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Archive for April, 2011


I’ve had the pleasure in recent weeks of doing a lot of reading about Albert Einstein. He has always been one of my foremost Jewish heroes, and learning more about his life and words has only emboldened this sentiment.

One of the common refrains in his writings is the importance of striving for a life of humility, curiosity and wonder. It is, I think, such an inspiring recipe for meaning!

Here is how Einstein would answer these age-old questions:

How Do You Stay Young?

In a letter to Otto Juliusburger, in 1942, Einstein wrote: “People like you and I, though mortal of course, like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live. What I mean is that we never cease to stand like curious children before the great Mystery into which we were born.”

How Do You “Succeed”?

From a letter to Mein Weltbild in 1934: “The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.”

What Really Matters?

In an address in 1936: “The aim [of education] must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, see in the service to the community their highest life problem.”

***

I had the pleasure — and at times Not So Much Pleasure – of thinking a great deal about these big Life Questions a few months ago, during a long hospital stay with my pregnancy. For five weeks, I shuffled up and down the maternity ward of Bryn Mawr Hospital, contemplating the little life that was overly anxious to come into this world.

What would I say at my son’s bris, if I could dare plan so far ahead? What kind of world was I bringing him into, anyway?

What was, without doubt, one of the most trying experiences of my life also gave me an awesome opportunity — the opportunity to see just how many other people in my religious community obviously embrace Einstein’s values. These were people who extended themselves, adding to their own burden in order to ease mine. People who saw “service to the community” as one of their highest life values. This service came in so many ways: cards and phone calls, food deliveries and babysitting offers. I could try to recount them all, but with a healthy little newborn in my lap, I blessedly don’t have the time.

In a day and age when synagogue and church membership rolls are lagging, it is experiences like this that remind me of just why it is we create these institutions to begin with. We create them to stay connected.

The Chasidic sage Rabbi Levi Yithak of Bereditchev once said that: “Whether a person really loves God can be determined by the love that person shares with other people.”

What you or I or anyone thinks when we hear that word “God” doesn’t, to me, really matter. What matters is that by linking our lives with each other, we transcend our finite existence and become closer to liberation from the self. The lovingkindness so many people demonstrated to me in the past three months has helped me do that, and for that, I am grateful.

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When I was 23, I had a newsroom job that started at 6:30 a.m. Not being a morning person, this was my idea of getting ready in the morning:

  • Set the alarm for 15 minutes before I have to leave the house.
  • After the alarm goes off, jump out of bed, spend 7 minutes in the shower, wring my hair with a towel, and throw on some clothes.
  • Feed the cats, throw a frozen dinner in a plastic grocery bag, and head out the door.
  • Upon walking into work, head for the bathroom, where I put on eyeliner and run a comb through my hair, which had dried on the car ride over.
  • Two hours later, when the first work deadline has passed, take a break and eat the frozen dinner I had packed for breakfast.

I couldn’t believe those shlub coworkers of mine, with their crazy stories of waking up at 5 or even 4:30 in the morning to get to work on time. How could it possibly take that long to get ready in the morning!? I wondered. How could they give up on those precious extra minutes of morning sleep?

Twenty years later, let’s just say, I have a different perspective. I have become one of those shlubs who spends an hour getting ready in the morning, although not — I confess — because I’ve developed some higher standard of personal hygiene or concern for my outward appearance. And I still can’t be bothered with breakfast. 

Now I take that long to get ready in the morning because, like the Tin Man on Wizard of Oz, I just can’t convince my middle-aged body that it actually wants to move.

This is what my morning routine looks like now:

  • The night before I am expected to be somewhere by a certain time, concoct some reason why I can’t make it at that hour, and move it to an hour later.
  • Set the alarm for 60 minutes before I have to leave the house.
  • After the alarm goes off, spend the next 20 minutes hitting the “snooze” button. Each time it goes off, scream F*#k! in my head and slam the button down again.
  • Four snoozes later, trudge into the shower. Start out standing, but after a few minutes feel too tired to stand, so sit down in the shower. After several minutes of being pelted in the face, switch to the bath faucet, and spend 20 minutes soaking in the tub, thinking F*#k! Do I really have to go somewhere? Wring hair with a towel, throw on some clothes.
  • Amble into the kitchen, glare at my husband — just because the poor guy happens to be there — and plop down at the kitchen table. Kick the cat that walks over, meowing for food, and spend 20 minutes sipping highly caffeinated tea, thinking F*#k, if I don’t leave in 10 … 9 … 8 minutes, I’m going to be late.
  • Go back to the bathroom, put on some eyeliner, grab my purse and go out the door.

The sages taught that each Jew should try to say at least 100 brachot (blessings) a day. Our traditional prayerbook offers some beautiful ones to start out the day, known as “Birchot Hashachar.” The blessings offer thanks to a benevolent God for such things as opening the eyes of the blind, freeing the captive, and clothing the naked.

Those are mighty ambitious sentiments for any time before 11 a.m., me thinks.

My birchot hashachar — my morning blessings — are a bit more modest. If, for example, I can get from the bed to the kitchen table without thinking the word “F*#k!” one single time — I’m actually doing pretty damn good ~er, I mean darn.

Can an absence of profanity count as a bracha?

I’d like to suggest Yes.

On other good days, I might actually think a positive thought in that first hour of my waking. Something like: “Wow, the sun is out, and I don’t, for once, wish with every fiber of my being that I were waking up in Miami. Maybe Smelly-delphia isn’t a total hellhole after all!”

Can an absence of despair count as a statement of gratitude?

I like to think so.

Then, on my most best, golden ticket days, my morning Grouch turns into a bona fide innocuous human being. You know, one of those basically pleasant people who doesn’t glare at her husband and kick her cat, and otherwise wishes she were dead in that first painful hour of the day. On these days, I’ve been known to actually hug the said husband and feed the said cat.

Can an absence of jerkdom count as an act of virtuousness?

I like to hope so.

Blessed are you Adonai, creator of the universe, who has enabled me to start the day like a reasonable human being.  

Amen. Selah.

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