One Long RodBaseball training begins this week and you know what that means. Everyone is waiting for the fastball right down the middle. Pitchers hope it will blow right by the batter and strike him. Hitters hitter hope to slap it right out of the park. Balls thrown inside or outside are tricky, they favor either the pitcher or the hitter, but balls thrown right down the middle can favor either side.
The tabernacle that our ancestors built in the desert was made of wooden beams that stood up vertically. Rods were inserted into the beams to help hold them together. One ran through a series of rings built into the top portion of the beams. One ran through a series of rings at the bottom portion of the beams and a third rod ran through holes that were bored right down the middle of the beams.
The top and bottom rods were each comprised of two half rods. One inserted at one end of the wall, the other inserted at opposite end of the wall, and they met at the center. The center rod was one long rod that ran from one end of the wall to the other. The message is that at the extremes there are differences, but at the heart, right down the middle, there is only one rod – one truth.
In AgeWhen we are young, at the bottom of the age curve, we think that old people are quaint. When we are old, we think young people are unruly. Neither extreme relates well to the other. When we are in the middle of life, we relate well to both. Old people don’t seem out of touch, and young people don’t seem out of whack. When we are right down the middle, we can favor or relate to either side.
The rod at the bottom, representing youth, has two parts. There is a disconnect between young and old. The rod at the top, representing the elderly, has the same. The rod at the center, representing middle age, when we are still feel young, but can well relate to those older than us, has a single rod that bores through the entire wall with no breaks. When we are right down the middle we relate to both sides.
In MoralitySome people are holier than thou and have a hard time relating to those who think differently from them. These people are at the top of the morality pyramid, they live truly ethical lives, but they view those less ethical than them as inferior. There is a break, a disconnect between them and others. Then there are the unruly and uncouth people at the bottom end of the spectrum. They can’t relate to or respect people that are more pious or moral than them. They too have a disconnect.
Then there are those that recognize that no matter where you are on the spectrum, there is a kernel in truth in you that makes you real and worthy of respect. The highest achiever and the lowest failure, the most arrogant and the most downtrodden, the most powerful and the weakest, all share one commonality: They are human beings struggling to be better today than they were yesterday.
When you take that perspective, you can relate to both sides. You have one long rod that extends from one end of the spectrum to the other. You can truly respect and relate to everyone because you find the kernel of truth in them all. Surely there is much to be lauded in every human being and there is much to be criticised. But for those whose views take them right down the middle, don’t pay any attention to that. They look instead to the heart. If there is sincere yearning, authentic longing and a genuine desire to be better, they connect with us and find something to relate to.
Kernel Of TruthIt is way too easy to criticize another for the things they do wrong. We think that if we were in their position we would have done things much differently, much better. So we criticise them for their shortcomings. But let us be honest. Is there anyone in the world without shortcomings? No matter how good or bad anyone is, surely there is a fault in them somewhere. Should we focus on these faults just because they are there? Do we focus on our own faults just because they are there?
We put our own faults in context. I am generally a good person, I have a few faults, but I am human, what do you expect? Even so, I am not content with my faults and try to improve. We give ourselves a pass for our faults and hope that others will too. We can treat others like we treat ourselves. Rather than focus on their faults, we can focus on their kernel of truth. No matter where they are on the spectrum, they are genuine and sincere about something. That kernel is where we can connect.
Right Down The MiddleThis is the rod that takes us right to the heart of the matter. It comes right down the middle, hangs out over the plate and is ripe for connecting. If we take this attitude, it isn’t difficult to find a point of contact, a commonality with the entire spectrum, both those at the top and those at the bottom.
A Chabad rabbi was helping a not yet observant Jew wrap Teffilin at the Western Wall. When he was done, an ultra religious Jew approached the rabbi and asked why he would help someone that behaved as a complete non Jew perform a mitzvah. The rabbi asked whether this ultra religious man would throw a stone at this man’s car if he would drive through his neighborhood on Shabbat. The Ultra religious Jew confirmed that he would. To which the Chabad rabbi replied, “So for Teffilin, he is not Jewish, but for stone throwing he is?”
When we see a fellow Jew do a Mitzvah, we can focus on two things. The many Mitzvot he doesn’t do or the one Mitzvah he is doing. If we look down on the many Mitzvot he doesn’t do, we create a chasm between us that cannot be crossed. What’s worse, it will only lead him to resent us and the condemnation will extend both ways, just like the top and bottom rods of the tabernacle.
If, you belong to the rod that runs right down the middle, you don’t think about the Mitzvos he does or doesn’t do. You think about this moment. Right now this man is giving authentic expression to his real Jewishness with a genuine Mitzvah and a sincere heart. This is the truth. He may or may not repeat this Mitzvah tomorrow, but who is to say we must measure his mitzvah against our Mitzvot. The pertinent fact is that in this moment, this man is living his kernel of truth. That should be enough.
Peaceful InsideReb Zushe Vilomovsky of blessed memory, had a real knack for peace making. He was once asked, why people stop arguing when he enters the room. His answer was powerful enough to give anyone pause. “When you are at war internally, you will enjoy peace externally. When you are at peace internally you will fight with everyone around you.”
It is a baffling statement, but this is what he meant. When you are convinced that you are perfect and are at peace with yourself, you will judge everyone around you as imperfect and thus there will be war. If you are not satisfied with yourself and struggle constantly to improve, you will take a humble view of yourself and judge others favorably. Then you will be at peace with everyone around you.
This is right down the middle. It is the kernel of truth. The single rod that embraces both extremes.