Did you know that the Jewish people, who were enslaved in Egypt for 210 years, persevered because of… trees?
When Jacob, their ancestor, came to Egypt from the Holyland, he brought with him cedar trees to plant there. With his holy vision, Jacob foresaw the suffering that would befall his descendants. So he brought these trees to remind them where they came from, and to reassure them that they will eventually merit to return to the land of these trees.
“Don’t despair,” these trees whispered to Jacob’s descendants. “Soon, you will leave this desert and return to your home.” (Ultimately, when the Jewish people were freed, they took with them these very trees and build with them a tabernacle for G-d in the desert.)
We live in a broken world. Growing discord in this great country is threatening our status as “one nation under G-d.” Just two days ago, mobs attacked the US capitol bringing havoc and destruction.
We too need steady “cedar trees” that can guide us, inspire us, and whisper to us all that brighter and better days are to come. And so, here are three immediate suggestions:
1. Know what is above you: No, we do not live in a ruleless society. We live in G-d’s world. And in His world, there are rules to follow, principals to adhere to, and a G-d that holds us accountable. In the saintly words of our Sages in the Ethics of our Fathers (Chap. 2:1): “Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds are being inscribed in a book.”
Modern science has also confirmed the idea that the belief in G-d makes people “nicer.” In a recent study scientific study, psychologists proved that students cheat less in bright rooms than in dark rooms, because the brightness of the room increases their awareness that they are being watched. The conductor of this study, Ara Nozenrayan, author of “Big gods”, concluded that this proves that “watched people are nicer people.”
On a macro level, it is also high time for schools to re-institute a “moment of silence” – a brief period of reflection or meditation – at the beginning of each school day. This will allow students nationwide to begin their day with a heightened awareness of their Divine self, and a renewed commitment to fulfilling their Divine mission to make this world a better place, each in their own way.
2. Be a player, not a fan: On a chilly winter night in 1955, a young boy and his father visited the late Lubavitcher Rebbe.
During their moving discussion, the Rebbe and the young boy spoke about the game of baseball and how the fans can leave when they like, but the players need to stay and try to win until the game is over.
“That is the lesson I want to teach,” said the Rebbe to the young boy. “In life, you can be either a fan or a player. I ask you, please, be a player.”
Indeed, at almost every given moment, we are presented with the opportunity to be “players” do everything in our power to better our surroundings, especially when evil so threatens it.
Yet, for too long, many have relegated these sacred responsibilities to political, social, and even spiritual leaders. We put our faith in all sorts of people, hoping that they would “play the game of life” for us, and make our world, and our lives, better. Yet, imagine how better society would be if we saw ourselves as “players” and active agents of positive change, instead of being silent spectators? Imagine how brighter our world would be if each of us would ignite a light of goodness in our world, instead of waiting for our leaders to start that fire?
The men and women in positions of power will hopefully play this game of life, in the best of ways. But G-d is waiting for us to join this game too. So, will we be fans or players?
3. “Watch your words…”: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue,” King Solomons warns us in the book of Proverbs.
How true. Our words can heal, lift up spirits, and create life. Or, if used improperly, they can create havoc, destruction, and even death.
We live in an age of impulsions. In social media, we often do not hesitate to voice our immediate reaction to every story under the sun. But in the race to speak back, we often forget to think. In the urge to reply, our swirl of emotions often eclipses our clarity of thought. And in the heat of disagreements, discord and dissonance can conquer the center stage of some of our lives’ most important relationships.
Therefore, let us remember that words possess power and carry consequences. Not every thought is worth verbalizing. Not every Facebook post is worth posting. Not every Tweet is tweeting. And not every email, text, and Snapchat is worth writing.
In the words of Margaret Thatcher: “Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.”
May we muster the courage to implement these teaching of Judaism swiftly, and may the healing of our society spring forth speedily. Amen.