In his book, Tales of a Dalai Lama, Pierre Delattre tells a story about rules, about games, and about life’s purpose.
Once, he writes, when the Dalai Lama was very young, he was invited to a volleyball game after an interview with a Swedish professor. The players batted the ball over the net and whenever the ball hit the ground there were, of course, jubilant cheers from some fans. Others looked on, distraught.
The young Dalai Lama asked the professor to explain why people were playing against each other. He pointed out the obvious truth: Every time the ball hit the ground someone needed to be consoled.
The professor explained that points were won when the opposing team missed the ball.
The Dalai Lama was distressed. “But then the ball must hit the ground all the time. Such a way to play with the human spirit!”
Delattre describes the professor sitting, watching the game, thinking remembering his students batting ideas around, himself offering a concept only to find his student chomping at the bit for an opportunity to prove his argument flawed.
Suddenly, the professor yearned for a class discussion that would keep ideas in the air, allow the human spirit to take flight. Ashamed, Delattre writes, he left for Sweden with one desire: To go home and to change the rules of the game.
I told this story during High Holy Days and asked my congregants: What if the rules of the game were to keep the ball in the air?
What if we did not wait for others to trip and fall, but actively held each other up? What if we did not criticize what we felt were mistakes but simply asked others if they could rethink with us – and even consider that we ourselves might have rushed to judgment. What if we decided that having an ax to grind is equivalent to wishing humiliation and pain on someone else?
WHAT OCCURRED? The boulder left the mountain.
Who awakened? You and I.
Language, language. Co-earth. Fellow planet.
Poorer. Open. Homelandly.
The course? Towards the unsubsided.
Your course and mine was the boulder’s flight.
Heart and heavy. Adjudged too heavy.
Grow more heavy. Be more light.
On Erev Rosh Hashanah, I read this poem by Paul Celan, born Paul Antschel. Celan became one of the most well-known German – and Jewish — poets after the Holocaust. He was the only member of his family to survive.
That night, I called the people Celan’s “unsubsided.” Class and gender-neutral, stranger in the camp and Israelite from way back, old and young, the unsubsided, I said, all these stood side by side to listen. I imagined that the boulder’s flight must have been the truth expressed in that moment: Torah is for us all. We can stand together to receive truth, work together to understand it, and support each other in making our revelation real:
Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” 1Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. (Deut. 30:11-14)
It is close to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart.
On Kol Nidre I asked my congregants: Can we disavow clinging to agendas, our egos and their needs? Could we vow to change the rules of the game, to keep the ball in the air?
Should this not be our life’s purpose?