5779 Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon
The Longest Con
Every Friday, The Hustle, one of my favorite technology news emails, ends with 5 witty sayings they’ve gleaned from the internet. Some of my favorites are:
Telephone poles are just trees with jobs.
Bean bags are just boneless sofas
Our planet is slowly rotating and tilting back and forth near a heat source, just like a rotisserie chicken.
When tough, street hardened rappers are rapping they are just reading us their poetry about their lives, their pain, fears and dreams.
One of the most powerful phrases to me the other week read:
Children are the most expensive thing you get for free.
Such a large truth in a small sentence. We give everything for our children, more than they can possible comprehend until they have their own children. Sometimes I think children are the biggest historical long con still running. We get married, we have big dreams and hopes and all of our parents told us what?
“Wait until you have children, it is amazing being a parent…having children is so wonderful…it is incredible watching your own children grow up. It will be the best experience of your lives.” The Greatest Con Ever! Con artists all of them! And then they all sit back laughing and watch us go through the same struggles they all suffered through. They hand back every grandchild with a smelly diaper and always hop them up on sugar and scary movies before returning them to us.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my children most of the time and I love most if not all of your children. But the parental/grandparental truths are shrouded in tiny little lies of omission that fail to warn us about the terrible twos, diaper blowouts, unending tantrums, emotional outbreaks with no seeming cause in sight, adolescence, teenaged rebellion etc. My Sam as a new born cried every minute he was in the car for almost the first year. We sold our house and moved thirty minutes closer to work in three months flat.
Even our best friends get in on the con.
“Oh my God, our son just sleeps through the night already.”
Or “You will love being parents, our daughter is so amazing, she took to feeding like a champ and almost started walking before she could roll over.”
Only your closest friends warn you about the sleep deprivation, the never ending crying sessions with no explanation, the difficulty of breast feeding and feeding in general. Everyone else, they are all in on the long con.
Let’s face it. Our parents just wanted to be upgraded to grandparents. It is their revenge and their joy. They get to see us struggle the way they struggled with us and get to spoil their grandchildren in order to make us experience challenge levels like a horribly escalating video game that gets harder and harder as each year passes. How many times have we heard “But Grandma lets me have ice cream for breakfast!” Exactly.
Our friends just want us to be like them, exhausted, overwhelmed and someone else to talk with about the hardships of parenting. And the worst part, not a single one of us or our children ever came into this world with a user’s manual.
How many new parents have been heard yelling “Sweetie, where is the chapter to shut off the baby or at least to turn down the volume? Hold child close…did that…bounce a little…did that…sing a little song…check…Honey!!! It’s not working!!! I’ve read the manual and done everything it says and I still can’t get the volume control on this thing to regulate. How do you reset? How do you reset?”
Sure, you can buy a lifetime of baby books, toddler books, communicating with your teen books, how to translate millennials manuals, but they will only provide certain non-child specific advice that may or may not apply to your specific child. Most of the technical guides are too technical and don’t really teach us how to respond in the moment to our actual kids.
“In case of emergency, make sure to lock yourself in your room when you feel a murderous rage over take you at the absurd logic of your seven year-old at dinner, bedtime, breakfast, when leaving the house, at times when said child is just breathing…
…Apply facial lotion or muscle cream when your jaw clamps from too much fake smiling when trying not to comment on the outfit your (insert random age) child just walked out of the house in.
Make sure to stock adequate quantities of your favorite beverage, candy, ice cream, donuts or cookies when trying to compensate for the insane feeling of being overwhelmed and underprepared when handling your specific child or children.”
As Jews the Torah exists as our original operator’s manual. The book of Leviticus lists so many rules and procedures that we can’t even hope to follow them all. This overload of rules and procedures causes so many of us to believe we have to be perfect in a system where the rules are constantly changing and our life situations shift like sand in the desert in every given moment. What are our measurements of successful parenting when we feel like we are always hanging on for dear life and that our strength will give away any moment?
Our Biblical grandparents were all far from perfect. In the Torah they failed miserably time and time again. Tomorrow we will read about a parent who God told to sacrifice his son, and Abraham says “Yep, no problem, sacrifice son on random mountain God indicates. Got it. On the to do list. Sacrifice my own son. I’m sure it will be a great day for hiking and being outdoors.”
Now many of us understand on certain days it is not difficult to consider a request from God to sacrifice one of our children. And yet none of us can truly fathom the idea of sacrificing any of our children. We might nibble on one once in a while when we ponder eating them, but not out and out Biblical Sacrifice on a mountain.
What God of ours would ever ask this of a parent who faced years of infertility with his wife to bring this beloved child into the world?
You also have Noah, who after a night of blackout level drinking after surviving the flood, banishes one of his sons because of his drunken behavior. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, raises sons who sell their brother Joseph into slavery and let their father think Joseph is dead for almost twenty years. Against those scores I think we are all doing a pretty good job.
Biblical Parents are horrible models while at the same time exemplifying fortitude, determination and perseverance. We send our kids to summer camp. Our ancestors invented camping as a lifestyle. Our Biblical ancestors dealt with so many of the situations that we and our children continue to deal with, addiction, self-esteem, anxiety, acceptance, technology, bullying, fear of the unknown. They did their best and still, as so often happens, they would say go left and their children would go right.
If we skim through Noah and don’t pause so many of us miss his alcoholism. Too often we think of the Noah of cartoons, surrounded by happy to be alive animals, we don’t think of someone who can’t control his drinking, his emotions, his shame or perhaps even his post-traumatic stress from the ordeal of the flood and the depression accompanying being surrounded by the devastation afterwards.
As an operator’s manual the Torah doesn’t look deeper into the despair or help us when our lives, our families, our children overwhelm us. The Torah doesn’t dwell on Noah’s alcoholism, Jacob’s depression and grieving for Joseph’s death. Moses feelings of being overwhelmed and inadequate to the task set before him by God. In our lives, we isolate ourselves and hide when we become overwhelmed by our own imperfections, hiding if we or a family member has been overcome by , anxiety, depression or any of the too numerous to count addictions that affect so many of our lives. We often circle the wagons in shame unable to seek comfort and help from all those around us who love us.
I’ve listened time and again to friends slowly putting their lives back together after alcoholism or addiction brought them to their knees. I’ve become practiced at listening knowing that all the advice in the world won’t help until my friends begin to listen to their inner voices leading them towards healing. Thankfully many have found the right professional help, modern medication and found the strength towards living sober lives. We all know some who have not been so lucky.
We’ve been told all our lives by the Torah that we are imperfect and should never strive for perfection because it is impossible to achieve. And yet when we look at our children as babies, as they grow, as they learn we see perfection in motion. Not the unrealistic, unattainable perfection of books, movies, television and magazines, but the realistic one of watching our young become their individual selves while doing the best they can.
Throughout our own lives we’ve strived to be our best selves, our successful selves, the person we would love to be. Some days we succeed. Some days we don’t. The difference in each of us is how much of ourselves do we accept unconditionally while trying to live up to all the external expectations we put upon ourselves?
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are about accepting ourselves as perfectly imperfect. It is about letting go of last year and so many yesterdays in order to live today and reach tomorrow. It is about asking for help when we need it and knowing how to accept the love and support of those there to catch us when we fall.
We are the creators of our own best operator’s manual. WE must learn to write the rules and agreements that allow us to be our best selves and create a meaningful life surrounded by our blessings and unconditional love.
I stand here today to tell you that you are not alone. I stand here today as someone who has failed at parenting as much as I’ve succeeded, to tell you that you are not alone. I stand here today to tell you that God and the Torah fail us as much as they lift us up and help us understand more of life. The secret is in finding the beauty in our imperfections and learning from our mistakes towards raising our families. The secret is in accepting that we each create our own operator’s manual for raising our family and living our lives, and it will just need to be good enough.
Our Torah is filled with lessons and insight to remind us all that struggle is in integral part of our human condition. Suffering is part of life, the great teacher that illuminates our blessings when we suffer great loss or recover from great trials. God is the strength we need when trying to live our lives the best we can while imparting any wisdom we have to the generations we’ve brought into the world. If we can’t tell at this point that God has no idea how to parent us as much as we often feel we have no idea how to be parents or children then we aren’t paying attention.
Humanity is the ultimate proof that God struggles with parenting as much as the rest of us. If most of humanity fails to listen to the beauty of creation and take care of each other, how can we expect to do better than God? And yet God is the beauty of your child asking the most precious questions. God is in a bedtime request for five more butterfly kisses. God is the wonder of watching your children grown and learn. God is in the moments where we just may have gotten it right for once.
God is in recovering after a long day of struggle and doubts. God is in the hugs you hope will never end, after life moments that turned out all right, sometimes changing our lives forever. God is potential. God is beauty. God is creation. God is the love we try to fill our lives with as we work so hard to do better than the tragedies that fill our world.
My hope for you all this year is that you breathe more, be kinder to yourself and in your peace be kinder to those you love in your life. Find understanding that we are all doing our best each day, including our children, who push and pull and stretch us to the limits of our understanding and patience. We are all children of someone and we are all children of God. We constantly push back at our lives in regret, frustration, misunderstanding, anger, pain, sadness. We forget how loved we are and thus forget that in the infinite nature of love we can love unconditionally without fear of running out.
The beauty in the universe is God’s unconditional love for us. Listen to your heart. Listen to your spirit and accept that only you can create an operator’s manual that works for you and your family. The Torah is just a guide book, an instruction manual of human strife filled with successes and failures that we might learn from. Fill this year with love and light for self and family so that the whole world may be filled with the light we carry deep within each of us. May you be written for a sweet and healthy new year.
Cayn yehi Ratzon – May this be God’s will - L’shanah tovah!