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What I Learned from Jeff Sessions (Matot-Masei – 7/21/17)

Rabbi Neil SchumanWhat I learned from Jeff Sessions

As we bask in the tropical freshness of our Hawaiian Shabbat, I thought we could use a relaxing idea, one pain-saving technique, that surprisingly I saw embodied this week by our Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.

Mr. Sessions is feeling pressure to resign after President Trump publicly said that if he would have known that Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia Investigation, we never would have hired him.

Nonetheless, Sessions continued with his work with equanimity. During a media briefing on Wednesday, he said, “I have the honour of serving as attorney general. It’s something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself…We love this job, we love this department and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.”

Asked how he could effectively serve if he didn’t have Trump’s confidence, he responded, “We’re serving right now. The work we’re doing today is the kind of work we intend to continue.”

He could have let Trump’s statements unravel him. He could have just resigned and left all these headaches (including Kate McKinnon’s excellent mockeries of him) behind.

But he didn’t. He loves his work, and that’s what he’s going to focus upon.
He’s staying calm and perhaps pain free, because he’s relishing what he loves to do, and at the same time, is able to ignore the insulting confrontations.

Eckhart Tolle, one of the great spiritual guides of our generation, writes in The Power of Now, “The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgment. On the emotional level, it is some form of negativity. The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment…”

Ekhart is saying something simple, but so brilliant. The pain we feel is proportional to the resistance we put up at the moment. The more we dislike our situation and crave change, the more pain we’ll feel.
If we can change the situation, all is well, but if there’s nothing we can do about it, then we just need to accept the situation. Acceptance is the key to being calm and pain free.

I believe this technique is the key to understanding a famous Hasidic Story:
The Maggid of Mezritch, the great successor of the Baal Shem Tov was asked by a student: “How is it humanly possible for anyone to reach the level of what the Talmud says, ‘A person is required to bless G-d for the bad [occurrences] just as he would bless G-d for the good (occurrences]’ “. The Maggid told him that he could truly discover the answer to this question if he went to see his student, the holy Reb Zusha of Anapoli.

The student went to Anapoli and found Zusha’s home. It was barely more than a shack, with his wife and kids running around in rags. He then went to the house of study and found R’ Zusha. His was thin and his clothes were torn and faded, he was evidently very poor, yet his face shone with splendor. He asked R’ Zusha the pressing question. Reb Zusha was amazed that his Rebbe the Maggid had sent the man to him find out the answer to this question.
R’ Zusha responded, “You should find a person who has really suffered to be able to attain the answer to this question. I haven’t experienced anything bad in my entire life, so how would I know how to answer this question?”

I never really understood this story. I felt it was preposterous, for bad things occur to all people, even the righteous. Perhaps though, we can understand Zusha’s happiness and serenity through Tolle’s understanding of pain. Zusha must have never resisted the moment, he accepted all that befell him. Therefore, he was never in judgement or feeling negativity, and hence not in pain.

Now Reb Zusha may be a hard act to follow, but if Jeff Sessions can master equanimity and acceptance, perhaps we can as well. Shabbat Shalom

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