Whatever we think we own, we don’t. According to our Sages, its very clear time and time again in this physical world that we live on borrowed time, with borrowed money, and with a borrowed physical body. Until we get that idea we could easily walk around feeling “entitled”. Just the word “en-titled” alone infers that we own certain things. Nope. Think again.
No one sings this idea better than one of my favorite mentors (although I never actually met her before she passed away) Nancy Lamott, when I was doing Cabaret in NYC I wanted to be just like her:
In this week’s parsha, Bechukotai, we are informed that if we keep G-d’s commandments we will continue to experience/receive material prosperity. Easy peasy right? Not so fast, when some of those commandments include: tithing produce and livestock (giving a 1/10th of our produce and livestock to the needy), or a throwback to last week’s parsha Behar, “Oh and by the way Jews, I know y’all are farmers but you cannot cultivate your own land every 7 years and once every 50 years for a whole year at a time that’s cool right?” Try to see how easily that goes over.
Let me make this more relevant to our day and age:
You decide to make a declaration that you want to keep the Sabbath. You decide that you no longer wanna collect wages for any creative work done between sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday. The following week some Executive Producer offers you a seat on her writing staff of a hit NBC show but you have to work until 9PM on Friday night. What do you do? You’ve been trying to get on a show like that for let’s say, about 13 years. Do you trust that by keeping G-d’s commandments you another gig will come along? Or do you let it go and miss out on this one?
Not so easy peasy right?
But where did that opportunity come from in the first place if not from G-d? Is G-d just testing us that some other job that’s even better will come along if we make the right choice?
Do we believe that our land (if we buy it with money we earned) belongs to us and that we are the “G-d of our own land”, or do we say, “This land and the money I purchased it with are on loan from G-d and I must do great things with both, including giving 10% of my produce to someone in need, no questions asked.“? According to our sages, these choices are really what our entire lives are about.
The people who came before us merited this Torah, this blueprint for how to live our most meaningful, fulfilling lives. They seem to be on a much higher level even with all of their own flaws. One thing I love about the Torah characters is that they are super relatable on a purely egoistic level. They all experienced severe inner conflict. But they were on a much higher level than us humans living in 5776 or 2016. Once in a while we meet people who seem to live on a higher level even today. Take these two kids under 18 who made it to the inter-web this week in viral vids:
Here’s a kid who understands that land does not belong to him. A lot of the comments below this video suggest that he is humorous to watch. But could we all be glued to this simply because he has a very significant point about how we take our land for granted?
When a teen figured out that just because his own parent made bad choices with money doesn’t mean he had to follow suit. He turned a terrible situation into light. This real life story shows that both parties learned that we live with borrowed money. In fact, maybe the older woman is an even bigger hero here putting her own loss aside and paying her wages forward?
Many times in my life I’ve learned that no matter how on top someone seems to be, they could lose it all in a second. I’ve been to so many weddings where I thought, “Why isn’t this happening for me?” only to see that same “super in love” couple in the outs of a messy divorce a few years later. Or, sometimes at meetings in Hollywood where a production company seems to be taking off and I wonder, “When will I be able to sell my project the way this person is?” only to find that 6 months later, that same project is long gone and the Creator moves back to Detroit to start a family and get the heck out of LA la land.
I sometimes wonder if “netzach”or endurance, the characteristic we were supposed to recently work on during the fourth week of the omer (the spiritual period we’re in now in the Hebrew Calendar) is actually not just a test of tenacity and ambition but also must be balanced with a heavy dose of “letting stuff go” just so that we can continue to not be surprised if our expectations aren’t met.
Perhaps real tenacity comes from being able to doing the exact opposite of what we think it is-allowing G-d to lead us and having faith that the right opportunities will come to us. The outcomes are always from G-d but as one of my favorite teachers Rav Binny Freedman of Orayta often reminds us, “What will you do with it (opportunities G-d gives us)?” That is the real question. A friend and colleague of mine, recently shared with me “Your life’s work is a direct balance between your hishtadlut (the work/action you take), and your bitochon (full trust in G-d) that the right outcomes will come.”
Ok so now if you’ve read to the end of this blog post you might be saying, “Ok Heller, nice points but how does this actually affect my day to day life?” Well I don’t know about you but since I decided to follow my dream jobs of Acting, Writing, and Teaching I have often had to do work at the same time that is more consistent in pay. This can sometimes lead to moments when I find myself looking up at the pale blue sky and shouting, “Hey G-d, am I on the right track? Should I just cash it all in and do something totally different?” And lately, I’m reminded that I have a limited amount of time to do all of my jobs (the temporary ones too), and I know that I there is spiritual work to do in all of them. There are tests coming at me beyond the naked eye. Our lives are chock full of moments when we get to choose to act like a) Queens of our castle-even if it’s a small one bedroom, or b) a servant of the Great and Mighty G-d. There are moments when we can choose to throw a fit towards the teller at the bank for taking the person behind us first in line or just smile and say, “Perhaps I avoided a car accident by walking out of here 2 whole minutes later than I planned to.” The money I’m depositing: is it mine because I worked so hard the other night on that draft of my script or is it just a tool to get me to this teller and see how kindly I can treat him in the midst of the Friday deposit rush?
We have myriad opportunities each day to have a dialogue with G-d through our actions towards others. What will we do with them?
This blog was dedicated in part to David Sacks, Rav Binny Freedman, and Monica Sufar. Three people I owe a great deal of my inspiration to both in Spiritual matters and creatively.
This Post first appeared on Six Degress of Kosher Bacon.