing whatever I’ve decided is my contribution. This is the action part of the self. The part of the tree that is seen by others to be growing or moving are the branches, leaves and fruit—the symbol of the applied self. I am going to apply my self-concept and actualize my potential through pro-actively contributing meaningfully to my relationships, my workplace and my community. So here you can see a complete model of the roots, trunk and branches of the self-esteem tree.

Just before a child learns to crawl forwards, the child can often be seen crawling backwards. “Hey kiddo, you’re going the wrong way.” Just before the child learns to walk, there is often a frustrating period as the child wants to achieve something new but just doesn’t quite have the ability to actualize his or her potential  to get from point A to point B. Then, suddenly there is a breakthrough-a burst of steps—a flurry of activity to leave the security of the couch and to venture out “where no baby has gone before.” The middle of the living room-without holding on!
This model can be applied to personal growth. Immediately before a graduation to the next level of personality growth there is often a period of introspection, reflection, even frustration. I may be stuck on a certain issue or  personality weakness  which I would like to graduate from, or change. I know where I want to get to, but I just can’t imagine getting over this hurdle. Sometimes it is even comforting to stay at my current level because I know it, am “comfortable” with it, and I can get away with functioning at a level short of my potential. After all, greater growth leads to more responsibility. This kind of thinking often leaves one confused, frustrated and in a state of inner turmoil.
The same model can be found in nature. Immediately before the renewing rains of spring there is a blustery, snow-swept winter. Nothing grows. The wind cuts through my coat. I wonder when “all this” is going to end. It is a time of introspection and inner reflection. I contemplate the coming thaw. It is a frustrating time, but it need not be.
If  I “make friends” with the wintry period of my life and accept that this is a “down” time, then I need not fight it. Just like nature needs a time of dormant reflection, so do I. I can remind myself that without winter there can be no spring. Then I can put the “low” period of my spiritual metabolism into the perspective of  the changing seasons. Hang in there, spring is coming. The springtime of my spiritual being is also coming.
This is where character growth comes into play. The winter-or difficult period- was necessary to cause me to reflect upon my life and where it is going. It is necessary that I take a breather and get a perspective on my life and my priorities, just as an artist steps back from his canvas to evaluate the dimensions of his painting. Similarly, I can use the wintry period to step back and take stock of my strengths and weaknesses and “where I can go grow from here.” 

Beyond Self Esteem - Find The Self First

Have you ever wondered how the Japanese Bonsai tree stays so perfectly small? Does the botanist clip the new sprouts every day with a tiny pair of scissors? Guess again. The secret lies in trimming the roots of the Bonsai tree. The crown of the tree matches the root system. Long roots give you a wide crown of branches. Short roots lead to short branches.
Just as roots are the foundation of a tree’s growth, the root of my spiritual center is my self-esteem. If I see myself as a person of value and worth, then this will be reflected in my mindset and attitude. I will be able to approach any challenge with a positive “yes, I can” attitude.
How do I acquire a positive self-image if I have carried a negative self image with me for years? I was never quite good enough in the eyes of my parents, I never achieved that “potential” that my teachers wrote about in my school report cards, my friends really never included me in the “with it” or “in” crowd. How am I going to transform many years of knocks and blows to my self-concept into a self-respecting one?
Let’s delve deeper into our spiritual center to see if we can activate our self-esteem. Get into regression mode.  Write down on a piece of paper the ways which, during your childhood and teenage years people “put you down.”
Now, let’s do a relaxation exercise. Sitting in a comfortable chair or lying on a bed, relax by sending your mind into your toes—now relax the muscles in your neck by massaging your neck from the “inside” with your mind. You do this by breathing in deeply through your nose and  holding that breath for 3 seconds. As your breathe in tense up the muscles in your neck. As you exhale let go of the tension in your neck. Breathe out through your mouth for seven seconds. This is called body breathing. Your neck should feel open, released and relaxed. Your neck should begin to feel light and tingle. This should take about twenty to thirty  seconds. Now move your mind up to your back, breathe in and tense up your back muscles and then exhale and release them. Now do the same for the rest of the muscle  groups in your body-legs,  abdomen, stomach, shoulders, face and even your mind! Tense up your brain and then let go…of your thoughts. Let them float away. Feel a sense of release and relief and relaxation.  This should take a further three minutes.
Now, while in this state of relaxation, take yourself back to the age you were when a particular person “put you down” and imagine that person standing in front of you. Go to that place, the age you were then…be “there.” Now, tell that person what you always wanted to say but never had the opportunity. Try to do it in a calm and even tone. Go on—have a conversation. Say what you always wanted to say but never did. Speak to the individual and set the situation straight.
What would he say in response to you? Say it out loud. Respond to him or her again. By engaging in this “conversation” you will be reliving the experience and you will be able to fix up the emotional pain retroactively.
This is a gestalt therapy technique where you can relive the past and release the emotional pain that has remained locked in your soul. Now, on the count of five, slowly come back to the present. Open your eyes. You have now initiated the process of healing.
Let me share with you a self-esteem exercise which is outlined in detail by Dr. Nathaniel Branden in his book, How to Improve Your Self-Esteem (Bantam Books, New York, 1987). While you are in this “earlier age consciousness,” become aware that those “put down” experiences may have become incorporated into your developing identity and self-concept. By doing so you can get in touch with those negative feelings. You feel the vulnerable child within you. It is called the “inner child”.
Now, come back to your adult self and reach out and give that inner  child or teenager—which is you—only younger, a warm hug. Tell the child or teenager within you that it will be okay. Make friends with the child or teenager in yourself. Embrace the child or teenager as you would care for your own child. Begin to accept that child or teenager as being an earlier version of you.
Accepting or coming to terms with yourself, and realizing that you have intrinsic worth and value, are prerequisites for reprogramming yourself with basic self-esteem. You are valuable just by “being”, as opposed to “doing”. Now, your root system can once again extend into the soil or foundation of your psyche and begin to anchor your identity and self-concept with positive feelings and energy.

Meeting Princess Diana - Part 3

It is not enough to have relationships. We must nurture and grow these relationships. As we think of ways to act towards those around us with a giving nature, then not only will we be developing our character and growing as a person, but we will also become more like God. And, by emulating and acting like God, we will also be developing our relationship with God.
 Our relationship with God is so important that it’s mentioned in the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are divided into two tablets or sections. The first five are:
1. I am the Lord your God
2. Have no other gods before Me
3. Do not take God’s name in vain
4. Observe Shabbat
5. Honor your parents
These first five commandments all deal with the relationship between us and God. When we adhere to these obligations, we come to understand that there are standards expected of us by God. By making these demands upon us, God shows us that He believes that we can raise ourselves up to His standards. It is inspiring to realize that God has such confidence in us that He knows that we can achieve a certain level of Godlike behavior.
With these first five commandments, God empowers us to act properly and with dignity. Once we are elevated to meet God’s expectations, then it is a small step to begin performing the next five commandments, which deal with the relationship between one person and another person, namely:
6. Do not murder
7. Do not commit adultery
8. Do not steal
9. Do not bear false witness
10. Do not be jealous of your neighbor’s possessions  
When we have a relationship with God, we realize that it is not merely out of social convention and fear of the breakdown of society that we refrain from stealing and murdering. It is because God expects this standard of behavior in our interpersonal relationships as well.
Allow me to prove to you, based on the insights of the Maharal of Prague*, that God always intended for our relationships with Him to lead to a proper standard of behavior in our relationships with others. If we line up the Ten Commandments in the two sections of the Ten Commandments  side by side, then we can see that there is a correlation or underlying theme that connects the commandments that are found opposite each other.
1. I am the Lord your God—6. Do not murder
The underlying theme that connects these two commandments is that if we are able to see the “I am God” or the Godliness in other people then we will never come to murder anyone, or even hurt them physically or emotionally. This includes not putting them down and not speaking badly about them to others which comprise the laws of loshon hara-evil speech. If we look for the Godliness or goodliness in the next person then we will be motivated to relate to him or her in a positive fashion. The appellation God is a play on the word Good.
2. Have no other gods before Me.—7. Do not commit adultery
If we act with faithfulness and loyalty to our spouses, which, these days, is no easy task, then we will learn to relate with loyalty, to God. Under the chuppah, the wedding canopy, each of us pledges loyalty to our soul mate. At that moment we could never imagine being unfaithful. But there is a big jump between theoretical emotion and practical day-to-day temptations.
It is amazing how one moment of immediate physical gratification can be allowed to destroy a lifetime of loyalty and bonding. The more we work on our loyalty to our spouses the better we will be able to maintain our faith in God, even when He challenges us with things that we feel we do not deserve. Believing in God is one thing. Living our faith-with faithfulness, and putting our faith into practice is much harder—but it’s very rewarding.
3. Do not take God’s name in vain—8. Do not steal
Swearing in the name of God is an attempt to steal God’s name from His rightful place and to ascribe Godliness somewhere it just doesn’t belong. Even the everyday swearing and cursing that is so prevalent today, even amongst small children, is taking the God-given power of speech and God’s name in vain.
When we belittle ourselves through this type of speech, we are lowering the Godliness in ourselves. This is not a matter of being prudish. It is a matter of maintaining our own dignity and bearing. If we swear at every careless driver, then we are introducing a hostile and unhealthy attitude into our personal environments.
4. Observe Shabbat—9. Do not bear false witness
When we look at the wonders of nature and the amazing order in our lives, we are reminded that we did not create “all this.” We were created and we are not the Creator. True, we are creative, but we are only using the raw materials—brain power and silicon—to create and develop the world. We make things from preexisting things—something from something.
God, however, makes the raw materials themselves; something from nothing. Therefore, He requires us to remember this on a weekly basis by observing Shabbat as the day that He created the universe.
If we rest our creative abilities on Shabbat then we are acknowledging God as the Source of our creative abilities. Therefore, we do not turn on the lights from Friday night at sundown until Saturday at nightfall because turning on a light “creates” a circuit and in order to act as a witness to God’s Creation of the universe we do not perform acts of creativity that show our mastery over the universe on Shabbat. Hence, those who observe Shabbat witness and give testimony to God as the Creator.
5. Honor your parents—10. Do not be jealous of your neighbor’s possessions
Everything we have, including our talents, abilities, color of our hair and our socio-economic condition come from a combination of our genes and our immediate environment. Nature and nurture. Well, that solves the debate right there. Of course we can develop what our parents have bequeathed to us by heredity. But the foundation genes come from a partnership of our parents and God.  Thus, whatever we have has been handpicked for us by a higher authority-God.
Being jealous of our neighbor’s spouse, looks, abilities, Jaguar or new swimming pool is to deny that God has basically handpicked our abilities and socio-economic class to meet our particular challenges. What our neighbor has was handpicked for him to meet his needs and challenges. It is not a matter of our not being allowed to be jealous of our neighbor. Since we have what we need to fulfill our unique destiny and they have what they need to fulfill their unique destiny,  we simply do not have to be jealous of our neighbors. There is no point. We need only to concentrate on our own challenges and develop our skills, abilities and financial status. (Well, don’t just stand there take a course!). But being jealous is a waste of energy that can be better exerted on developing ourselves.

Meeting Princess Diana - Part 2

The job of a King is to rule, legislate and lead the people. But the essence of royalty or kingship, is that the monarch “provides” for and gives to his or her subjects. God, as King, provides us with everything—eyesight, food, oxygen and brainpower, and so on with which we can journey through life. That is why G-d is called the “King of Kings”.  He is the Ultimate Provider-of life itself. In return, we are invited to feel and express gratitude to God.
If you were to make a list of the ten things with which you could not possibly live without—isn’t it true that most or all of the items on your list have been given to us by a Higher Authority? Go on. Write your list. I’ll wait. Isn’t it true that this list is comprised of things that you did not create yourself, rather that came from beyond you.
Now, the next step in the gratitude process is to enter into a dialogue with God.
Me: “Why have You given me all of these wonderful things, God?”
God: “Because I love you.”
Me:  “You have time to think about and provide for tiny, insignificant me?”
God: “You are very significant to me because I created you.”
Me:  “What do You want in return?”
God: “Just say, ‘thank you.’”
Me:  “Thank You.”

Gratitude is the basic building block of any relationship. True, it implies that we are indebted to someone for giving to us. However, in that acknowledgment of indebtedness, a bond—known as a relationship—is created. And God wants a relationship with each of us.
There is a story told of a Chassidic rabbi who was about to blow the shofar (a ram’s horn) on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Everyone in the synagogue readied himself and herself for this solemn moment, for the sounds of the shofar to act as a spiritual alarm clock to wake us up and inspire us to get our act together and to become more active in our spiritual lives.
The rabbi stepped forward, and put the shofar to his lips… then stepped back. He did not sound the shofar. He tried again. He stepped forward and put the shofar to his lips. The people leaned closer in anticipation… but the rabbi stepped back again. He tried one more time but simply could not bring himself to conduct the ceremony.
 “I cannot blow the shofar until our good friend Jacob comes forward and tells us his story.”
Jacob, a six-foot-five, twenty-two-year-old, rabbinical student, stepped forward awkwardly.
“Jacob,” said the Rabbi, “you recently got married to Hannah, is that right?”
“Yes, Rabbi,” answered Jacob shyly.
“I cannot blow the shofar on this holy day until you tell us a very important thing. Tell us, when you speak to your new wife, Hannah, how do you speak to her?”
“Well,” said Jacob, “I am six-feet-five inches tall and my dear wife Hannah is four-feet-eleven inches tall. When I speak to Hannah I have to bend down to speak to her.”
“Don’t leave out the most important part,” pleaded the rabbi. “If you don’t tell us what Hannah does when you bend down to speak to her, then I cannot proceed to blow the shofar.”
The people of the congregation strained and moved closer to hear Jacob’s words. He said: “Since I am so tall and Hannah is so short, when I bend down to speak to Hannah, she stands on her tiptoes to speak to me.”
“That’s it!” cried the Rabbi with delight. “Now I can blow the shofar. When I stepped forward to blow the ram’s horn, I thought to myself… God, like Jacob is so tall. And I, like Hannah, am so small. I couldn’t imagine that God, Who is so big, mighty and omniscient, could possibly care about my small insignificant act of blowing the shofar. Could He actually care about my tiny deeds? And so I could not bring myself to blow the shofar. But then I heard Jacob say that even though he is so tall when he bends down to speak to Hannah, Hannah stands on her tiptoes to speak to Jacob. She may not reach Jacob’s full height, but since she tries and he bends to hear, they connect.”
The rabbi explained, “God is six-foot-five and we are four-feet-eleven. He bends down and is interested in what we do. We are significant to Him. We cannot reach all the way to God, because He is so Great. But all He asks of us is to make an effort. We have to stand on our tiptoes and try to reach Him. If we try to reach up to Him, He will bend down to listen to what we have to say. When I realized this, I decided that I could ‘stand on my tiptoes’ by blowing the shofar.”And he did.
The first step in our relationship with God, then, is to recognize and to acknowledge that God, as King, cares about our actions, deeds, words and even our thoughts. He is the Royal Provider. The next step in the process is to recognize the royalty within us—within you and me. How? By acting like a king. If we act in a regal fashion by providing, caring for, encouraging, in effect “being there” for our spouse, kids, parents, neighbors, friends and community, then we will be acting like God, in His capacity as King or Provider. 

My Meeting with Princess Diana Part 1

When I served as the rabbi of the New West End Synagogue, I lived in London’s West End, in Bayswater, about two hundred yards from Kensington Palace. My children would play in the playground just outside the palace and often the red Royal Airforce helicopter bearing Princess Diana, would land outside the palace, and the princess would get out of the helicopter, wave to us, and then enter the palace. We often heard Diana’s helicopter hovering perilously over our house, late at night,  as she returned to the Palace following an engagement.
Then, it happened. On November 29, 1996, I went into my local barbershop, Lucas’ Hair Salon, on Bayswater Road, to get a haircut. There was a blond teenager getting his hair cut by my Greek Cypriot barber, Lucas, and there was a young woman sitting next to him who looked very much like Diana, the Princess of Wales. I turned to a middle-aged man sitting by the window and whispered,
“Is that the Princess?”
With a shrug of the shoulders, he replied, “I don’t know.” (It turns out that he was her security guard.)
A young woman ran into the shop and said breathlessly to the Princess, “May I have a photograph with you?”
Diana replied, “I would rather not, thank you.”
Then I knew for sure that it was the Princess.
I nodded to the Princess as I sat down on the sofa opposite her and she nodded back.
I mustered up the courage and I said, “I am the rabbi of the local synagogue, around the corner, in St. Petersburgh Place—”
She cut me off in mid-sentence and said: “You mean rabbis can take a half an hour off for a haircut?”
I rose to the occasion and replied, “It seems that even princesses can take half an hour off for a haircut!”
In an amazing “coincidence”, the following night, Motzai Shabbos was to be a gala Cantorial concert in my shul with Cantor Malovany from New York and Chazzan Herstik from Jerusalem.  I had written a letter to Princess Diana  eight months earlier, inviting the Princess to join us at our synagogue for the following night’s cantorial concert, on November 30, 1996, but the Princess wrote back that she was otherwise engaged. I reminded her of this invitation. “But thank you for inviting me,” she said.
Diana had just revealed to the British people her impending problems with her marriage and her personal issues and I said, “Princess, in Hebrew we have a saying, ‘chazak v’ematz—be strong and of good courage.’ I wish the Princess well.”
I got up to get my hair washed and then realized that the teenager in the barber chair next to the Princess, was none other than Prince William, the future King of England. Only his hairdresser knows for sure that Prince William has mousse put in his hair. After my hair wash, I went to sit down in Lucas’ chair, the very barber chair just vacated by Prince William. I thought to myself: I’m sitting in the very same chair as the future King of England! I “vowed” then that I would never wash my trousers again.
That night was Friday night and, after my wife lit the Shabbat candles, I said the traditional kiddush blessings over the wine. Then I turned to my wife and kids and said,
“You’ll never guess who I met today!”
After a few guesses, I told them, “I met the Princess of Wales! In fact I sat in the very same chair as Prince William, the future King of England!” After the excitement died down, I said the following to my young children,
“You know something? He is a king…. and I am also a king! Diana is a queen….and Mommy is also a queen. Look at our Shabbat table-fit for a king and a queen. And you children are the loyal citizens of the realm. We are all dressed in our finest Shabbat clothes. Our finest china and crystal are sparkling on the table in honor of the Shabbat Queen. And, me and Mommy are king and queen of our house, not because we are in charge of the house. The essence of kingship is that a king and queen care for their subjects and provide for their welfare. I, too, am a king and Mommy is a queen, because we look after you children and care for you and provide for you and encourage you and love you. We perform the same role that kings and queens perform for their subjects.
You and I have the capacity to be a king or a queen. The problem is that we often sell ourselves short. As the lyrics of a popular song by the 1980’s pop group, Kansas goes: “All we are is dust in the wind.” No wonder so many people are walking around with a negative self-image. All I am is “dust in the wind”? And that was a top 10 song! Look at what we have been saying, singing and integrating into our cultural view of ourselves: we are worthless!
We have to begin relearning our basic worth and value. By showing care and concern for a spouse, child, neighbor or stranger, I can overcome my personal isolation, distance and loneliness. I can activate feelings of a positive self-image by developing my giving qualities and by being there for someone. That is, I need to rediscover my royal self-my giving self.
If I am feeling down, I have the power to take myself out of my negative mindset by reminding myself of my essential royal nature. There is a regal core lying dormant within my being and all I need do is to activate it by doing one act of giving or kindness—for that is the essence of royalty.
No one else can really pull me out of a state of depression, except me. Energized with this new self-knowledge of my regal essence, I now feel empowered to take control of my own life. I need not blame others for my loneliness and sense of alienation. I cannot blame others for my predicament and I cannot abdicate my responsibility for my own state of mind. I am actually in control of my own mood and can talk myself out of my feelings of alienation and isolation by “digging deep” into my spiritual center and getting in touch with my royal, giving and spiritual core.
 It is a matter of free choice. I can choose to activate feelings of depression or I can choose to activate feelings of worth and value. When I choose to think positively and act upon this realization, I can concretize this feeling of empowerment. I can get myself out of the house and visit someone who is less fortunate than me, deliver a meal to an elderly person or volunteer at the local hospital. I  can make a phone call to a relative who is shut in or ill. Then I will be actualizing my regal giving nature and can look at myself with self-respect and begin to feel positive about my “self.” 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Making a Difference in the World

Parents basically want two things for their children: they want them to be happy, and they want them to be good. All the wealth in the world isn’t worth very much if a person isn’t happy. The same with being a good, decent, moral person — what good is all the money in the world if a person isn’t a decent human being? For parents, good, happy children are the cake; wealth is just the icing. But beyond wealth there is an even sweeter dessert for parents.Imagine the feelings of a parent who could say, “My daughter is such a fine woman, such a good, caring person…and…thanks to her research, babies no longer die of malnutrition in Africa, or, thanks to her, there is now a cure for cancer, or, thanks to her, one thousand children per year from poor homes get to attend summer camps, or, thanks to her, there is peace in Somalia, or thanks to her, there is peace between Israel and the Arabs."
Isn’t it obvious that on the parental-nachas meter, these achievements give a parent a whole different level of pleasure? What is it about these achievements that are so wonderful?
The answer is that beyond being good (which is an enormous and invaluable achievement, one that can’t be undervalued), these people have added to the overall good of the world. They have gone beyond themselves and made a difference for others as well.How can one make a difference and leave a legacy in the world? Here are some strategies and tools:The Hebrew word for power is memshalah. Israelis use the word memshalah to mean “government” or “the seat of power.” “Power,” however, is a loaded word. It has all sorts of negative connotations, connotations that were immortalized in 1887 by the words of the British Lord John Acton when he wrote in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Let’s take another look at politicians, and this time, let’s give them a reasonable benefit of the doubt. People go into politics because they want to make a contribution to their community, their city, or their country. They are well-meaning, idealistic people who want to make a difference. Unfortunately, they don’t always stay that way. What happens to politicians along the way that causes them to jettison the values and principles they started out with? Why is it that the very people who begin careers with the good of others in mind frequently end up being derided for being concerned about little more than themselves? We all know that if our society is cynical about anyone, it’s cynical about politicians.Let me put it another way. If the drive for integrity, the drive to be a good person, is so strong that it trumps the drive for love, then what is it that could possibly trump the drive for integrity? If we look at our hierarchy of hits in a baseball game, the answer becomes clear: Power is a home run, and there is something seductive about home runs. The pleasure of power is so intense that it can seduce even the finest people into compromising what made them such good people in the first place. When Lord Acton said that power corrupts, he was commenting on the seductive allure that power holds.Does this mean that good people should stay away from politics? That would be unfortunate, wouldn’t it? After all, government does have the potential to exert a positive influence on society and to improve people’s lives, so it would be a shame if good people were discouraged from getting involved.Power corrupts because it’s a cheap thrill. Let us illustrate with an example. There are two ways a woman can own a diamond necklace: either she can spend thousands on the real thing, or, if she can’t afford the real thing, she can spend just hundreds and buy a very nice faux diamond necklace. The downside of this kind of jewelry is that it’s not real. The upside is that you get at least some of the pleasure of owning a diamond necklace. Power, at least the corruptive and destructive power we are used to thinking of, is a faux experience. It’s an illusion of something more profound, more real. Real power is creativity. Genuine, authentic creativity is the ability to build, to create something that projects and promotes goodness into the world. Genuine power then is the power to create and build. It’s a power hitter hitting a home run.Imagine you were able to bring peace to the Middle East. What an incredible feeling of accomplishment, what an enormous difference that would make for so many and for the world. What a feeling of creative power that would generate! That is what power does when it is wedded to integrity, morality, and what is good and right. So the power of leaving a legacy in the world is based on principles of integrity. It is not that making your mark in the world is better than integrity; rather, it incorporates integrity and brings it home.But power for power’s sake — that’s destruction. And it is easier to destroy than to build. It’s always easier to create a faux experience, whether it’s faux jewelry, a forged piece of art, or counterfeit dollar bills, than it is to create and earn the real thing.The Jewish view of power is about building and creating with integrity.The Jewish view of memshalah, power, is about building. It’s about using one’s abilities to create and build in the service of one’s morality and integrity. That’s real power, and that’s a highly pleasurable sense of meaning — a real home run, not a virtual home run.
It’s interesting to note that in Judaism, the essence of kingship is not to rule or to legislate, but to be a provider for the nation. That is why we refer to God as the “King of Kings” -- because He is the ultimate provider of life itself. Historically, certainly at the time when the Jewish people actually had a king and throughout most of history since then, a king was little more than a great exploiter -- the polar opposite of the Jewish idea. By and large, kings have taken the resources of others to serve themselves. Only from the time of the French Revolution some 200 years ago was that idea seriously challenged.Judaism asserts that everyone has the power of true memshalah — the ability to make a difference. Think of a person who has had a lasting and positive influence on your life, someone of whom you could say, “Thanks to him or her, my life is much different than it may have been, and in a very good way.” Why not take a moment and write that person a letter or give him a call? Appreciation will give both of you a sense of fulfillment. He has used his power in a creative way to make a difference in your life.
The Torah gives us an insight into how God intended that man make a difference. The Talmud asks why Adam, the first human being, was created alone. At the time of his creation he had no wife, no family, no neighbors — he was a lone human being. The Talmud’s answer is that Adam was created alone so that he would experience looking at the world as an individual and say to himself, “The world was created for me” (Sanhedrin 38a). What do these words mean? A child’s understanding of “The world was created for me” is that it’s all mine and I can do whatever I want with it. In fact, children often think that because a toy is theirs they have the right to neglect and destroy it as they see fit. After all, they say, “You got the toy for me. It’s mine, and I can do whatever I want with it.” Or they feel that they don’t need to share it with their siblings or neighbors because “It’s mine!” An adult, on the other hand, knows that when something is his it means he is responsible for it.
The Jewish understanding is that Adam was created alone so that he would feel the world was his, not to destroy, but to take care of and to safeguard. Adam was given a twofold responsibility in the Garden of Eden, to care for the garden, and to safeguard it from harm: “l’ovda ul’shomra — to work it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15). This means that we are all symbolically “Adam”. Every human being is responsible for the well-being of the entire world. That’s an incredible statement about human potential and human power — the creative kind.