Time to Wake Up!

by: Rabbi Yisrael Baron

(Published March 18, 2013 Sunny Isles Beach Community Newspapers) 


We have all heard it many times. We must decrease our carbon footprint. We must be more green and earthfriendly. As a boy, I remember how when we went hiking in the woods they would tell us, “Don’t leave any wrappers or any mess behind. Leave the trail the way you found it.”

In Genesis, the story is different. Man was not told just to maintain the environment, but “to work it and to watch it,” and “multiply and conquer it.” We must not only maintain our world, but also advance it. We are not just tourists, but active participants in completing G‑d’s plans for a perfect world. We must exert influence towards the betterment of this world whenever possible. The Kabbalah talks about many spiritual worlds, yet our physical world is referred to as “the world of action.” When presented with any opportunity to do good, you now have a responsibility to seize that moment and act.

I was talking to Marty the other day and he said, “We come here to go to sleep.” No, those are not the actual words that he said. However that is what I understood him to mean when he said,” We come here and try to put ourselves in a little bubble to escape the realities of life and the world.” Marty does this by playing golf at least five times a week. And just in case you didn’t know, a round of golf can take as long as a full day’s work. So, Marty plays golf with just the right balance. Not too intense or competitive, but it absorbs him just enough to keep him busy and sane. “Ignorance is bliss.” All too often, we rather be ignorant of what’s going on around us, and enjoy the bliss. We rather enter that bubble and be peacefully “asleep.”

This year, we commemorate 200 years since the passing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the author of the Tanya and Code of Jewish Law. As a young man, he was already recognized as a brilliant scholar. It was prearranged that his father-in-law, Yehuda Leib Segal, a wealthy resident of Vitebsk, would support him and his daughter Sterna after their wedding. However, since the father-in-law did not approve of the direction of his new son-in-law’s Chassidic studies, he reneged on his promise, and withheld support of the young couple.

Young Shneur Zalman was forced to get a job as a maggid, a rabbi who delivers speeches of inspiration. After a period of time, this profession won him great acclaim. By that time, his father-in-law had passed away, but having been validated by his fame, his mother-in-law invited him back. Rabbi Shneur Zalman declined the offer and explained his reasoning with a parable: “A baby in its mother’s womb has all of its needs provided for: shelter, warmth, nutrition, and even proper cushioning, provided by just the right water bed. But once that baby enters the real world, it’s a one way trip. He cannot return to his bubble. So too, I must move forward and not escape my responsibilities.”

Since we are not merely tourists in this universe, any opportunity we are given to influence our surroundings in a positive way must be seized. At times, we find ourselves refusing to absorb the realities around us. We’d rather live in a dream world. We don’t want to pay attention to the facts. Just like math, physics, and gravity are realities of the world, there are other realities that we know exist, but we choose to ignore. We’d rather escape and feign ignorance over their existence. At times, we’d rather go back to sleep in our bubble than assume the opportunities to influence our surroundings in a positive way.

Ayal, a successful businessman I know, describes the secret of his success in an extremely simple way.Ayal attributes his success to a combination of getting up early and having a positive attitude. It’s like what Benjamin Franklin advised, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Only, Ayal’s formula adds that you also need the positive attitude, since you could be figuratively sleeping while you are literally awake and walking around.

Indeed, the code of Jewish Law advises one to arise early, and with an urgency to serve your purpose in this world. The way I see it, you need both the action and the attitude to be successful. Any delay in action will also weaken the resolve of your attitude as well. For example, if you decide to diet, you are best off starting immediately. For when you intend to start a diet at a later date, the farther off in the future that date is, the less of a chance there is for any success.

The state of sleep and the state of being awake only differ by their sense of awareness. When you are sleeping, you can dream of impossible things. Therefore, when a person undergoes surgery they put him to sleep, so that he is not aware of the reality around him. So too, being awake in attitude, means you are aware and ready to deal with the realities of the world around you. You don’t avoid or run away from responsibilities this awareness of reality poses; you embrace them and get to work.

“Getting up early,” means you have a zest for being awake and facing life’s challenges because you are optimistic. As an early riser, you are excited and can’t wait to get up and get going. On the other hand, getting up late can mean you are trying to avoid life, because you are less positive and hesitate to enter the world of action. “Let me go back to sleep, into my world devoid of reality,” may be the message you are expressing when you turn over to the other side.

Even if you are awake, you can seek activities that put you in a bubble devoid of reality. So you can be physically awake, but, on the practical level, really asleep as you walk through your day. This is akin to sleep-walking through your day. Strangely enough, thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies are not much different than these sleep walkers. They want to feel alive without having to take the responsibilities that come with it.

As we tell ourselves that we want to make this world a better place, we must ask ourselves: How can I make an impact if I am pulling myself into the comfort zone of sleep, where I sedate myself to avoid the sometimes painful awareness of reality?

So wake up! If you are given responsibilities, you must be aware of reality and use all of your potential for the benefit of mankind. Be awake with persistent optimism, and also help others take advantage of opportunities they may not see. Don’t go hitting that snooze button again…wake up!