Harry Chapin died more than 35 years ago in a terrible car accident on the Long Island Expressway. His music lives on and the lessons they offer have resonated for me over the years. His classic song Cats in the Cradle rings in my ears on this Rosh HaShana day, the theme of life’s regrets.
As we read this morning’s Torah portion, I wonder if Avraham felt any regrets about the way in which he treated Yishmael, his son by Hagar. According to the Midrash, he did. In the Torah, Avraham under the influence of Sarah casts Yishmael and Hagar into the wilderness to die. God intervenes and they do not die, but Avraham does not know that! The Midrash, on the other hand, has a narrative in which it imagines a regret over the banishment which haunts Avraham as the years pass. Avraham travels by camel to visit Ishmael. He arrives at midday but only finds Yishmael’s wife. “Where is Yishmael?” he asks. She responds “ Halach hu lirot et ha-gemalim ba’midbar.
“He went with his mother Hagar, to tend to the camels in the wilderness.”
“Amad Avraham v’hu mitpalel lifney HaKadosh Baruch Hu”
“Avraham pauses to pray to the Almighty that Yishmael and his household be blessed with only good.”
When Yishmael returns home, his wife tells him of his father’s visit.’Ve’yada Yishmael sh’ad achshav rachamey Aviv Alav” “And Yishmael knew all this time that his father had mercy upon him”
It is a poignant account by the Rabbis of Avraham’s lifelong regret. Contemporary rabbis, parents and therapists often hear regrets as well.
“If only I had…” If only she hadn’t; Why didn’t I; I can’t believe I didn’t; If I had to do it over again; If only I had known; I should have; I shouldn’t have”
When we look at these remarks now, we realize that we are speaking of yesterday’s regrets, but what about tomorrow? What are our significant regrets not from “the yesterday”, but what will be our regrets a year or five or ten years from now? The Sages of the Talmud ask, “Who is wise?” “Aysey hu chacham?”
And offer the answer. “Ha’roeh et Ha’nolad!” The person who anticipates what is ahead. Let me suggest some personal regrets which exist in many of our lives. Perhaps we can stop short of them before they emerge years from today. Here are three:
DON’T REGRET JUDGING THE WORTH OF YOUR LIFE BY EMPLOYING THE WRONG CRITERION. What is the gauge by which to measure success or failure in our life? I believe that the answer is we should judge life’s success more by life’s personal and interpersonal bonds than by life’s material rewards. Sort of like the connection made in the mahzor at the time of the sounding of the shofar. We say after the blasts “Ashrey ha’Am Yodey Teruah”
“Happy are those who know the sounds of the shofar”. How precisely is one’s happiness to be measured the Sages ask. They answer by connecting this phrase with another verse in the book of Psalms: “Wealth and riches are in God’s house forever.” Does it sound like material goods are the gauge of happiness? Not really. The verse, according to the Sages, applies to a person who writes the Torah, Prophets and Writings, the TaNaKh and then lends those to others. So, how are wealth and riches defined? It is the privilege after one has written to lend to someone else. “Happy are those who really understand the sound of the shofar. The shofar stimulates us to share values, moral teaching, ethical standards and profound ideas.
Actually research supports the definition of success. People are not happiest when earning more and more. At a certain point we are happiest when our earnings are used to assist others. Under-indulging rather than over indulging. What is done with extra earnings makes for happiness? Interpersonal relations with a spouse, with children, grandchildren, friends, and family are more profound than professional success.
DON’T REGRET IN TEN YEARS NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO THIS GAUGE.
The second measure.
WHAT IS AN OBSTACLE TODAY TO EFFECTIVE FAMILY RELATIONS?
In 2018 the flight to technology has become an end in itself rather than a means. Hi tech sometimes interferes with personal relationships. In 10 years, you don’t want to regret that technology impaired rather than helped the rest of life. I-pads, I-phones, emails, texting are to be celebrated for their convenience. We use these as tools to enhance connections and communication.
A few years ago, Thomas Friedman writing for the NY Times wrote about being Drunk on Technology. A while ago he took a trip to Paris. When he got off the plane, he was met by a taxi driver who had been sent to pick him up. The man was carrying a sign with his name on it, but as Friedman approached, he noticed that the man seemed to be talking to himself. Of course, a Bluetooth was clipped to his ear. Friedman pointed to himself as the person he was supposed to meet. The driver nodded and went on talking on the phone.
When the luggage arrived, Friedman took it off of the belt. The driver pointed to the exit. Friedman followed while the taxi driver kept talking. In the car Friedman asked him if he knew the name of the hotel. The driver said “no”. He showed him the address. The driver took it and went back to his conversation. As the driver spoke, Friedman opened his laptop. He was finishing his column while listening to his i-Pod. When he got to the hotel he reflected on this trip. He and the driver had been together for an hour and between the two of them the driver drove, talked, Friedman rode, worked on his laptop and I-Podded.
The one thing they had not done during the entire trip was speak, except for one word.no” Too bad. The two of them in one car but a million miles apart for the conversation they COULD have had.
Being Drunk on Technology can mean the end of education and communication. One teenager had a book assignment but he read only 42 pages in 2 months. He said, “On U tube you can get the entire story in 6 minutes. A book takes too long.”
When a Bar or Bat Mitzvah young person is offered the opportunity to prepare and deliver a D’var Torah for the day of celebration, it often requires assistance to slow the youngster down in the reading pattern. The speech is sometimes so rapidly shared as to be unintelligible. Running from one task to another in tech terms results in no time to pause. Most of our children are in a constant mode of stimulation and the brain is not given the time to have down time.
A Hebrew word for conversation in the Torah is “si-cha”. It is introduced when Yakov, Jacob, goes out to the field “la-su’ach” to meditate on God’s Presence and with Ha-Shem. Conversation with someone requires focus. Texting,”I’m thinking of you” or “I love you” with lots of abbreviations like “lol” or “xoxxes and “oos” does not truly deepen a relationship.
In years from now don’t regret the destruction or minimizing of real relations because the tech side of life overwhelmed the love and care. When we are at a meal or when we are speaking with someone try to silence your technology. For our ancestors and for us, Shabbat is the cessation of manual labor. Our challenge is to be able to “unplug” our tech connections for 25 hours and build human relations and a Divine relationship through study and prayer and meals and rest and refreshing the neshama, soul time.
A third regret that we can avoid is OUTSOURCING TOO MUCH OF LIFE.
Have you seen ads for “Surrogate soccer mom taxi service?” Ads for rent a mom? An ad for ending a relationship, “Breaking up is Hard to do, Let us do it for you”? “Rent a dad”? Even “rent a rabbi” for weddings or funerals. We have “life coaches” wedding planners, rent a friend. We know that there is good reason for out-sourcing some parts of our lives. We are time deprived. We are likely to turn for professional services to finance things we cannot do due to longer work hours. We can rent a closet tidier service. We can arrange for stand in care for elderly parents. We can hire a tutor to assist a child in prepping for college entrance exams or high school tests.
The more we depend on out-sourcing our life the results will be lessening our interpersonal and human relationships.
In Jewish life rather than out-sourcing we need to be empowering. Rather than “Rent a more knowledgeable and observant Jew” or “Rent a Kaddish reciter” we have to try to empower one another and one-self. The task of clergy and leadership is to enable through education to fulfill the sacred tasks.
Changing our life patterns is very difficult. However, these 3 patterns, if they continue…
JUDGING OUR LIFE BY INCOME AND NOT INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS
ALLOWING TECHNOLOGY TO BE A MEANS AND NOT AN END
OUT-SOURCING CRITICAL PARTS OF OUR LIVES…
They can become regrets in years from now. While regrets for yesterday cannot be eliminated, regrets for tomorrow can be mitigated and corrected before they occur. Each of us on this Rosh HaShana day must commit to a personal strategy and each family to a set of goals and a revised standard of life.
Less regrets. No regrets.
Avraham had regrets as a father. The midrash seeks to explain and correct his decisions and to teach us a profound lesson.
Harry Chapin teaches us about regrets and we have a chance to learn from his lyrics and insights.
May this Rosh HaShana have more changes and less regrets for now and for years to come.
Moshe 5779. Rh edited 6.28.18