Friday, November 2, 2012

Arguing With the Road

I just finished reading Stephen Tobolowsky's book The Dangerous Animals Club. Steve is an actor, a good one for he works all the time. And he’s a wonderful storyteller. (You can hear his stories on NPR.) But as I read his book, I realized he’s also a philosopher.

In his book, Tobolowsky referred to the story in the Bible of how Joseph, the youngest and favorite son was taken by his brothers and sold into slavery. (If you haven’t read it in the book of Genesis, think of the musical “Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors.”) Many years later, after Joseph had become the right-hand man to Pharaoh, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt, desperate to find food for their people. They were taken before Joseph. They didn’t recognize him, but he knew them. Of course, he gave them food, forgave them all, and sent them back home. The story tells that as they were leaving, Joseph tossed out a bit of advice, “Go, and don’t fight on the road.” There are several interpretations of what that meant. Rashi, a great French rabbi and commentator from the eleventh century, said that the word “fight” really meant “be agitated” or “be fearful.” Good advice to stay cool on their way home. Perhaps if they were to act nervous, robbers, figuring they had riches, might attack them. Another rabbi suggested that Joseph wanted them to not continue blaming one another for their treatment of him. And then a Chasidic rabbi in the late eighteenth century argued that the line was mistranslated.

I’m not surprised as translating Hebrew is difficult because the reader gets to add the vowels in the words. Not only that, letters added to the beginning and end of a word changes the meaning of the word. In Hebrew, the word for road is derech. If you add bet (Hebrew for B) in front of it, you have something that can be translated as “on the road.” But sometimes a bet at the beginning of a word can also mean “with.” Then the sentence reads, “don’t fight with the road.” That doesn’t make much sense. One further change is that derech can also mean “path” or “way.” Now instead of reading, “don’t fight on the road,” we have “don’t argue with the path.”

That really resonated with me. What a waste of time to argue with “what’s so.” I thought about my life, all the strange twists and turns it has taken. Often, I’ve stopped and looked in the mirror and asked myself, “How have you managed to get here safely?” I’m not really sure. I know all about setting goals and the importance of taking the action required to accomplish them. But most of my life has consisted of just showing up each morning and dealing with whatever is there. (Think raising four children.) Too often, I’ve been at the mercy of Kismet (the fates), like my husband’s job. If the company said, “Move,” we asked, “How far?”

Friends tell me the angels take care of me. Perhaps they do, for I feel fortunate. I’m surrounded by a wonderful family and loads of friends. The energy field they create must look to the world as if the angels are at work. I think of all the energy Joseph’s brothers could have wasted as they argued with the past and with the “what’s so” of their lives. “Why…?” “If only…?” Useless conversations. Better to take the lessons as best we can and write the past off as just that—past. I notice I showed up today. Did you? Welcome to the Universe. Might as well enjoy the ride!  

1 comment:

  1. Great post Ruth! I saw that book in the airport and wondered about it. I have enjoyed his acting and have a Kindle version of his book "Cautionary Tales" which is uproariously funny and worth reading. After this post, I now feel like I have a mandate to read "The Dangerous Animals Club.' And yes, rest assured, the angels DO take care of you!