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The Note Above the Noise
by Sarah Azulay
I sat in the endodontist's office awestruck; as I listened to him explain the intricacies of successful replantation of my eight-year-old daughter's avulsed permanent tooth, which had been yanked from her mouth courtesy of a toy basketball hoop string.
"The body," he explained, "regenerates bone constantly. The bones I have today are not the bones I had a year ago. But the body recognizes the tooth as a special bone, so the tooth does not regenerate, and the cells that make the tooth, disappear after the tooth is formed. If the body mistakenly thought that the reinserted tooth was a bone and not a tooth, you would see it dissolve over a matter of years - it would be reabsorbed, like a bone."
Unbelievable, I thought. What mind could have invented something like that - and that's only a tooth! Imagine the brilliant mechanics encompassed in the other parts of the body. I tried on the way home from the endodontist to explain these lofty thoughts to my daughter, but her mind was overcome by the towering buildings of Tel Aviv that loomed on the horizon.
It struck me, however, as I stole a glance at her glittering warm eyes which were mentally counting the stories of the Azrieli towers, that we adults are not so much different in our mental wanderings than my eight year old. The majesty of the world sings out to us in every miraculous moment, but our thoughts, as we've trained them, tune the messages out like a great white noise.
Why is this, I wondered, as my car squished between the narrow, sardine-packed lanes of the Ayalon highway, tuning out the white, noisy outbursts on my left and right which echoed from the frustrated, exhausted drivers who were also struggling to reach their own self-assumed important destinations.
Our inability to be awestruck by the brilliant design of this world and to live in utter amazement of its Creator, it occurred to me, is a direct factor of the way our minds have been trained, from our roots, to think. We - mankind, I mean - have learned to listen to the constant babble of the media, the rhetoric of the politics, and the gossip of the neighbors, but have tuned out the true message as to why we are blessed every second with a pulse and a heartbeat.
We are drowning in the upside-down world of absurdity and we all know it, somewhere, deep in our thoughts. Yet we plod along this nonsensical track, numbing ourselves to the truth that whispers within us like a faint, shimmering sweet note, that we can scarcely hear above the white noise that drowns us.
The message, of course, that tugs at us is that each of us has a purpose, an importance. We know it, but we are at a loss to discover it. We know that each physical action in this world has a spiritual counterpart in the spiritual world; thus, our constant unquenchable thirst for recognition, success, and honor, is like a battle cry deep from within each of us to excel - in glorifying the Almighty, in helping him to complete and perfect the world.
Our soul isn't thirsting for self-aggrandizement; it is longing to awake its fellow souls to the grandeur of the Creator, but we translate our constant competitive drive, in our limited capacities, as a need for our own self-glorification. If we think honestly, the instances in which we truly feel satisfied usually occur when we have helped someone else and not when we have acquired something material. Generally, we feel a greater contentment in offering words of encouragement to a spouse, a child, or a friend, and seeing that our words mattered than buying that big-ticket item we had so craved.
The afterglow of having lifted another soul's spirits nourishes the soul long after the incident has passed. Not so with the acquisition of the big-ticket item - you're on to the next one in little time.
Why is this? Because we are commanded to be G-d-like in the Torah, to walk in His ways, and in so doing, we are building connections with G-d. His ways are positive, kind, caring, and giving. G-d teaches Moses, and therefore us also, His attributes in Torah. With each kind act, with each acquired portion of Torah knowledge, with each mitzvah, we are bringing positive energy into the world - we are drawing His Essence into the world.
How do we know this? Before Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge, evil existed only as a potential. G-d wanted to create a world of free will. When Adam sinned, it actualized the potential of evil into reality. Evil is random and does not discern between the righteous and the wicked - it attacks both equally.
What combats evil? You do. I do. How do we do this? With our positive energy - actualizing our capacity and our desire to do good.
Positive energy beats back negative energy. Negative energy only spills out with negative actions and the absence of positive energy. The sprawling surge of anti-semitism today is, on some level, a warning to us, the children of Israel, that the positive energy we are supposed to be infusing into the world is waning and that we need to redirect our efforts in Torah, mitzvoth, and acts of kindness, the pillars upon which the world stands, as we are taught in Ethics of the Fathers.
Every second of the day you can be infusing the world with good - encouraging your spouse, hugging your child, making a nourishing meal for your family, reaching out to someone in need in your community, smiling at the doorman, the mailman, focusing on the needs of a distressed patient, advocating for your client's rights, creating in art, in science, in music, in literature - the list is endless, and it's all around us, like the whispering sweet note humming above the white noise. We need to tune out the white noise of the drivers on the right and left of the "spiritual" Ayalon in order to squeeze into the path our souls are aching to travel.
The results of a kind action reverberate through generations. Once, someone gave a speech on the value of a Jewish education. Three years later, at a circumcision, a woman the speaker did not know approached her and confided that she had kept her daughter at the local Jewish day school because of the speech she had heard. Imagine the impact - and possibly for generations, as one child reaped the benefit of a Jewish education due to a speech!
The difficult part about creating positive energy is the internal tick of our own personal negative energy, or the evil inclination, which attacks our true aspirations by depressing us and rendering us hopeless to act. How does it weave its craft? The negative messages which we constantly play on our own mental cassettes - regrets about the past, fears about the future, hopelessness about the present - confuse us like the great white noise and render us feeling helpless to act, lethargic and desperate. But we can choose our thoughts - we have free choice to think about something positive instead. This is the essence of being Jewish.
The only truth in any negative thought that we linger upon is that even if life appears bleak, or a cause hopeless, the situation can change to the exact opposite in one second, because G-d can bring salvation in an instant. We learn this from the Torah. After twelve years of imprisonment, Joseph, a convicted felon from a foreign country, was elevated - in one day - to be the leader of Egypt under Pharaoh.
On a more concrete level, think about pleasant surprises in your own life, where G-d reversed a desperate situation - where He saved you. It happens every day; we are just so lost in the noise of life that we often fail to recognize the Divine Hand which is so intricately woven in every aspect of our own lives - from finding the parking spot to providing us with sustenance, to the constant never-ending cycle of birth, which evidences G-d's faith and hope in mankind, to the miracle of the seasons - the order of nature, and the formation in the womb of an entire human being - with cells to produce teeth that will not disappear into bone mass unless the body fails to recognize them as teeth. He is everywhere, in everything. And He is calling to you to grow to reach Him.
This is the message in each of us, the sweet note above the noise. The first commandment in the Torah, "to be fruitful and multiply," also applies to the talents and unique greatness with which G-d has blessed each of us - to multiply and expand our own spiritual greatness in our mission to serve Him - to complete the world and rectify the evil that oozed from the moment Adam ingested the fruit.
We can use every moment - even sleeping, in order to rest to serve Him - to engage the Almighty, to draw Him closer. G-d hides in order for us to rediscover Him and be rewarded for the discovery. This desire to complete our own destiny, as designed uniquely by G-d, is the pulse that drives us. Unfortunately, for many, it has been misdirected to an urge for self-fulfillment - to the tune of the evil inclination's chatter.
When my two oldest daughters were little, prior to making Aliyah to Israel, we lived in Dallas, Texas. They attended the Jewish day school's preschool. I became active on the board and was often asked by parents whether they should continue to educate their children in the Jewish day school, as opposed to the excellent secular private schools which had gloriously spawned in Dallas over the years.
Having previously studied in the halls of these secular schools which prompted me to earn a law degree and pursue the secular world's golden path up the corporate apex, I could earnestly talk with these parents and tell them I had been to the other side of the rainbow and back.
Yes, there is value in knowing the difference between Bach and Beethoven and studying the enormous richness of literature, the music of foreign languages (but only Hebrew is holy!), and the wonders of science and philosophy, but simple awareness of this knowledge pales by comparison to the depth of comprehending how to utilize this knowledge in this world, like a tool, to elevate it, contribute to it, and beautify it, in a service whose purpose never ends and for a reward richer and sweeter than the most abundant physical pleasures imaginable - this is the value of a Jewish education.
The secret to understanding our purpose lies in everything - in the avulsed tooth that hopefully, G-d willing, will be successfully replanted by the mysterious, awe-inspiring repair mechanisms of the body, in the flutter of a butterfly from the moment it cracks the cocoon, to the larger symphony of nature's miraculous order. G-d is calling us, and the small sweet note that is in me and in you is propelling each of us to bring forth our own particular purpose and our own particular strengths to glorify the Almighty, who endowed us for this purpose.
Dedicated to the memory of my father, Yaakov ben Yehuda Leib, on the fourth anniversary of his Yahrzeit, 5 Elul, 5764.
from the September-October 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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