We are often too easily distracted by the shiny and noisy and neglect the calm in our lives. The drama and difficulties of life will always make themselves known; but joy and serenity must be actively embraced.
When the rain pounds for days on end, we have no choice but to notice it, and even after it has passed, we see the effect in the downed trees and flooded streets. But the sunny, mild day that follows (and such days always follow) does not demand the same notice. We may acknowledge it, and comment upon it, but then we are back to our tasks. The very calmness it brings allows us to dismiss it all too quickly.
People are the same way. In the weeks ahead, let us focus on people in our lives who are unflappable, unfazed and nonplussed. Contrast that calm with those who bring drama to take all of our time and focus.
Let us embrace the calm.
We could all use sign posts and guidance to help us through difficult times, which Judaism provides through texts, traditions and teachers. The words of the Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (a 19th century Hassidic rabbi who combined mysticism and scholarship) frequently combines all three.
He is credited with teaching: כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר - לא לפחד כלל "All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to fear at all."
This phrase is most often used as a mantra, a mental reminder that we can control our fears. During dark or difficult times, these simple words (which are often set to music) can offer us a reassurance that our path is manageable.
But the true wisdom comes from the first words, the acknowledgment of difficulty in our life. Only by being honest about the existence of troubles can we hope to master them. Only by acknowledging how narrow the bridge is can we navigate it. Our willingness to walk across the bridge, knowing how narrow it is, mitigates our fears.
We had the once in a lifetime opportunity this week to see the planet Venus pass between the Earth and the Sun.
Like all moments in our lives, there is a fitting Jewish blessing. Like all blessings, it allows us to make the moment holy by helping us to: pause, notice, contextualize and elevate the event. The blessing, appropriate for all large-scale wonders of nature is: Baruch Attah Adonai, Elohanu Melech HaOlam, Osheh Maashe Bereshit. "We Praise you Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes the works of creation."
If we missed the transit of Venus, or did not have the blessing close at hand, we will have to wait another 105 years for that opportunity. However, we have 100's of opportunities each day to elevate the moments of our lives by blessing them.
Events need not be religious to be holy; need not be astronomical to be significant; and need be life changing to be worthy of note.
They only need to be noticed.
Recently I came across a eulogy written by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens that included the following:
The rabbis have a parable in which they tell of a conference among the trees, and of the decision of the trees to select a king who would rule over them. They sent a delegation to a shade tree, which bore no fruit.
The delegation inquired: "Why do you make so much noise when the wind blows?" The tree replied, "The only way that I will be noticed is by making a lot of noise."
Then they turned to a fruit-bearing tree and asked it: "Tell us, why are you so quiet? Why do you not let yourself be known? Even when the wind blows through your branches you are silent."
And the fruit-bearing tree answered: "I do not need to make a lot of noise to call attention to myself. My fruits testify for me."
In this fable, the rabbis were telling us that there are two types of people. There are people who make a lot of noise, who demand recognition and honor because otherwise they fear that they would have very little to recommend them.
And there is also another type: there are people who are quiet, modest and yet as full of kindness and caring for others that they need not clamor to call attention to themselves.
The questions posed by this story is stark and powerful. Which kind of person do you want to be? How close are you to being that person?