A Moment of Meaning: Holding off Cynicism

It is a challenge to be committed to an ancient tradition and to live in the modern world. So, while I believe one can easily defend the inner meaning of a life commitment to Judaism in light of secular values, it is a greater challenge to do so without becoming defensive. There are times it seems that it would be easier to shutter myself in with people who are like-minded and not deal with the outside world. But at the same time I truly enjoy engaging the larger world and the questions that it provides. Open-minded inquiry seems to allow free discourse between rivaling truth claims. One would hope that this would engender a certain modicum of curiosity; but I find our conversations often slip into cynicism.

While one can feel like they are in a tremendous groove in the free market of ideas, cynicism is a rut. And once in it, it wears on you until it is a chasm.  The tone has been set, so that even a well intending comment is perceived as ridicule. A humorous comment meant to lighten the mood just digs us in a little deeper.

At the end of this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei, Lavan, the villainous father-in-law of Yakov, blesses his children and grandchildren. We read, “And Lavan awoke early in the morning, he kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them, then Lavan went and returned to his place” (Genesis 32:1). Even a sinner like Lavan ( see last week’s blog) might have a moment of meaning. He returns to his perch of contempt, but the Torah takes a moment to express his compassion. He was not beyond love or appreciation for the family that Yakov and his daughters were making. I am not holding my breath for a similar moment of meaning between President and Jared.

I realize that I need to work on maintaining open inquiry without being cynical of others’ views. We learn from this week’s portion that for all of us it starts with being open and present with our emotions with the ones we love. Showing that I care is not a sign of weakness. Surely, there is no sin in sincerity.

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