Holding on and Letting Go



It’s been a while since last I posted. Between some personal and professional travel and responsibilities at work, it hasn’t felt like there was a lot of time. But the truth is, I’ve procrastinated – a reversion to an old negative pattern which, for the most part, I’ve been able of late to keep at bay. I think the reason I couldn’t do so this time is because of the topic on which I knew I wanted to focus my next entry – the topic of control.

I love control. I thrive on control. I have built my life on control – or the appearance thereof. Because, as I’m sure anyone reading this blog is well aware, control in our lives is, to a large extent, a mirage. It is an image before our eyes in the sometime midbar (wilderness) of life which comforts, sustains and allows us to take the next halting step or two forward. Yet, a mirage it remains and often, when we cup our hands and bend to drink from it, it is sand that slips through those hands – leaving them, and perhaps us – empty and thirsting for something we want but cannot have.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted the Serenity Prayer as her Facebook status. She was moving that week, and I’m sure these words brought her perspective and comfort:

I found this poster of the prayer online and liked it. I also liked the fact that my friend posted the text on a week when I found myself wrestling with the reality of how little control we have in our lives. The organization for which I work is undergoing a paradigm shift which will significantly and -probably for some adversely – affect our lives. It’s a good and necessary shift, being spearheaded by thoughtful and planful leaders who are working to recreate the URJ in a way that will be effectively and excitingly suited to our times. But for those in the trenches, the great people with whom I work, and for that leadership team as well, and for me, it is a time fraught with insecurity. It is a moment in which the reality of how much we DON’T control is being brought home to all of us.

I started this blog the day after the yahrzeit of our son, Mitch. Nothing in my life has shattered the illusion of control as powerfully as that loss. But this year has also taught me, very powerfully, that what we CAN strive to control is our own way of dealing with reality and its impact on our lives. Learning that we could shape our own perspective and that the members of my family could each take chosen steps to reshape our lives has provided an invaluable balm to our wounds. The Serenity Prayer is right – it  takes strength to accept the vast landscape of reality we cannot control and courage to seize the opportunities to change our awareness and – when possible – our circumstances. And I would call the wisdom sought in the prayer the peace of mind that comes with holding the balance of that paradox in our minds and souls.

That balance and paradox does not originate in the Serenity Prayer. Nor is it exclusively native to Judaism, though it certainly can be found in our teachings. It is presented most powerfully – for some, too powerfully – in the Un’taneh Tokef prayer of the High Holy Days; the prayer which tells us that our destiny is determined and sealed during those days, and that self-correction, prayer and the commitment to look beyond our own needs (teshuvah, tefilah u’tsedakah) mitigate the severity of the decree. They don’t change the things that happen to us, but the approach to life embodied in these three practices gives us the control of attitude which makes painful reality survivable. At least, so I believe.

For some, the language of Un’taneh Tokef  may make it too hard to hear the message. So, to you I offer the teaching of Rabbi Akiva in Pirkei Avot: “Everything is foreseen, yet choice is given. And the world will be judged by Goodness, though all will go according to the majority of [our] deeds.” We live in a causal universe, and many of the causes are beyond our control or understanding. But we can choose the good; we can choose life and hope and, yes, survival. And when we do, a time does arrive – or at least it has again for me – in which I can say with deepest faith, “I am blessed and I can bless.” And, today, I bless you.

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Rabbi Rex D. Perlmeter

About Rabbi Rex D. Perlmeter

Rabbi Rex Perlmeter was ordained at HUC-JIR in 1985 and went on to serve as spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Greater Miami and the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. After serving on staff at the Union for Reform Judaism for five years, he has gone on to found the Jewish Wellness Center of North Jersey, a practice dedicated to supporting all engaged in "seeking Oneness in body, heart, mind and soul."

2 Responses to “Holding on and Letting Go”

  1. avatar
    Joan Michel Epstein Reply March 16, 2012 at 9:13 am

    I am not commenting about this passage, but rather the article in the magazine that I just received. I am so sorry for your loss. I don’t think we have met, but I am from Louisville. Rachel and I were good friends in high school, but like so many others we lost touch over the years. I can’t imagine what you have gone through. Mitch sounds like he was a great kid, and how wonderful of you to memorialize him in that way. Please give Rachel my love and she comes back to Louisville again, I’d love to see her. Joan

  2. avatar

    The older I get the more I cannot control. The body breaks down, the mind plays tricks. What I hang onto is love–love for family and for those around me, and theirs for me. That helps bolster the courage.

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