I've got to give it up
I have got to give it up
Tell my mama go and tell my pa
That their fine young son didn't get any far
He made it to the end of a bottle
Sitting in a sleazy bar
- “Give It Up”, Thin Lizzy (Black Rose, 1979)
Words lack the power to convey certain experiences and emotions. Sometimes, in order to fully understand certain things, one just has to experience them. But I only have words to convey such a thing, so words are what I’ll use.
There I was, doing what I do everyday. A little more garlic, a little less salt, some oil, there we go. Rub the meat, put in the oven, prep salads, take roast out, yadda yadda. But I wasn’t really there. My arms, hands and feet were moving, doing what they’ve learned to do a thousand times, but my brain was somewhere else. I was deeply engrossed in the music coming out of the speakers, taking in each note, each little detail of the guitar, the bass, the piano, the saxophone, the drums, the bongos. Maybe only a third generation melo-maniac from birth can understand how people get so involved with music. But that’s just the way it is, and today was no different. It’s like you’re on a totally different planet, you put your body on auto-pilot and you just soar with the music. That’s when it hit me.
Totally indescribable, like a flash of light, so bright, so penetrating - sharper than a razor blade, faster than lightning. The realization just hits you, truth stares you in the face in a way you can’t escape. As if you were taking a tranquil stroll in a quiet forest, on the banks of a sweet river, taking in the view, drinking beauty with your eyes. Out of nowhere, a train comes and hits you at 475mph, but you live on as it takes you with it and you can’t escape. That’s how I felt. “What are you doing? What the hell are you doing here? Which part of “בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ” don’t you understand? Which part of “וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--עַל-לְבָבֶךָ... וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם, בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ, וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ. ”don’t you understand? Don’t you know that you’re here for a different purpose? You know full and well that you’ll have to give full account of your every minute and second and breath! You full and well know that you were put in charge of a bronco to break in, a stallion to tame, a bull to ride. These are not just cute words – this is reality. “Not ossur” won’t fly! “Permissible by halocha” won’t fly. Of course it’s not easy. Of course it is not pleasant. Of course it costs blood sweat and tears. But that’s what you’re here for. The abundance and ease ubiquitous today are at the same time obstacles and aids in achieving this goal. Don’t you realize that a time is coming when you will be told “put down pen and paper – the test is over!” and you’ll have to answer to the King Of Kings, the Creator Of The Universe for every millisecond, every thought and every breath in your life? Do you think you’ll have it easy then?”
These thoughts were not articulated in words, as usual when one thinks. It was just a sudden, deep realization of these truths that struck without a warning.
It occurred to me that overabundance and excessive well-being are inherently intertwined not only with rebellion against a Higher Authority, but also with baseless hatred.
It took eight spies to carry one bunch of grapes, and one spy had to carry a fig which he couldn’t possibly consume alone. They came to a dire realization: in order to be able to succeed in this prosperity, tremendous unity is required: each will have to yield his leadership to carry the burden with his equals. And sometimes one will have to toil to share his earnings with others. Nope. Too hard, too dangerous. It won’t work – they reasoned. Let’s just get back to the Mann, of which each one had to gather an עֹמֶר לַגֻּלְגֹּלֶת – one "omer" measure per skull. Huh? Skull? Not per 'man', or per 'soul' but per skull? Why skull for heaven’s sake? Perhaps skull is the barest, most exclusively descriptive of ‘self’, the bare individual. A 'man' or a 'soul' has many dependents, and can often be understood in a context of family, clan, or plural (a group). But skull is very individual, not shared. Perhaps in the desert, when they were closely monitored and pampered by the Master Of The Universe, the accent wasn’t so much on unity, or it came natural. Food was but a “necessary evil”, (perhaps at the level of what excretion is today) in a world of spirituality, sacrifices, Torah straight from Moshe and a quasi-supernatural intimacy with the Creator.
Maybe that is what the spies didn’t get. That spiritual unity in a world of material abundance is achievable – and required. Perhaps overcoming our addiction to luxuries, delicacies and comfort goes hand in hand with unity. It is possible that one helps the other. Maybe if we fight our addictions and exigencies for more and more we can be more united – and maybe if we’re more united it is easier to give up some our addictions to entertainment, leisure etc.
This addiction to well-being and constantly wanting more and more is very instrumental not only in breeding selfishness and taking life’s boons for granted, but it also numbs the senses to uncomfortable truths. We are so afraid to give up the slightest pleasure, we’re so unwilling to sacrifice the smallest thing that we rather ignore all the turmoil brewing all around us. The world markets, the worldwide rise of Islam, Terrorism, the rise of Communism in South and Central America and the far East, a radical Shintoist revival in Japan are but a few warning signs written on the wall.
Will we march to our deaths again? Will we have to see out babies burned again? Well, in Israel it happens almost daily – and the most frightening, tragic and appalling thing is that they have gotten used to it. Another attack, another day. And it started here too, on a smaller scale. Of course, there is no empirical proofs that the shootings at LAX airport, the Seattle JCC shootings, the Salt Lake City mall shootings, the SUV’s driving into people on several occasions have anything to do with terrorism. Or that the government is willfully turning a blind eye to the problem.
It is late, but not too late yet to prepare for the worst of the worst and try to prevent it. But for that we must wake up, put aside our favorite luxuries, leisures and differences before it is too late. I know I can’t scare you enough with horror stories from the Shoah or the terrorists. I know that the loss of your life and your children’s lives doesn’t impress you. So I must tell you something even more terrible, even more horrible, even more shocking – you may just lose your comfy lifestyle, the cozy home, the cool car, and most of all, your favorite hobby of your fellow Jew. A major WWIII doesn’t even has to happen for that – a little shake from China, a little rocking from South America and bammm – there comes the recession, there comes overt anti-Semitism, there goes your job, your car, your home.
Tshuva doesn’t just mean a stern face and harder shockeling while davening. It is meant to be a deeper, long lasting meaningful impact on your life. And it is crucial in bein odom lechaveiro too.
This house is on fire –wake up.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
I've got to give it up