I am a millennial. Just barely, but I’m in there.
For better and for worse, I’m part of a generation that engages the world through a conversation about our presence and our role.
It’s true this has led to things like the selfie-stick, but it also resulted in hundreds of thousands of young people working to make the world a better place in their own way.
You see, we millennials don’t want to work, volunteer or become members of something – simply because that’s what people have always done. No, we want to make a difference, and we want to give our time and money to things that make a difference for us. We are on a search for meaning. We are looking for experiences that will improve our lives. And though we may be more direct in owning such selfish pursuits, I’ve come to believe that this desire for meaning is not ours alone.
All people, of every generation, seem to seek moments, companions and experiences that expand the heart and mind. All people try to be the best versions of themselves they can be.
Our challenge today is to be Jewish in a way that fills our lives with meaning. We want to be Jewish with awareness, to “do Jewish” in a way that satisfies our souls.
But, life gets busy, and we can quickly get consumed and fail to take time for wonder or make an effort to pay attention to the deeper meaning of things.
This is what happens to Balaam, a heathen prophet whose story we find in the Torah. Though Balaam is apparently incredibly successful and sought after – even he becomes an illustration of missing the divine when it is right in front of you. More than that – he’s shown up by his donkey. That’s right; Balaam fails to see an angel before him. The donkey he’s traveling on, however, does see it and can speak to Balaam and bring it to his attention.
Now, this is a very strange story; for a great number of reasons. And every year when I read of a talking donkey – I can’t help but picture the Shrek cartoon and hear Eddie Murphy’s voice. But even that contributes to illustrate how ridiculous it seems that this great prophet is missing a moment of revelation! And his foolish animal is aware of it. That leaves us contemplating how much we each miss in our own lives.
In his book, God is a Verb, David Cooper writes,
Things are more than we think they are. The world is a reflection of and is in a symbiotic relationship with, other realms of reality. Each event that we experience has a deeper message if we have the eyes and ears to hear. Everything has mystical meaning and significance. Life is enormously rich and purposeful once we can penetrate its mysteries.
The lesson here is that wonder, mystery, meaning, and most of all – God’s presence – are here and accessible to all living things. Most of us are blind, walking around sightless, to the wonders that exist around us.
Do I believe we could see angles and hear talking donkeys if we tried hard enough? No. It’s a metaphor. I do think that if we tune into the world around us and approach other people and moments with eyes filled with wonder and gratitude that our lives will be enriched.
There’s a Jewish saying
Every day there is a heavenly voice that emanates from the mountain of Sinai, but we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we fail to listen.
Tonight, I encourage you to listen and pay attention. Hear what is around you and open your eyes to what’s in front of you. And for all those millennials, and those who think like millennials, now questioning the benefits of listening to rabbinic advice, think about it this way – a rabbi was the first life coach. Our entire purpose is to help you live a meaningful, happier, inspired life.
So how can I help you do that?
By helping you understand that Judaism teaches a need for wonder and awareness. To accomplish this, we need to pay attention and open our eyes to the mysteries around us and the presence of the divine lingering nearby.
The idea that we can find inspiration and meaning in everything – even the most surprising of sources is one of the beautiful messages we receive.
May we all be able to recognize the splendor that surrounds us, and may doing this enrich our hearts and souls.