Heaven’s Crystal Ball

We all read the recent story about an air steward who snapped, i.e., lost his temper on a U.S. domestic flight.  It seems that a frequent flyer (whom the steward recognized) hurled a popular swear-word at him upon being asked to sit as the plane was landing.  I do not know in what manner he was told to return to his seat.  But in addition to the refusal to sit or close the overhead bin, the passenger smacked the attendant across the face with a valise.

Apparently the steward swore back at him, grabbed a beer and his personal satchel, pressed the release for the Emergency Exit and, zipping down the make-shift slide, made a fast getaway.  He was later found asleep in his suburban New York residence.

Some papers reviled him (“If you can’t take the heat. . . .”) while others anointed him a national hero.  Nevertheless, I was struck by the absence of any trace of “ben adam v’chavero” (relationship between man and his fellow man) as both fellows independently chose to behave according to whatever “felt right” at the moment.  Exacting autonomous norms of proper behavior, this clashing of ego and spirit resulted in 15 Andy Warhol minutes of fame while media pundits and common folk debated the merits of the respective players.

As is the custom, many Israeli teens work in American Jewish summer camps.  My neighbor’s daughter, Shira, worked in one of the more popular camps in the mountains of Pennsylvania and returned with many beautiful stories of wonderful kids who developed an appreciation for Eretz Yisrael and became anxious to visit and learn here in the future.  However, one disturbing tale repeated itself often and became frequent fodder for discussion upon her return.

On several occasions, Shira witnessed “brag-offs” by children talking about the “lawsuits” of their respective family against a business, a neighbor, a manufacturer, or a school.  The ease in which a child uttered, “and my grandfather took them to court!” seemed an odd topic for conversation among 13-year-old girls.

One morning, rousing a slow-waking camper, Shira teased the girl with a mischievous towel-smack across her still-abed buttocks.  The girl bolted upright and screamed, “You touched me inappropriately.  That constitutes sexual harassment.  My father is a huge lawyer and you’re gonna get sued!!!!!!!!”  (To be fair, this is the same girl who wouldn’t wear a life-vest for boating because “orange isn’t my color.”)

But the question remains: Who is raising these children?  What lessons are we bringing to our tables about brotherhood and common purpose?  How ugly have we become?  Has the “me-me-me” of the MTV, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (translate: MeTube) generation left little/no heart space for awareness that the world is still an organic mass that turns on the axis of human passion and relationships we develop between one another?  Has this writer turned into an “Andy of Mayberry” fuddy-duddy who stubbornly refuses to hop upon the super-sonic Me-Train that speeds through time and, in its haste, hurls aside those who lack the agility to hold on?

The first time I stepped into court was in 2001, and my case took the better part of an acrimonious year. Although the dispute was eventually resolved — to no one’s complete satisfaction — I vowed never again to set foot into a court of law, and, unless Heaven decreed otherwise, someone else would have to drag me there.  I would commit never to instigate action – retributive, financial, nor reputational – against another man.  Hoping otherwise, nevertheless I’m willing to be the sue-ee but never, please God, the suer.  That year cost far, far more than money: it cost time, love, respect, and hope.  Most dear, however, was the price that all parties paid in “trust.”

“My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully.  To those who curse me, let my soul be silent, and let my soul be like dust to everyone. . . . .”  (Shemoneh Esrei- 18 Benedictions)

As the months of the calendar tip one into another, there is something both brilliant and ominous about the month of Av’s fasting and deprivation which gently sashays into Elul’s, “accounting.”  Standing upon the threshold of God’s judgment, this is the time when we are held to an inexplicable spiritual standard that can only be addressed via prayer and admirable conduct.  And while I cannot purport to possess insight into the workings of Heaven, I do believe that common sense suggests that in the short time leading to the Days of Awe, all of us make extra effort to display kindness, give charity, let “smiles be our umbrellas,” and follow the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“Reflection” is dangerous business and not for the faint of heart.  In revisiting the previous twelve months, I shudder as I “go to the video tape” of events that occurred since last Yom Kippur.  In vivid Technicolor I stare with tender envy at the blossoming romances of others; gasp at the dissolution of a neighbor’s marriage; scream with two friends as they bury three children; watch the peaks and falls of my fluctuating savings account.  Who could know?  Who dares to chart and plan a future without, first, hanging his head before the Master of the World and pleading for Mercy?

The Torah speaks about “free will” as both a blessing and a curse.  But what will we do with our ability to “choose”?  Isn’t “choice” the trait that defines who we are?  This Heavenly gift is often taken for granted; all one must do is open his eyes and witness the squandering of God’s bounty, lovingly placed into our waiting arms before we sloppily toss it aside in a maelstrom of rudeness, neglect, indifference, gossip-mongering, and worse.

This year I pray that God exhibits multiple disabilities and I, in turn, will attempt to mimic same. He should be blind to my faults, and I will perfect myopia toward others. He should be deaf to my careless speech, and I will shut my ears to that which angers me. He should appear slow-witted when exacting judgment, and I will learn to breathe deeply and measure my responses to others.

I pray that all of us merit His abundant blessings this coming year.

Shana tova u’gmar chatima tova.

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