On the same day, three people I know – a therapist, an educator and an early childhood consultant – told me that I HAVE to see the new children’s film, “Inside Out.” It’s an animated Pixar film that focuses on the life of a young girl whose family moves from Minneapolis to San Francisco at a precious time in her development.
The film enters into her “head” and exposes the way emotions guide our behaviors and decision making processes. All three of my friends described the film as charting new ground, explaining that it will give a generation of kids a language to understand and describe feelings. And an understanding that, as another early childhood great, Mr. Rogers, once said: “There is no such thing as a bad feeling.”
We all have lots of feelings. Sometimes we have conflicting feelings about the same thing. Our challenge, in order to live a productive life, is to recognize our feelings and give our emotions the appropriate outlet.
This week’s Torah portion reads like an animated film. It is a narrative about the king of Moab, Balak, who fears the Hebrew people. He sends a seer, a prophet, named Balaam to curse the people of Israel. The prophet rides a donkey who sees an image of an angel that prevents him from moving forward to curse the people. The donkey sees the angel and refuses to move forward and subsequently is beaten by Baalam. He then speaks. The donkey speaks!
The end of the story has the prophet, Balaam, actually praising and blessing the people Israel. And Balak is foiled. Is that the end? No. Although the people defeat the Moabites, the men enter into illicit relationships with their women and offer pagan sacrifices! Oy.
The story seems simple but it’s not. And so it is open to many interpretations. The first assumptions prove to be untrue. Our expectations don’t get fulfilled. And amongst them is the following: Every situation imposes many possibilities. And we can never be sure how things will turn out. Those we thought to be our friends sometimes are not. Those we thought to be our enemies can become our friends. It is when we fall into simple ways and preconceived ways of viewing the world, or even our relationships, that we find ourselves disappointed. Life is never black and white. Life, like our emotional states, is multicolored and multidimensional.
These days, when there are those in the Jewish world trying to convince us that we stand alone, we have to know that it is simply not true. There are different ways of viewing the same problem, and there will probably be different paths to the desired outcome. We need to allow all of our powers of critical thought to harness our emotional lives, and be able to act and react rationally, and with wisdom and thoughtfulness. We are creating a different future, not reliving the past.
One last thought…This Shabbat we are celebrating America’s Independence Day. We pause and give thanks for the blessings of this great country. Our history here reflects the best period of Jewish life in thousands of years. We are citizens and participants in this great experiment of freedom and democracy. Let us continue to support the system that gives us rights and freedoms, obligations and duties to further the dreams of this great nation.
May God bless us all!
Shabbat Shalom and see you in shul.
Rabbi David Steinhardt
This column is dedicated to the memory of Rubin Shafran z”l