The Right To Repair

imagesOblivious to her surroundings (a crowded boarding area in the Philly airport), the woman seated across from me loudly informed her husband in clear and unmistakable terms, exactly what she expected from him. “Your job is to make me happy.” “Your only job,” she continued, adding a little oomph for emphasis “is to make me happy. It is not my job to make you happy.”

Judging by the blank look on the husband’s non-reactive face and his utter lack of acknowledgement that she was even speaking to him, I gathered this was not a newsflash. By the looks of their worn-out elderly faces, I imagined he had heard this directive hundreds of times, probably for decades.

With the hundreds of commandments given to us in the Torah that seemingly regulate our every move – in order to serve God – one could conclude that God’s essential message to the Jewish could sound like the wife in the airport. “Listen up people. Your job is to make Me happy. Your only job is to make Me happy. It is not My job to make you happy.” One could kinda get that feeling – right? It’s not that much of a stretch. But it would be wrong.

Previously in the story-line, we did the sin of the Golden Calf (not good). But then we were forgiven and we faithfully built the Tabernacle (good), which became the vehicle for the Divine Presence of God to connect with the Jewish people (really good). But now, in this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, God is instructing Moses about the sacrificial offerings that the Jewish people will have to bring to atone for their sins – their future sins. The ones they haven’t committed – yet.

Wait a minute. This seems rather dis-affirming, doesn’t it? Imagine getting married and before you even check into your hotel on your honeymoon, you have to sit down for a lecture on conflict resolution, fair fighting and how to appease your spouse?

Things were just getting back on track with God. Couldn’t we, as the Jewish people, just relax and enjoy our honeymoon a little while before being told about how we should atone for our sins – our future sins, that is? Does God really have to rub in the fact that making mistakes is inevitable? Did God really have to ruin the moment of reunification with this “buzz-kill”?

By repairing our relationship with God, we will repair our relationship with everyone and everything around us.

Here comes the simple truth. You – and every other person on the planet – make mistakes, and you will continue to make mistakes until you are either dead, or you lack capacity. Making mistakes is simply wired into the very mechanism of creation.

 So here’s another simple truth. You “make” mistakes; however, you yourself are not the mistake. And that’s what Tzav is all about – where God is laying was out the process of growth, and teaching us about the “right of repair”. Marriage expert, John Gottman, often talks about how a key factor in protecting marriages against divorce is for couples to learn the art of the repair attempt, because it stops negativity from escalating, and it corrects a couple from heading off course.

So too, the laws of the sacrifices gave us a way to process mistakes, to correct and rectify ourselves so that we could repair and restore our connection with God. We needed to know that from the onset, or else we could get lost in self-condemnation, blame and shame. Otherwise we could hyper-focus on our mistakes, and think we are beyond repair, which leads to disconnection. Or we could focus our anger outwards and get caught in a downward negativity spiral.

And that kind of truth, that amazing gift, can’t wait to be told. God was telling us something about fundamental human nature and relationships. We needed to understand that we are not perfect and that we will certainly make mistakes – but the relationship will endure nevertheless! We need to be able to take risks, to be vulnerable and to be authentic; otherwise we can become paralyzed by the constraints of perfectionism, which is a life-crippling syndrome.

In this week’s Torah portion, God also instructs us to keep lit an eternal flame. Providing the means to process and metabolize and move through our errors is the vehicle for growth, and it frees us to maintain our connection with that which is eternal – our connection to G-d and to our own inner flame.

What God is really telling us, is that our job, our only job is to connect with God, and in so doing, we will be connected with our truest, deepest selves. Appreciating the critical difference between making a mistake and being a mistake, and utilizing the “right of repair” will help get you back on track with keeping lit the eternal flame of your soul, and living into your life’s true mission.


Can You Hear The Voice Of God?

imagesExcept for seeing the Harlem Globetrotters when I was a kid (and I’m not sure that counts), I have only been to one professional basketball game in my life. I have, on the other hand, never missed a home game of my daughter’s basketball team.

Here’s what I noticed. In the professional game, when a player from the visiting team was making foul shots, lights were flashing throughout the stadium instructing the fans to boo, and making a pandemonium to try to distract the player from being able to concentrate. When my daughter’s team plays, on the other hand, they know that there is no sportsmanship in trying to throw people off their game, and so when a player from either team is making foul shots, there is dead silence.

We all know that noise is a distraction. Casinos overload you with noise and lights to distract you from the fact that you are losing money. Noise is manipulative. Stores pipe in music to evoke specific emotions targeted to affect and alter your shopping choices. When the noise is negative (as most noise is these days) it is far more destructive than being distracting or manipulative; it blocks us from hearing the positive – thereby distorting our reality and stunting our potential.

The first word of this week’s Torah portion, “Vayikra,” literally means, “And He called …” Who as the caller? God. Who was the listener? Moses. What was going on? God was talking to Moses about the procedures for offering the various sacrifices in the Tabernacle. Moses wasn’t having a private audience with God, however. Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, points out that other people were standing around, and so how was it that no one else was able to hear the voice of God? Or at least, eavesdrop?

Despite their physical proximity, they simply weren’t spiritually attuned to “God’s frequency”, and so only Moses was able to hear God’s instructions. Apologizing for the analogy, Rabbi Pinchas Winston compared it to a dog whistle. While the sound waves emitted from a dog whistle land on a human eardrum, unlike a dog, the human ear is not attuned to make sense of that frequency.

There is no shame in not being able to hear a dog whistle; after all, we are not meant to hear it. Being able to “hear” the message of godliness, on the other hand, is our very spiritual mission. “Shema Yisroel – Hear O’ Israel,” is the Jewish mantra; hence, our spiritual eardrums are designed to pick up God’s signal.

There is so much “noise everywhere, however, so much distortion and interference, that it’s hard to pick up a clear signal. What can we do about it?
Let’s start on a practical level and look at “noise reduction” in our lives. One of my favorite go-to books is “Before Happiness”, which is a fantastic instruction manual for creating positive reality based on cognitive, intellectual and emotional resources. Shawn Achor discusses how noise is more than just a mere distortion, in that it blocks out the very signals that can point us towards positive growth.
To reduce noise, we need to do three things:

1. Stop Our Addiction to Noise.

To hear the voice of God, you have to turn down the volume of the world.

The world is a huge noisemaker. It throws billions and billions of bits of information at us per second. While our senses can receive a lot of that data, our conscious brains can only process about 40 bits per second. Out of myriads of possibility, we choose which infinitesimal slice of data we wish to perceive, from which we construct our versions of reality. Says Achor,

We can choose either to hear negative, flawed, or irrelevant information or to absorb information that will help us to accomplish our goals. But because the amount we hear is limited, there is a trade-off; the more negative information we take in, the less positive signal we can hear, and vice versa.

We only have a narrow bandwidth with which to work. When we listen to gossip and negative judgments, when we glue ourselves to the nightly news, or obsessively check our emails, Facebook, etc., we are using up and cluttering that tiny little bandwidth of reality. If we can only utilize 40 bits per second, what do we want to use them for?

The good news is that studies in positive psychology and neuroscience have demonstrated that even a 5 percent reduction in noise significantly improves our chances of picking up positive signals. I suggest you give some thought, if not on eliminating the noise pollution in your life, then on reducing it by 5 percent. Think about your external environment, what you watch and listen to, what you read, who you hang out with, where you go, the conversations you take part in, as well as the conversations you have with yourself in your head. It can make a considerable difference.

2. Cancel The Internal Noise.

It’s not just the noise that’s “out there”. Have you listened to your thoughts lately? You know that “voice”, the one that wears you down with its constant pessimism, self-doubt, and negativity.

It’s even more harmful than external noise because we don’t evaluate or challenge its validity and the effect of this voice is that it kills our positive potential. And so it undermines our very reason for being. We all know about the self-fulfilling prophesy. Words create worlds. They have the power to create or destroy us and those around us.

Learning strategies for reducing this internal noise, therefore, is critically important and will result in huge payoffs in all areas of your life. Try replacing patterns of negative thinking with these three thoughts:

1. I will keep my worry in proportion to the likelihood of the event.
2. I will not ruin ten thousand days to be right on a handful.
3. I will not equate worrying with being loving or responsible.

3. Recognize The Signal.

“Signal is information that is true and reliable and alerts you to the opportunities, possibilities, and resources that will help you reach your fullest potential.”

How can we hear the voice of godliness today, which is trying to help us reach our spiritual potential? There was a famous incident when Elijah the Prophet encountered an angel in the desert. All of a sudden, a powerful wind shattered the mountains, but the angel said, “God is not in the wind.” Then there was an earthquake, and the angel said, “God is not in the earthquake.” Then there was a fire, and again, the angel said, “God is not in the fire.” What emerged after the fire, however, was a still, thin sound.

The echo of God’s voice that the world into existence, that spoke at Mt. Sinai and which spoke to Moses, reverberates to this day. And that is where God is to be found – if we can hear it.

Anger disconnects people, and so they yell to be heard “over the distance”. Love, on the other hand, brings us close, so close that the barest whisper is loud enough for us to hear the words of our beloved. The “small thin sound” then, is all around us, and even within us.

Learn to distinguish between “noise” and “signal”. Understand that destructive noise spotlights the negative, obfuscates the positive, and kills your potential. Stop the noise, at least by 5 percent. Choose your inner thoughts. Quiet your brain and your soul. Be present and open to the miracle embedded in every single moment. “And He called” means that God called and is still calling us. It’s up to us to tune into the signal and to listen.