Posts Tagged 'Bereishit'

The First Luftmensch

Some times I get lost in thought. On more then one occasion I have been called a luftmensch. I realize that at times I come off as aloof. A luftmensch is an impractical contemplative person. This is an airy appellation taken from Yiddish which breaks down into “luft” (a Germanic root meaning “air” that is in the the name of Germany’s airlines and also related to the English words “loft” and “lofty”) plus¬†mentsh,¬†meaning “human being.”

Ferienstart in Hessen: Lufthansa empfiehlt rechtzeitige Anreise zum  Flughafen - Lufthansa Group

I was thinking of this when reading Bereishit, this week’s Torah portion. The Torah is short on words. Amidst a whole list of “begot”ings and ages one line stands out. There we read, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him.” ( Genesis 5:24) Enoch walked with God with his head in the clouds. Many interpret his being “no more” that he left the world as Elijah without dying. Never having lived on the ground there is no attributed years of his life.

This reminds me of a nugget of wisdom that my friend Jay Frankel shared. He said, ” As employers, we are always worried about our employees who might quit and leave. We should be more worried about the ones who quit and stay.” While the luftmensch might lead a life blissfully untethered by our quotidian existence, they also have resigned themselves to have no impact on the world.

In many ways Enoch is the foil for Yaakov. He starts out as a luftmensch, sitting in his tent as his brother is out in the field ( Genesis 25:27). But later we see him evolve. Most poignantly we see him have a dream of angels ascending and descending. There we read, “He had a dream; a ladder was set on the ground and its head reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.” ( Genesis 28:12) One way to read this is that this ladder is Yaakov himself. His “head” was still in the sky, but now his feet were firmly rooted in the ground.

In many ways the project of humanity is to live with the tension of our being animals and being divine. We need to always be reaching for the heavens AND be deeply rooted in this world. We cannot resign ourselves to either or. Me must be both. To be a mensch is to strive to live up to our full potential.


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