What is the daily inner work of the contemporary Jew? How do we, as the Passover Seder demands of us, become liberated human beings? How do we use our things, like our precious hard-earned money, to prove our dominance over the burdening pressures of the complexity of this world?
Entering the store yesterday, I felt confident, with an internal sense of clarity and aloneness. The type of aloneness that is so satisfying because you feel absolutely sure of what you want and what direction you want to go.
For there is nothing more frustrating than that sense of inner confusion, indecisiveness, of when you have these two dresses in front of you and you must pick one, but you don’t know which, and the detailed scenarios try to offer their opposing arguments to you simultaneously in your brain, erratically uncooperative with one another:
“Well, you know… That wedding is coming up…”
“You have the PERFECT earrings for that one”
And back and forth. And forth and back.
Until your mind in desperation, unable to reconcile the two, shrugs hopelessly, “I don’t know! I can’t decide!”
And you randomly grab one, ferociously approaching the cash register, hopelessly despondent.
“Yes, this one” you growl at the woman, unsettled, uncertain, and defeated by your own indecisive mind. “Just charge it,” you say.
I don’t know. The three most painful inner words of the English language.
Perhaps this is the real daily challenge of the contemporary Jew. We are not bound in chains. We can read our Torah in the streets and dance around. And laugh loudly. And declare we are Jews. And be powerhouses in the workplace and, etc and etc. The world is our oyster (the mock kosher version, of course).
That is not our avodah, our work, our task in this generation.
Of course, it would be easiest to just say- who cares? What’s the big deal? Just choose anything. But if we can be confident in the littlest of decisions that we make, in our daily, quaint and seemingly insignificant interactions with things and people, how much more so with the enormous decisions and values of our lives. To live as a Jew from the bottom up. To be careful and certain and confident about every little seemingly inane thing.
Money exists in a potential state and we, overcome with glee or crippling ferocity, are forced to decide what to do with it. A Jew and his money. It is not how much he has, but how he uses it.
The things that you own, after all, own you, the doctrine goes. But must it be true? How does a Jew remain dominant over his possessions?
Is it your divine responsibility to buy things that make you happy? Do you look heavenward and ask for more? Do you find it in unexpected places? How much do you indulge? How much do you scrimp? How much do you give to others? Where is your balance?
Perhaps our work is that subtle sense of empowerment, that ability to make those small, gut decisions, to be led by that inner light that says- pick this, drop that. Use it. Enjoy it. Be satiated. Indulge. But not one more drop than necessary. And to find the real, permissible, extravagant balance within ourselves. To walk out of the Target triumphant rather than overtaken. To own our things and not have our things own us. To feel certain of what we want. To be able to listen. To ourselves. To know how much to keep to ourselves and how much to give to others.
Perhaps therein lies our (sometimes unglamorous) triumphs. Perhaps therein lies our inner liberation.