Vaetchanan 5780

By: Melanie Morris

Life is filled with challenges and difficulties in getting along with others — family, friends, fellow workers. How can one successfully defuse a situation and find a creative solution?

Often a first reaction is: “He can’t do that to me. It’s not right. He should do the right thing!” We first look to blame others. There is an old Jewish proverb: The Almighty gave us two eyes — one a telescope to see the faults of others from afar; the second, a microscope to see our own faults.

Rule #1: Determine the reality of the situation. Am I at fault in any way? Why is G-d doing this to me? What am I supposed to do to pass this test and to learn from this? These questions put the situation in perspective and soften the emotions.

Too often people initially seek justice and righteousness (and too often, self-righteousness!) — which often means seeking revenge. Instead of sweet and fulfilling, it ends badly and is destructive for everyone. There is an old adage, “He who seeks revenge should dig two graves.” If you want misery in life, seek justice and fairness.

Luckily for us, the Torah commands us, “You shall not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people” (Leviticus 19:18). Not only is revenge a bad idea, it’s forbidden! Pirke Avos, Ethics of the Fathers, teaches “Who is mighty? He who subdues his passions, as it is written (Proverbs 16:32) ‘One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city’ “.

Rule #2: Look at the possible solutions and their outcomes. This is where one sees that all of those “solutions” that seem so “sweet” may actually end in bodily harm and/or jail! Be creative to find a win-win answer. Success is measured by looking at the results of your actions.

Here’s a real-life example: A neighbor in the apartment building has an air conditioner drainage hose dripping from her balcony to the parking spot below — onto your car! You have politely asked her to remember to move the hose, but she has forgotten and your car is being covered in a slurry mess as the water mixes with the dust to make your car look like modern art. How would you feel? What would you think? What would you like to do? Yell at her? Scream? Call the police? Write a letter to the condo board?

One guy had this problem. What did he do? He brought her flowers! She was completely baffled. “Why are you giving me flowers?” The man softly said, “You’re a good neighbor…. and I really appreciate your efforts to keep your air conditioner hose from draining on my car.” She thanked him and shut the door a bit confused. However, never again did she forget to move the hose. It is very difficult to get angry at someone who brings you a gift.

About 10 years ago, I lost my job of 21 years. At the time, I was the sole earner for my family, still had 2 kids in school, not yet college, and it was a terrifying time. It was nothing personal, rather the result of a layoff due to shrinkage in my industry and changes in media habits.  I intentionally sought to find work outside of media, and took a position working for a hospice. It was a disastrous fit for me and I was fired after a miserable 2 short months.

One ray of sunshine from that experience was a friendship I made with a chaplain who gave me some very helpful reading. One such book is The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci. Subtitled, The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life. Ferrucci, a psychologist, argues that it is kindness that will not only lead to our own individual happiness and the happiness of those around us, but will guide us in a world that has become cold, anxious, difficult and frightening. Ferrucci reveals that the kindest people are the most likely to thrive, to enable others to thrive and to slowly but steadily turn our world away from violence, self-centeredness, and narcissism – and toward love.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama says this in the book’s forward – We were not born for the purpose of causing trouble and harming others. For our life to be of value, as Piero Ferrucci amply demonstrates, we need to foster and nurture such basic good human qualities as warmth, kindness and compassion. If we can do that, our lives will become more meaningful, happier and more peaceful; we will make a positive contribution to the world around us.

Sometimes a problem can be dealt with by a mental reframe — looking at it from a different direction. If you’re like me, you might be very sensitive and even turned off by horn honking on the road. It can be disturbing.

However, one person’s perspective, put the honking in a different light. “It’s a cultural difference. When the person behind you is honking, he might be saying, ‘Good morning, my friend. I hope you slept well. Just in case you are feeling a little drowsy, I want you to know that the light is about to change so you won’t miss it and be late to where you are going. Have a wonderful day!’ “Driving has been oh so more pleasant since that person realized that’s what the honking really could mean.

Another example – One recent morning, while in the gym, I noticed that 1 of the 2 elliptical machines had been removed. Since this tends to be the most popular item in the gym, I instantly started wondering if they had plans to replace it, once it had been repaired, and then felt perturbed, thinking they’d use this as a an opportunity to cut services.

When neighbor arrived for his workout, I pointed out the missing elliptical that he typically used. He told me the reason it was removed was for residents’ safety, so that we can work out more distantly from one another. Oh. It was for my benefit, not to my detriment, as I had assumed.

All the same facts, just different conclusions. It’s all a matter of perspective. Same input, but different results. The stuff of human misunderstandings.

The purpose of life is not to be comfortable. G-d did not put us in this world so that we can cruise through with all of the comforts of life, no pain, no challenges and then to die peacefully on the beach with concierge servce. G-d placed us in this world to face challenges, to perfect our character and to grow spiritually. That’s why life is filled with challenges. It is our choice whether to view the challenges as obstacles or stepping stones!

Shabbat Shalom