What Do You Do When It Just Gets Old? Parshat (Behar) Behukotai
וַאֲכַלְתֶּם יָשָׁן נוֹשָׁן וְיָשָׁן...
You shall eat old grain long stored...
How do we deal with the despair that we feel when things just "get old" and we begin to lose our passion for what we are doing? Perhaps you chose a career that at first made you jump out of bed in the morning but years later, you can barely muster the energy to put on your shoes! You loved what you were doing and had great hopes for changing the world. But years later, you lost that passion. Does this loss of passion come from the mere boredom of pure repetition or is there something else getting us down?
My father retired from his law practice after thirty years, as it happens he went back to working as a pharmacist after that. When I asked him why he was hanging up the towel, he simply responded-"I just don't have the fire in my belly for practicing law any more". Did my Dad just get tired of doing the same old thing? Heavens no! He spent thirty years trying to represent the little guy when he/she was injured at work or from the negligent acts of others. In the beginning he was able to help many people, his clients won cases against big companies who were responsible for their pain, suffering and permanent damages. But in the later years, big business found that they could hire expensive in-house lawyers, tie up every case in litigation for years and cause victims to simply give up... and even when there was a verdict in favor of the victim, the highly paid corporate lawyers would simply appeal to a higher court dragging the case on and on. It became very difficult for my father to help good people who did not have the money and power of big corporations. I can only imagine that this caused a sense of despair, I know it did for me.
We all come to feel that way about the things we do over the course of years. I believe that it is not just because of the boredom and the monotony of doing the same acts over and over again but that we somehow become disillusioned with our efforts that don't bring about the change, the results, the progress, the truth, the justice or the compassion in the world that we had hoped for. We despair that the system around us is "rigged" ; that it is driven by the hunger of greed and the thirst for power--it is a place that does not allow our good deeds and righteous acts to prevail against greater forces. We can even become cynical. While sometimes it is the system around us that makes our acts seem in vain, this can be exacerbated by our own inability to reinvigorate our minds, hearts and souls with passion in light of the difficult challenges that face us. This is what the Mei Hashiloach (Hassidic Master, 1801-1854) says regarding this problem.
ואכלתם ישן נושן. ישן היינו במקום שהאדם יתחיל להתיאש מהמעשה. ונושן הוא מעשה שכבר מיואש אצלו, והבטיח הקב"ה שעוד יגיע לאדם הנאה מאלו המעשים, כי הש"י ירפא ויתן אותם לטובה
You will eat old grain...Old (Yashan)=This is the place where a person begins to despair (or give up) doing a (good) act/deed...Old (Noshan) is where the act/deed is already hopeless for him/her. But the Holy One of Blessing has promised that enjoyment will again come from these deed/acts because God will heal and make good of them...
The first type of "Old" (Yashan) is the beginning of despair whereas, the final stage of "Old" (Noshan) is akin to total despair. How will God help us to reinvigorate our hope, cause us to regain our passion for our life's work and our deeds when we feel that our actions, our work, has "gotten old"? How can God reverse our sense of despair and even our cynicism? According to the Mei Hashiloah, God promises us that our deeds will be for the greater good, that they matter, that they make a difference and that there is always a reason to maintain hope. It is difficult to feel that our actions matter in a world where global warming, war, nuclear threat, famine, injustice, the decline of democracy and freedom and so much greed and selfishness leave so little hope for our collective future. Is there a Power for good that will triumph, heal, repair and love? It comes from God, the Kadosh Baruh Hu, but it is in each and every one of us!
Kol Ha'Olam Kulo Gesher Tzar M'od--all of the world is a very narrow bridge, V'haikar-Lo l'fached Klal--but the main thing is never to fear at all...
Never lose hope!
Never give up on the idea that your actions matter!
Well, this is my last blog post that I will be writing in Israel (for now) as next week I will be in Melbourne Australia as I begin serving as the rabbi of Kehillat Nitzan (a Masorti Congregation) with the greatest of להט / passion!