Lesson from the check-out line: Spread Joy

This time my prophet appeared in the form of a Trader Joe’s cashier.

Let’s call him AJ. He was chatting with the cute young woman in front of me, and their conversation continued after she had paid and her groceries were bagged.

I felt aggravation bubbling up. I took a deep, patient breath. I decided to notice the sweetness in their conversation, to wonder if this moment would be the one they would tell their future children about — how Daddy handed Mommy his phone number on a bent and dusty business card.

They finished talking after about 10 seconds, probably less, and he began ringing up my purchases. I was proud of myself for not wasting energy on harrumphing. He was one of those “How are you? I’m great, I’m super, what a blessed day” type of guys. As he started ringing up my purchases, he offered up his personal M.O.: “I wake up in the morning and decide ‘Today going to be great.’ No matter what happens, you have to decide that.” He explained, as he bagged my frozen taquitos and smoked mozzarella, that with this attitude, even if he has a car accident, it won’t ruin his day. It’s just part of his day.

His attitude dovetailed with my new resolution to laugh more. To lighten up. I tend toward the serious. Even my gratitude is serious – for the absence of all the baaaaad things that can happen. My motivation for the new attitude is my kids; I want their idea of me to be fun and laughing, not worried and cranky. I have precious few years left to imprint their childhood memories.

This happy-gas effort has been working, though it takes some mindfulness to counter my default “serious” outlook.

Let’s be clear, I have nothing against seriousness – it is requisite for significant social change. I mean, we have to presume that America’s Abolitionists, Suffragettes, and the leaders of the Civil Rights movement were serious people, who were never heard to utter, “Let’s not worry about equal rights! Turn up the music and pass the cupcakes!” Seriousness of purpose has a place. But I don’t have to be so serious all the time.

The day after AJ, I heard the same message at Torah study. Even though the weekly portion was about skin eruptions. 

I will spare you the gorey details and cut to the chase. Rabbi Amy Bernstein showed us a little rabbi trick she had learned, because rabbis like to play with language and meaning. She took the Hebrew word for blemish, moved its letters around, and turned it into the Hebrew word for joy. Whether you see a blemish or joy, she suggested, depends on your perspective.

Joy blooms when you look for it. The sages knew it. AJ knew it. And, just like certain skin eruptions, joy can spread to people around you, be they your kids, your spouse, or the lady in the check-out line.

Be careful. It’s catching.

 

News from The “Will Wonders Never Cease?” Department (aka How to Make Jewish Grandmas Kvell)

This just in from The “Will Wonders Never Cease?!” Department.

1. Not only did I not get to “milk” the taking-my-son-to-the-orthodontist-AFTER-recess moment, but it backfired. He had to finish what he’d missed at lunchtime. (It was two minutes of lunchtime, but on principle it felt like hours.)

2. Same week, he went to Week 1 of Hebrew School, without much griping, and LIKED it.

Let me say, for a kid who lives for unstructured everything, I was certain Hebrew School on a Monday afternoon would be a non-starter. Imagine my shock when he came home reporting:

(a) I made a new friend!

(b) Teacher Lauren is awesome because she lets us talk and is “loose” [um, the good kind, I’m thinking]!

(c) When I guessed the Hebrew letters spelled “pizza” I got to dance and celebrate!

Could we ask for more in a school day?

3. And last, the spittake moment, the following declaration issued from my son’s mouth after Week 2 of Hebrew School:

“Sophie is so lucky. She always gets to hold the Torah.”

Lucky little Jews.

Lucky!!

 

I don’t know what they put in his Challah, but that, my friends, is how we roll these days. Happy New Year, and all good things.

Laura

Fridays with Amy

My friend recently told me about her “favorite hour of the week” – Torah study with Rabbi Amy Bernstein at Kehillat Israel. “It’s my vitamin,” she’d gushed. I decided to try it out.

I’m hooked. I enjoy these stolen moments of spirituality and lessons in how-to-be-a-human. So occasionally on Fridays, I’m going to write about the best wisdom-nuggets from that morning’s Torah study.

Today: The Innocence of Children (aka The First “Dream Act”)

(For those who want to follow along, this morning we read Numbers, chapters 13 and 14.)

I’ll cut to the chase. God had had it with the Israelites. Totally furious and fed up. (Ever had one of those days with the kids?) God had led these former slaves out of Egypt, shown them the land of milk and honey, but they were too scared to fight for it. “We’d rather die in the wilderness than go there,” they said.

God was ready to kill them. But good old Moses interceded, praising God as “abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression.” God cooled off.

A bit. “Okay, you want to die in the wilderness? You got it.” God let them wander another 40 years in the wilderness, until the adult generation who couldn’t shake off their enslaved mentality was gone. They wouldn’t see the promised land. But God did not consign their children to the same fate. Their children were spared.

“Your children who, you said, would be carried off — these will I allow to enter; they shall know the land that you have rejected.”

At this point in the story, Rabbi Amy paused. “Judaism never holds children responsible. After they become B’Nei Mitzvah they are responsible for their choices, but never before.”

I think how this is reflected in our modern culture – the separate Juvenile court system, a minor’s inability to enter a contract, or even how my son couldn’t log on to vote for MLB All-Stars online, because his birth year revealed his youth. We do not hold children responsible, certainly not for the actions of their adults.

I drove away from the synagogue out to the secular world of errands and work, and flipped on the car radio. The big news of the day brought me right back to Torah study. President Obama had announced a policy to allow the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here by their parents, to stay. (Or at least to apply for work visas for two years.)

As the radio report concluded, I thought with pride: We have a Jewish President.

Yes, yes, opponents will say this act was a political attempt to woo voters. Maybe, maybe not. All policies are political — if you enact policies people agree with, they will vote for you. And if you act with kindness and forgiveness to children who are willing and eager to live the American dream, to toil in our land of milk and honey, you are living the values of Torah, and you’ve got my vote.

Fridays with Amy

My friend recently told me about her “favorite hour of the week” – Torah study with Rabbi Amy Bernstein at Kehillat Israel. “It’s my vitamin,” she’d gushed. I decided to try it out.

I’m hooked. I enjoy these stolen moments of spirituality and lessons in how-to-be-a-human. So occasionally on Fridays, I’m going to write about the best wisdom-nuggets from that morning’s Torah study.

Today: The Innocence of Children (aka The First “Dream Act”)

(For those who want to follow along, this morning we read Numbers, chapters 13 and 14.)

I’ll cut to the chase. God had had it with the Israelites. Totally furious and fed up. (Ever had one of those days with the kids?) God had led these former slaves out of Egypt, shown them the land of milk and honey, but they were too scared to fight for it. “We’d rather die in the wilderness than go there,” they said.

God was ready to kill them. But good old Moses interceded, praising God as “abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression.” God cooled off.

A bit. “Okay, you want to die in the wilderness? You got it.” God let them wander another 40 years in the wilderness, until the adult generation who couldn’t shake off their enslaved mentality was gone. They wouldn’t see the promised land. But God did not consign their children to the same fate. Their children were spared.

“Your children who, you said, would be carried off — these will I allow to enter; they shall know the land that you have rejected.”

At this point in the story, Rabbi Amy paused. “Judaism never holds children responsible. After they become B’Nei Mitzvah they are responsible for their choices, but never before.”

I think how this is reflected in our modern culture – the separate Juvenile court system, a minor’s inability to enter a contract, or even how my son couldn’t log on to vote for MLB All-Stars online, because his birth year revealed his youth. We do not hold children responsible, certainly not for the actions of their adults.

I drove away from the synagogue out to the secular world of errands and work, and flipped on the car radio. The big news of the day brought me right back to Torah study. President Obama had announced a policy to allow the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here by their parents, to stay. (Or at least to apply for work visas for two years.)

As the radio report concluded, I thought with pride: We have a Jewish President.

Yes, yes, opponents will say this act was a political attempt to woo voters. Maybe, maybe not. All policies are political — if you enact policies people agree with, they will vote for you. And if you act with kindness and forgiveness to children who are willing and eager to live the American dream, to toil in our land of milk and honey, you are living the values of Torah, and you’ve got my vote.