Rabbi Mitch's Weekly Teachings

February 20, 2015


Der mentsh trakht un got lakht—Man plans and God laughs (Yiddish Proverb)

I’ve always appreciated the truth of this old Yiddish piece of wisdom, and I’ve never liked it. I like the feeling of being in control; who doesn’t?

I drive Roseanne crazy because I always want to be 5 minutes early for any set appointment; not even caring about “social custom”.

I run worship services by a minute to minute excel spreadsheet.

I plan my day, week, month, sometimes even longer, in detailed time blocks.

The illusion that I try to convince myself is that I’m in control.

However, I plan, and God really at times laughs.

In homage to Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, I am guilty of wanting to be a “master of the universe”, and I know there really is only One Master of the Universe, and it violates quite a few Commandments when I don’t fully accept this Divine reality.

We all make plans; we should make plans. But, plans get overturned and we have to accept that which we cannot control, and focus on what we can control.

A common metaphor for our life is to think of ourselves as sailboats. We know we can’t control the wind or the waves, but we can choose to be as effective as possible with how we trim our sails and steer our rudders. Growing up and sailing with my father on many weekends, I recall times when the wind would just stop blowing and die. We would wait it out, but if it really wasn’t viable for good sailing we had what I believed the greatest invention at the time—the outboard motor.

Sometimes our plans take different tools or tactics than what we had originally planned. Our Judaism can assist with being a compass in our lives, and prayer can really be a wonderful map. And, this map can come not just from reciting the traditional liturgy, but by slowing down and really giving time for some prayerful thought. If time allows, taking a deep breath, or even a few deep breaths can really help.

With real Kavanah (Intentionality) you can step back from a situation so as to really observe what exactly you are addressing. The observations can be held without judgment for a while; what do I see both outside myself and within? Prayer then lets us try to articulate our thoughts; to meditate on what we are experiencing in the moment, and with a more quiet spirit than before effectively choose those options which are available and most effective for moving forward.

This week, I planned and God laughed.

I was for a moment overwhelmed, then I took my breath, observed, prayed, and figured out my best option; I called a friend for help. It wasn’t so difficult; if the situation was reversed I would have wanted to have been called to help. In a few minutes a solution had been found; I had a new plan; and this time I think God was giving a gentler loving laugh.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Mitch


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