Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Majesty of Brokenness


Parshat Bamidbar
38th Day of the Omer
22 Iyyar, 5771
May 26th, 2011

God knows our yetzers (urges), and remembers that we are dust
Psalm 103:14

A man pulled up next to me on Westwood, and gestured that I should roll down my window. Then he started yelling.
            It’s the reason he started yelling that prompts this retelling. I had not cut him off, nor had I blocked his way, or done anything having to do with traffic. Rather, his anger was prompted by a political bumper sticker on my car (a fairly parve one, at that).
            Almost every day, during Shaharit, the guys at the Minyan and I pray the words above. They are meant to remind us of our frailty, our overwhelming tendency to give in to our temptations and inclinations, and the fact that so much of what we want is prompted by our basest instincts.
            These words are also some of the most life-giving I know.
            Pirkei Avot teaches that what defines a hero is conquering of one’s urges, and this is true. Restraint is heroic because our yetzer never tires of convincing us that it is in fact warranted, that it is justified. Anger’s genius is its success at explaining why other people deserve ours. Be it politics, or family issues, or perceived slights, or work disagreements – more of us are like the Westwood yeller than we might admit. The yetzer hara is an implacable foe.
            Salvation lies in the consciousness that our urges are both flawed and fleeting. We are more than our impulses. Beyond the acceptance of brokenness lies majesty.