Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, January 29, 2016 – 19 Shevat, 5776
Each week, a congregant sends me some jokes on Friday morning. A morning chuckle is not a bad way to wrap up the week or head into Shabbat. This week’s crop featured some great quips from the inimitable George Carlin, who was surely one of our greatest comedians. Carlin had this uncanny ability to highlight the absurdity of language and culture. Of course, with Carlin, not all of his jokes are suitable for mixed audiences (you know, audiences where there’s a rabbi in the room…). Here are a couple of good ones that are:
Why is it called tourist season if we can’t shoot at them?
If crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?
I’ve always wanted to be somebody…but I should have been more specific.
Humor shines a mirror on our assumptions. It reveals our individual and societal blind spots, and makes us laugh our way to deeper understanding. It cuts through our defenses in a painless way. At its best and most effective, it enables us to tackle change more easily.
I’ve been thinking about blind spots this week. Flint, Michigan and their water problems actually reflects huge parts of the country where we have antiquated, leaking and often dangerous water pipes. The cost of addressing the issue is so huge, that most of our municipalities have turned a…well, a blind eye to the problem. This is a national problem that is not going to go away.
Yesterday marked thirty years since the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. Four of the engineers, including Bob Ebeling, understood that the Challenger would explode if launched. They brought their findings to the attention of NASA higher ups, but those managers were blinkered by a need to prove the viability of the shuttle program. Judith Resnick, a committed Jew from Akron, Ohio, was one of the astronauts who lost her life as a consequence. We remember her life for a blessing.
The public sphere is filled with similar examples of our nation’s political blind spots. I think we all know, at least in the abstract, that our private lives also get misguided because of the things we can’t see coming straight at us. Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi of blessed memory was one of our age’s spiritual masters. He had a tremendous grasp on the needs of the time, and his capital letter “R” Renewal movement brought tremendous lower case “r” renewal to much of the rest of the Jewish world. Despite his remarkable wisdom and insight, every year Reb Zalman would visit a therapist. He took it as a given that he had blind spots, and was intent on uncovering them so that he could see and live his own life a little better.
We find this same theme of blind spots expressed in our parashah of Yitro. Yitro is Moshe’s father in law. His greatest gift to Moses came after observing how Moses ineffectively tried to handle all the legal matters that came before him. He suggested that Moses appoint additional judges to share the load. We often talk of this insight as the world’s first business case about the importance of delegation. Yet Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s regimented palace. He was exposed to a distributed structure where duties and responsibilities were spread across the political environment. Moses knew about delegation. Yet when it came to his own leadership, he missed the obvious.
Our blind spots are just that. They obscure the obvious from us. Our lives are impoverished as a result. One of the gifts and challenges of living in community (of friends, or family, or our kehillah kedoshah) is that we can surround ourselves by people who love us and care about us. They can help us see that which is invisible to us, and we can return the favor to them.
Like George Carlin, if we can figure out how to share those insights with others with a deft or gentle touch, they will be able to learn more readily. If we can take ourselves less seriously, we in turn will be able to accept those same gifts of awareness more gracefully. A marvelous opportunity.
As we enter Shabbat, I encourage you to consider how you can build in to your own lives mechanisms (focused talks with friends, partners, or therapists; meditation, etc) by which your own vision will be extended. We are all able to learn, grow and develop. It is one of our greatest God-given gifts. What a shame it would be if we didn’t exercise that capacity.
Warm Shabbat greetings,
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