“If you stop doing hard things,” she said, “you’ll stop being able to do hard things.” That was what my health instructor said during class a couple of weeks ago. She was lamenting how her mother, who used to be on her feet all the time while she was working, had retired, joined the YMCA and gravitated towards doing chair yoga as her primary movement practice. Because her standing muscles slowly atrophied, she took a fall in the locker room and was heading into surgery to repair various injuries.
When she said that, I realized that my whole life has been guided by a similar principle. If I had allowed my natural shyness to win the day, I’d have never taken a public speaking class in college. If I had never taken that class and gained experience facing my paralyzing fears, I might not have summoned the chutzpah to apply to Rabbinical school. If I’d have given myself over to those persistent and unpleasant nerves for the first 15 years of my rabbinate (!), I may have given up on being a rabbi. It’s not that I’m never nervous before speaking. It’s not that all my talks are amazing. It is that I’ve built a strong muscle for doing things that are hard for me because I’m doing them all the time: earning 3 black belts in TaeKwonDo, engaging in training programs that provide new challenges for my professional and personal life. There are easier paths. I’m almost 50. I could just keep doing what I’ve always done.
The truth for all of us is that the hardest aspects of life are usually in front of us. If we stop doing hard things, if we take the familiar road, we may stop being able to do hard things like let our children grow up and leave home, retire and find new ways to spend our time, live with new physical limitations, grieve a beloved, give up our homes and independence.
In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt famously said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Living in the arena and daring greatly has made all the difference for me. You may reflect and discover the same is true for you. I am grateful to you for all the opportunities you’ve given me to learn and teach and stay in the arena so that I can better serve as your rabbi.
Previous messages from the Rabbi
Carpet Story A story from Iran: When a certain Muslim had been swindled by a Jew in business, the angered party went to the regional governor and prevailed upon him to issue an official edict requiring the conversion of every Jew by a certain date, upon pain of death. As the deadline approached, the Jewish … Continue reading Between You and Me – May 2019
The Hagaddah does a great job telling the story of the Israelite’s enslavement at the hands of the mighty Pharaoh. How with an outstretched arm and with signs and wonders, God redeemed us from captivity. Many of us will reflect at our Seder tables about those who are victims of tyranny today at the hand … Continue reading Between You and Me – April 2019
There is a folk legend that King Solomon, the wisest person ever to have lived, once posed the following riddle: What can you say to a happy man to make him sad, that will also make a sad man happy?” Solomon took a gold ring from his pocket upon which were engraved three Hebrew letters: … Continue reading Between You and Me- March 2019
A foundation of spiritual practice is the truth that we can hold two opposing feelings all at once. We can feel joyful as we grieve, we can experience hope in our despair, we can be certain in our uncertainty and, if we are wise, always be uncertain in our certainty. The weeks leading up to, … Continue reading Between You and Me – February 2019
An appeal to fellow Americans following the Pittsburgh Shootings The deadly attack on the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 was by far the worst anti-Semitic incident in our nation’s history. But it was hardly the only one. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the number of reported anti-Semitic hate crimes rose … Continue reading Between You and Me – January 2019
Light the lights…but replace them with LEDs! Hunkering down for the dark, cold winter, our ancestors knew we needed to add light and warmth to our lives. Today, light and heat come to us at a high cost – in dollars and in impact on the world. I invite you to consider these easy ways … Continue reading Between You and Me – December 2018
…we cannot reach any higher if we can’t deal with ordinary love. -Bono I read a lot of high holiday sermons…other people’s. It’s nice to see what other rabbis choose to speak about when so many are present and listening. This year, I also read a flurry of news articles on the subject of whether … Continue reading Between You and Me – November 2018
This month, I was late in turning in my Menorah article. After the volume of writing and thinking I was engaged in to prepare for the High Holidays, I just kept putting it off. I’ve even procrastinated on adding procrastination to the list of qualities I must address in myself this new year. In their … Continue reading Between You and Me – October 2018
Rabbi’s Highlights of the 2018 CBHT Trip to Israel Thursday June 21, 2018: Meditating at 6:30 AM on our first morning on the Tel Aviv beach for 23 minutes with Asa Harris who said afterwards, “Meditation is like yoga, except without moving!” In that moment I know I’m in for a treat with this group … Continue reading Between You and Me – September 2018
You may remember the NPR audio series called This I Believe that aired a decade ago. They were short, personal essays written by various guests about a core conviction borne from an impactful life experience. I will never forget one called, “Always Go to the Funeral.” In it, the author recalled how her father insisted … Continue reading Between You and Me
Two weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, I accompanied 12 students to the March for our Lives in Raleigh. Shortly after, one of our teens organized a rally for students here in Asheville. Inspired by their passion for change, their stories of being afraid at school and a deep conviction that … Continue reading Between You and Me