Rabbi's Weekly Teaching
Friday, December 28, 2012
This week I had the chance to watch one of Frank Capra's classic films: "Meet John Doe". I was struck by the power of the film and the timeliness of the message. The movie was a midrash on the dangers of fascism. There is an appropriate cynicism about the common failure of too many of our institutional politicians, and a perhaps naïve sweetness present with imagining a world where an everyday person can change the world by simply living up to God's fundamental teaching to "love your neighbor as yourself".
"Meet John Doe" begins with a fabricated newspaper column that is supposedly written by an "everyday man" who decides that he's had enough and will protest all that is wrong with the world by jumping off the roof of City Hall at Midnight on Christmas Eve. Gary Cooper portrays the John Doe character, who is convinced by the author of the false column, played by Barbara Stanwyck, to become the "real" John Doe.
This Christmas themed movie has enough co-religionist themes covered for all to enjoy. Good overcomes evil; love triumphs greed; hope trumps cynicism.
One theme that was especially interesting is the premise that we can act our way into correct behavior even if the intention for this goodness in not at the heart of the chosen behavior. The Talmud (Kiddushin 31a) declares that a "commandment that one is commanded to do is greater than one that is done voluntarily". This strange premise is a rabbinic recognition that our actions are what count; not our feelings. Ideally, we would want to always feel the desire to do a mitzvah, but this allows for the risk of not doing the mitzvah when we don't feel like it. Sometimes we have to "act" our way into the very feelings we hope will come and that we will consistently possess.
In "Meet John Doe", the original intent of the co-conspirators was far from noble. But, they practiced sacred actions and spoke sacred words and saw the effect that this "acted" behavior was having on others. Eventually, the living of a noble life inspired the feelings that led a turning of the back on more selfish intentions.
We live our lives too often by our feelings; at times making our feelings become "facts". The purpose of God's commanding voice within our lives is to realize that even if we don't feel something, we are still charged with sacred duties to perform; none more important than loving our neighbor as ourselves. With a new secular year at our entranceway; we can resolve to "act" our way into internal intentions. Tithe our income to help others; whether we feel like it or not. Give our time to help others; whether we feel like it or not. Spend quantity, not just quality time with our loved ones; whether we feel like it or not. Speak with patience and love; whether we feel like it or not...
This New Year, let's act the way we want to be, and discover how it will help us to become intrinsically the way we act.
Shabbat Shalom & a Happy, Healthy & Peaceful Secular New Year!!
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