Thursday, March 21, 2013


11 Nisan, 5773
March 21st, 2013
Parshat Tzav
Likrat Pesach

My beloved dean and teacher, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, has way of putting things. For the most part he uses his powers of articulation for good, though his students know that when a certain beatific smile crosses his face, whatever argument they just made will not be long for this earth.

A few years after graduating, I went to him because I was having trouble juggling my rabbi-ing and my life. I felt out of balance. This is what he said: “Scott, there is a physical state I’d like to describe to you. In it, you are forever off-balance – so much so that you have to put your foot in front of you to prevent yourself from falling. It’s called walking, and it has much to recommend itself.” He concluded, “Balance is an illusion.”

There is a kind of pop spirituality that misunderstands the nature of balance. It implies that balance – work-life balance, emotional balance, spiritual balance – is the state of being motionless. Balance, they say, is being unmoved by the concerns of life – the ability to be the perfect professional, the perfect parent, the perfect partner, the perfect friend. One glides with superhuman ease from one to the other, and the zen is undisturbed while the organic baby-food is served and the business deal is sealed by smartphone. This idea is nonsense.*

We are all falling. All the time. Some of us just have the good grace to give in and dance a step or two on the way down. That’s balance.

When I think about it, Pesach is the gangliest, most awkward holiday we have. It requires insane preparation. Its rules are ultimately impossible. We eat like 10,000 years of civilization never happened.** We tell a story that none of us personally remember. For hours. With family.


But we call Passover zman heruteinu – the time of our freedom. And maybe that has something to do with acknowledging the perfect as being the enemy of the good. Maybe it’s something about acknowledging how we’re never really going to get it right. Balance is an illusion. We only stop falling when we’re dead. Might as well enjoy the way down.

Enjoy the freedom. Chag Sameach.

* George Saunders’ short story The Semplica Girl Diaries is a horrifyingly beautiful exposition of this falsehood.
** Unless you’re eating Passover cake or those weird Passover Cheerios – in which case you simply wish that civilization had never happened.

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