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December 2016 – Life’s Large And Small Problems

Some time ago I read a wonderful sermon by Rabbi Morris Adler, (may his memory be for a blessing.)  In it, he quoted an interview he had read with a person who had just walked across America.  Stationed in New York reporters asked this person what was the thing that had bothered him most during his three thousand-mile journey?  They expected him to say the Rocky Mountain range, the Mississippi River, or the crowded cities.  Instead, this athlete said that the greatest obstacle he had encountered were the pebbles in his shoes.  The pebbles in his shoes plagued him all the way.  To Rabbi Adler, and many years later, to me, this finding has a profound truth.  I would say how lucky this man was that he missed the big problems, the unbearable issues of life.  He had little problems to take care of as he walked, nothing major, he just kept on going, cleaning his shoes, as he continued his trip.  However, the more I think about it, I realize that in our lives we tend to do exactly the opposite.  We concentrate on major issues and forget the pebbles in our shoes, the little deficiencies, the minor weaknesses, and the small transgressions here and there.  We have immunized our conscience.  We no longer pay attention to the unimportant obstacles as we plough through the path of a better life.  Sometimes we voice our opinion against the big injustices of life, the major events.  The small ones are not even mentioned.  We tend to forget that throughout life we have allowed the small problems to erode our character.  We permit the years to eat away at our personality.  We are strong enough to resist the large temptations.  When was the last time you robed a bank, burned a house, or hit your friend?  You could say to yourself, “I have resisted these large temptations”.  Please don’t make the mistake that because you have not done any of these things you are OK.  It is the small temptations, the little hypocrisies, and the little duplicities, which really destroy us.  We lose our Judaism by small doses of abandonment.  If we observe Judaism only in dramatic moments, only when we need a Minyan, only when we celebrate a life cycle event, that erodes our Judaism.  Every time we lower the thresholds of observance, commitment and compassion, the great casualty is our character.

We are accustomed to thinking about the monumental issues of our times at the High Holy Days; to ponder once again those eternal problems of human existence.  Let us on these few days before Rosh Hashanah 5777, each in the privacy of his/her own heart and mind, think of the pebbles in our shoes.  Let us arm ourselves against these minor transgressions. Perhaps we shall achieve a major triumph of character and of human dignity.

L’Shanah Tovah to you and your families,

Rabbi Leonardo Bitran