Delivered on August 3, 2018
Parashat Ekev 5778
“Sometimes, finding kindness in strangers can be as hard as finding your lost keys. Sometimes, they can actually be the same thing. When Steve drove off with his $500 keyless car fob on the top of his car, he had little hope of ever seeing it again. Of course having a Tile attached to his keychain made him feel a little better, so he set his Tile to ‘Lost’ and hoped for the best.”
A Tile is a small piece of plastic with a some sort of chip embedded, attached to a keychain. It connects to an app, and then helps one find those easy-to-misplace items.
On Tile’s promotional website, the story continues, “A month went by before Steve received any updates, and at this point, he’d resigned to forking over the cash for a replacement. Then, in the middle of a breakfast meeting, he received a promising notification: his keys had been found.
“He immediately closed out his bill, and went to where the app had dropped an updated pin. The app directed him to a house near the Palmdale Hospital. A little nervous, but excited by the prospect that he may have his key back, he started following the proximity meter, which was leading him directly to the front door of the house.
“Suddenly, his app turns green indicating that his Tile was now in range — he was getting really close. He tapped ‘ring,’ and just as he was about to ring the doorbell, the door swings open to reveal a very excited man holding Steve’s keys in the air,
“‘These are yours! This thing really works!’
“Mohammed, the man holding Steve’s keys, had found them some time before and tried to find their owner by posting images of the keys to his social media accounts. Eventually, one of Mohammad’s friends recognized the Tile and suggested that downloading the Tile app might help find the owner.
“‘I gave them a small reward,’ Steve said, ‘and told him he saved me a bundle for the new fob, and made a new friend.’
Stories like this remind us that sometimes Tile can help bring out the good neighbor in everyone.”
This small device, a little plastic chip attached to a keychain, can solve a problem that plagues many of us: Losing our things can be so frustrating.
How often do you go looking for that pair of reading glasses, or can’t seem to find your keys. I, myself, make it a point to place my wallet and keys in the same spot by the back door when I walk into my house, so I make sure I’m not hunting around trying to find them when I go to leave. Sometimes we lose our minds, too. How often do you walk into a room, only to stop and say, “I know I came in here for a purpose. But for the life of me, I cannot remember why I came in here?” Only to go back, retrace your steps, and then have that ah-ha moment, remembering why you started all of that to begin with. How often do we… lose our train of thought.
That little Tile app is supposed to be the solution to this problem. But we can’t put bluetooth on our minds. Nor can we place a tracker on our souls.
We use this frame of lost & found in a spiritual sense. Think of the Christian hymn so familiar to all:
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) That sav’d a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.
I know I for one resonate with the hymn, even while it does not match my own Jewish theology. The hymn resonates when I have heard it at large, communal moments, especially during times of communal vulnerability. I think about the memorial service after the shooting at the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In the public memorial service, President Obama concluded his remarks by breaking into that song. In his address that evening, prior to singing he said, “Once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun…We as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.” These were remarks he had made before, and would make again during his presidency.
Let me translate into spiritual language — the world around us is broken. Bad things happen to good, unassuming, church-going folk, and we experience loss in that brokenness. And so, Amazing Grace. I wander through a deep, dark wilderness, and God is there to find me.
Think of the joy that Steve must have felt when Mohammed came out the front door holding his keys. Think of the relief we feel when we can finally put our hands on that check we know we put somewhere, but for the life of us we just cannot find. I think of the profound release my mother tells me she felt when she found me only 7 minutes after I—as a small child—left her side, when I decided to play a game and go hide among the jeans in the department store. It is terrifying to lose something or someone. Terrifying to feel lost.
Our tradition recognizes this existential fright, and gives it voice in our texts. This is what the Book of Numbers is all about. We leave Egypt and wander the dessert, a people without a home for 40 years. We wander. We are strangers. And in that strangeness, we kvetch. In the wilderness, we cry out, “If only we had water to drink! If only we had meat to eat!” If only we had the surety of a landed place. God provides in the wilderness, but that does not calm the Israelites’ souls. They want the surety that comes with having a place. With knowing where to find yourself, knowing when someone asks you where you live, you rattle off the house number, street name, city, state and zip code with no effort at all. We Jews, to have the assurance that we are not a lost people, want to own real estate.
I think about the confidence that comes with owning real estate. That confidence is best shown during wedding celebrations. I remember the first wedding I went to in the Northeast. I have never eaten so much… even before the dinner was served. During the cocktail hour there was a roast beef station, a cheese display, a pasta station, passed appetizers, an open bar… And yes, an Alaskan crab-claw table complete with ice sculpture.
It has been noted that specifically in Northeastern American Jewish communities, weddings are particularly opulent affairs. Why? Because we—as migrant people—have made it. When we were in Europe throughout the centuries Jews were not allowed or able to own land. Our wealth had to be mobile. Here, we could own real estate. We had landed, we were no longer the wandering Israelites. And so, when we celebrate, we do so with opulent consumption. We show our means.
With full bellies, though, our spirit can still feel lost. Even today, we still go on spiritual quests. We go out to find ourselves. And you can’t just put a homing beacon on your soul. That’s where practicing a spiritual life comes in. It gives us something to grasp onto when we feel we could float away. When we feel like we might lose ourselves.
In this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, we read, “Remember that the Eternal Your God gives you strength in order to do that which is valiant.” (Deuteronomy 8:18) When feeling lost, God is there for us, there in order to fulfill the Covenant made between God and our ancestors. God provides strength in order that we can do the right thing. It’s a form of grace. It’s a form of kindness. When you need strength, God is there for you.
However, our tradition is not only one that shares good news. We also warn: If you forget God, following the false Gods of other traditions, then lost you may remain (8:19).
The Israelites are our model for how to come into land, and how to come into relationship with God. They are a model as to how we can find ourselves. God is there to be a rock, an assurance and anchor, when we feel adrift. But I wonder what the experience of God might be like in those moments?
For me, it’s finding some stillness even in the midst of trouble. It’s finding the spaciousness in which a voice emerges, “This too shall pass.” I would ask you—when feeling lost, how do you come to realize that you’re found?
In his book 10% Happier, journalist Dan Harris writes about his experience finding the path of mindfulness meditation as a way to gain a deeper sense of self and security. As his meditation practice grew, he noticed that he could use it to bring about a different way of being, regularly. “When I got tense about work, I would watch how it was manifesting in my body—the buzzing in my chest, my earlobes getting hot, the heaviness in my head. Investigating and labeling my feelings really did put them in perspective, they seemed much lest solid….”
What I appreciate about Harris’ perspective is that if he were to sing Amazing Grace, I imagine that he would start off “Once I was lost…” but now I’m a little less lost. I envy those who can profess “…but now I am found.” I am more in Harris’s camp. When I take time to get out the soul map, I do not expect to see the end destination so clearly. But perhaps a little more of the path appears, and perhaps a little more of the roadblocks before us melt away. Perhaps our struggles become softer. Perhaps we find our rudder. Perhaps we start to hear a beacon sound, calling us toward a destination.
I can’t stand the feeling of walking into a room and forgetting why you came there in the first place. Worst yet, feeling like you should be heading someplace and being uncertain if you’re really on the path or not.
Tonight, I invite each of us to consider what we—each of us—might do, to make sure that we are on the path we desire. To remember that God gives us strength to do what is right and valorous. To find our way, to get out of our way, and to do it in our own way.