As you may know, after the election, I stopped reading the news and in many ways went into a cave. It was not a very Jewish thing to do. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of checking out and ignoring the world. To quote Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the 19th Century Mussar Movement, “One who lives a life of tranquility in the service of God knows nothing about true service.” As I wrote in my book, this quote really gobsmacked me when I first read it. But I came to understand that the point is that our job on this planet is to make the world a better place. And we can’t do that if we are focused on being blissed out all the time. Even if you are unsure of the Divinity, the point still applies.
In my own defense, it was a tough time for me. As I wrote previously, my father had a stroke in late October, and I was pretty shattered by the whole experience. Thank you if you were one of many who reached out over the months to ask how he was doing. I am happy to report that he finally came home a few weeks ago, and is doing much much better. Still lots of rehab work to do, but being at home with his wife and cat has been a big moral boost. Sometimes we need to withdraw to take care of ourselves, and when it is over, we need to get back in the game.
A friend of mine last week said that after the inauguration was a great time to leave your post election cave. He was referring to the literal sense, of coming out and reengaging in life. Neither of us is happy about the outcome, but this is the world and we need to live in it.
I immediately thought of the cave on a metaphorical level. Plato wrote that most people live life as if they were chained in a cave, and could only look at shadows of the real world on the wall. Very few people can break free of those chains and see the world the way it really is. Wow, does that fit the world today. We can’t agree on the facts, and the media seems helpless to take a stand over what is True. That is a post for another day.
On a personal level, I am working on the Soul Trait of Watchfulness. It is very much Jewish Mindfulness, watching oneself, and trying to see life the way it really is. That is a key part of Mussar – and Jewishness – to see the world the way it really is, and to jump in to close the gap with the way it could be. There is no closing in the gap while huddled in a cave, watching shadows on the wall, wringing our hands, or preaching to or listening to the chorus.
How Awake do you think you are? How much are you watching shadows versus striving to see the underlying reality beyond what is being shown to you?
Comment below and let me know.
Also published on Medium.