Getting Better: TorahCycle Mishpatim

Vayeira 2014

Jack Nicholson has a wonderful line in the movie As Good As It Gets. He’s a selfish misanthrope wooing Helen Hunt, and, in a desperate move to forestall rejection, says, You make me want to be a better man. Who wouldn’t fall for that?!

Like the G word, everyone’s idea of being a better person is different. I’m going to use the word goodness as shorthand. Goodness is not so much observant piety or zen-like enlightenment, either of which might be a worthy goal depending on what matters to you. I’m talking about becoming a kinder, gentler, more compassionate human. The kind of folks we need more of on the planet, if only to keep it spinning towards the light.

How do we become better people? Do it on our own? Through another? After struggle and tragedy? Through gratitude and compassion? Is it a state of grace that sticks, or do we repeatedly need to up the ante on ourselves when we go back to our old, unconscious ways.

This week’s reading and the next are like mismatched twins: instructions on finding the path and then losing it in a dramatic way. It’s a long way to home.

The reading includes the statement We shall do and we shall hear. Note this is directly contradicted later in Torah by We shall hear and we shall do. It brings up the which comes first chicken/egg question.

Do you get better access to your higher self, your guides, whatever divine goodness you believe in if you walk on the right path?

In counseling there’s a modality called the comprehensive resource model. It’s a psychological version of prayer. It asks for help, from all your allies and guides seen and unseen. The simple organizing principle beneath it is this: I need you. Please show up. Guide me and help me heal. Not much beats that feeling of that wind at your back.

I come from the do-as-you’re-told school of karmic homework. For me that’s inner voice more than books of rules. But both paths lead to goodness.

Most of us know goodness by how it feels, whether we’re on the giving or receiving end. Both contribute to a pay it forward world, in which goodness multiplies and spreads like a beneficent virus.

The core teaching is a direct follow-up to last week’s Know your values. Live with goodness and you will hear more — from Spirit and from this world –- about how to become a yet better person. You’ll feel better inside and you’ll keep getting told more of what you need to hear and do to keep feeling that way. And, a great side benefit, to help those around you feel that way too.

Someone posted recently on FaceBook, Once you’re happy why would you be with anyone who doesn’t make you feel that way? No duh. Feel the goodness and you’ll attract more blessings. Maybe even find ……..

Playing Fair: TorahCycle Shemini

ChukatEvery year when this reading rolls around, I feel like the cranky neighbor your parents warned you about when you were a kid, the one shaking my fist and muttering about how unfair life is.

Quick plot summary: Two of Aaron’s sons enter the holy of holies with what we’re told is “strange fire” and are zapped dead. Every year I look in vain for some fine print to make this story more palatable.

The majority of rabbinic commentators assert they were killed for disobeying the rules and regs of priestly behavior. They’re castigated for being young and impetuous, possibly drunk or stoned, and generally impious. A minority offer up the possibility that their eagerness to serve was rewarded by instant graduation to their next next, whether you think that’s heaven or reincarnation.

Every year I ask: Short of harming a living being, how the *&%$^&%* can there be any wrong way to pray? To honor creation? To give praise and thanks, or even to ask for help?  That covers most of our convos with the invisible divine. It would be a short life if we got zapped for them.

There’s an old Groucho Marx line about not wanting to belong to any club that would admit him. My corollary: I don’t wanna belong to any religion that believes there’s only one right way to do things. That goes for fundamentalists of every stripe, from spiritual dogmatists, to food or fashion police, or any my-way-or-the-highway true believers.

One of the questions I asked in a recent class was, What are your personal spiritual values? Some of mine: I believe in goodness, and our individual and collective right and responsibility to practice goodness often. We should be trying to find and follow paths that heal what is hurt or broken in ourselves and others, paths that help make us more whole and holy.

It’s the logical extension of Think globally, act locally. You’re as local as it gets.

In the new Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson did a great job of locating earth and humanity in space/time. We have a similar responsibility–each cellular constellation of you and me–to navigate our holy spark through the same cosmos.

We may just be teeny specks in a gigantic universe, but we are conscious and holy ones. Our prayers are an instinctive desire to connect with other holy sparks. It doesn’t matter much to me if they are human or divine. We’re intrinsically good and should treat ourselves and others as though we are. We all deserve that.

Being human means we’re fallible and prone to all manner of blowing it, from putting self-interest first to inconsistency, denial, or fear. So despite our best hopes, we don’t always choose the right path. But most of us are trying to get it right, or at least better, and our enthusiasm shouldn’t be so harshly punished.

I have a friend who leaps into exercise regimens with vigor and passion, though sadly without stretching. She cycles through workout-injury-recuperation (the sound track is exultation-anger-frustration). But she’s trying. Hard.

The moral I want from this story is that every nanosecond of trying is good and worth it, no matter the short-run outcomes. Teach your soul to play the long game and believe it’s worth doing.