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Sunday, 6 September 2015

Survey: What do you see on this sheet of paper?

Daf Yomi Nazir 14

The wicked Haman was overjoyed.  He had just drawn lots to determine which month would be best to exterminate the Jewish people.  The lottery had fallen on the month of Adar.  Why was this a good omen?  Because Adar was the month of the passing of their greatest leader and saviour of all time, Moshe. 
‘What a propitious occasion to annihilate the Mosaic people!’ he thought.
But unbeknownst to him, Adar was also the birthday of Moshe!  In fact, our teacher Moshe was born and died on the same day – 7th Adar – 120 years apart!

If a person declared, ‘I am like Moshe on 7th Adar,’ what is the law?
Tosfos explains: Moshe was born on 7th Adar.  On that day, there was great rejoicing.  But he also died on 7th Adar.  Presumably, many were in distress and took vows of abstinence and there was an abundance of nazirs due to their anguish.   This fellow made an unclear declaration.  Did he mean like in the generation of Moshe’s passing on 7th Adar, i.e. he was taking an oath of nazirism upon himself?  Or did he mean his birthday and he was taking upon himself to be joyful? 

Isn’t it interesting how the same day, 7th Adar, could mean completely opposite things, depending on how you interpret it?  To one person, 7th Adar is one of the saddest days on the calendar, but to another, it is one of the most joyous days on the calendar!  You can understand Haman’s confusion with the date – clearly, he’d only ever encountered Jews of the former kind!

People often say ‘the facts speak for themselves.’  But great thinkers have pointed out that the facts never speak for themselves.  Facts are interpreted by the observer.  And depending upon their prism of understanding, the same facts could be interpreted by two people in radically different ways.

Much of what happens in your life is beyond your control.  Things happen in the world around you that are totally independent of your actions.  What can you control?  Your response to those stimuli.  One person who hears the date ‘7th Adar’ will think joy, while another person will think sorrow.

You are in complete control of your responses to the stimuli that surround your life.   When you hear news, do you respond pessimistically, cynically, negatively?  Or do you see the good in everything and everyone?  Do you see the cloud or the silver lining? 

I heard about this professor that painted a tiny blotch on a sheet of paper.  He held it up to his class and asked them what was on the sheet of paper.  They all told him – a black blotch.
“No!” he scolded them, the blotch occupies about one percent of the page.  Most of this page is a beautiful white, natural, unadulterated canvass.  It’s your interpretation that reads it as nothing more than a black blotch.”

The facts never speak for themselves.  You get to choose how your life looks by interpreting the world around you.  May you merit a life of intense joy by making the right interpretive choices!

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