Thursday, March 7, 2013

Taking Notice

Do you know the color of the eyes of the person you work with every day? Can you tell me what color dress your wife wore yesterday or what shoes your husband wore? Truth is most of us will have no idea. To many of things things that stare us in the face, literally, we pay no mind.
And, we will argue, perhaps correctly, that we do right. We point out, the things we take no notice of are of little consequence. But the question is, if we do not take notice how do we know that which we miss is of little consequence?

This Shabbat we conclude the four special Sabbaths that surround Purim and precede Pesach with Parshat Ha'chodesh. The reading of the Torah speaks of the first mitzvah given to the People Of Israel in anticipation of the Exodus, that of sanctifying the month on the basis of the sighting of the new moon. What is the meaning of this mitzvah in the life of the nation? Why is it given priority, so much so as to precede the liberation from Egypt and the giving of the Torah? And what significance does this mitzvah have to us that we read it yearly on a special Sabbath, particularly in our times where we have no 'beit din' to sanctify the months on the basis of the new moon?

If we are to see the Torah as a mirror revealing to us what we need to know inorder to become whole as persons and as a people I think the truth we are being shown is that all becoming begins with taking notice! What is the mitzvah of the sanctifying of the month if not a call to take notice. We cannot have holidays, we cannot perform the rituals associated with the holidays, we can not have a national/religious life without taking notice, notice of the small sliver of the moon as it emerges from obscurity into rebirth each month. All Jewish living starts with taking notice of the change in the sky. Its not a big change, and its one we might otherwise not recognize, anymore than we notice the color of our friend's eyes. Yet it is important that we be aware, that we live life with eyes wide open, that we see what needs to be seen, so that we can become who we need to become. The mitzvah which is prerequisite for all others and upon which all national growth and becoming depends is the mitzvah to take notice. If we as a people are blind to the messages our times and circumstances reveal we will forever remain compromised and stuck in our mediocrity.

If taking notice is vital to us as a people, how much more so is it essential for us as persons. Rav Wolbe in his sefer Aleh Shor, challenges us to learn at least three lessons each day from experience, from encounters we have in the world and with people. He emphasizes that living is meant to teach us. We receive regular invitations to insight, if only we will take notice.
How many people go through life singing loud never realizing they are off-key. And if we think of the above metaphorically, how many live lives off key, hurting others with there words and deeds seemingly oblivious. They never take notice of the impact they make on others. When confronted, sometimes after many years of hurtful behaviors, they will say "No one ever told me." In fact they were told many times, if not explicitly then by the reactions of others. It's not that they were not 'told'. It's simply that they refused to take notice of all the signs before their eyes!

To be alive is to use the world and our brothers and sister as our teachers. They reveal to us truths about ourselves we cannot get anywhere else. But usually the lessons will not be given to us directly. We need to be observant and watch the impact we make as we navigate life.

Moreover taking notice of others and how they react to life with its challenges and opportunities will teach us much about our own possibilities both for the good and bad. Not only does the Torah mirror each of us as individuals. Each person we encounter is a mirror as well. True we are not all the same. But we are all made of the same ingredients. And if someone else behaves in a way unlike us, either for the good or the bad, it begs to be noticed. In noticing we can consider the differences between us, explore the reasons, learn and grow. Turning a blind eye to difference is almost as bad as rejecting those who are different. In each case we shun the message difference has to teach us. We need to take notice of how others are not the same as us and learn from them so as to improve our selves.

The Torah teaches us all this when it prioritizes the mitzvah of sanctifying the new month on the basis of the sighting of the first glimpse of the new moon. The imperative is clear. Everything begins with taking notice.

Is it any wonder then that Pesach, our first holiday, and celebration of our nation's birth, in it's major observance, challenges us to take notice even of the crumb of chametz. All change, all growth, all becoming begins with taking notice. Our first spiritual call is to open our eyes!

Shabbat Shalom

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