One of my favorite cinema moments of all time is with Vincent Casell in “Oceans Twelve.” He has to get past a room full of crisscrossing laser beam alarm sensors in order to steal the priceless Fabergé Egg. Sitting on a veranda overlooking the beautiful scenery of Lake Como, George Clooney and Julia Roberts ask him “How did you do it”? Ahhh, he responds, “How did I do it?” In answer, the scene shifts back to the inside of the “Galleria D’Arte di Roma.” He has already broken in. Now he has to get past these seemingly impenetrable obstacles. He cracks his neck, puts on a set of headphones (pre-AirPods) and suddenly the haunting instrumental of “Thé à la Menthe” by La Caution comes on. He then proceeds to dance his way through the laser sensors, twisting, jumping, weaving in and out, under and above, contorting his body in impossible motions, until he stands undetected on the other side. Once there, he jumps into the air with a signature mid-air Fred Astaire clicking-of-his-feet as he continues toward his objective.
This scene remained stuck in my head for the haunting musical number and the thrilling acrobatic choreography. But what really struck me was the conceptual framework. The idea of approaching a series of obstacles that would be formidable – even if stationary, let alone constantly moving – and the dance through them touches me deeply and resonates fully with my Chasidic heart and sensibility.
I can’t help but make the association with the dance of Rabbi Akiva surrounded by the sobbing rabbis amid the debris of the desecrated Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
As I prayed Rosh Chodesh this morning (new month prayers) I was trying to imagine a relevant framework of Kavana (Hebrew word that rhymes with Havana, and refers to ones mindfulness/mindset during prayer) for this important day; a day that essentially kicks off the beginning of the High Holidays.
We are living through most tumultuous times. Often the Fabergé Egg that we think we need, the “one thing, just around the bend, that will solve all our problems” proves to be as illusory as the holographic representation of the original in the film. If life teaches us anything today it’s that there are no easy fixes, nor are there any one-stop solutions. Achieving that “goal” whatever we are tempted to think it is, sits just beyond a dizzying array of obstacles. There is one objective that we might all agree on; a dream we can all unite around. A return to inhabit a world and a life, that isn’t characterized by the constant and crippling presence of fear. Fear of illness, disease and death. Fear of societal discord, deepening political strife; fear of widening divides along cultural, ethnic, racial, religious and socioeconomic lines.
This helps me remember that in addition to the obvious prayers for the all-encompassing healing that is so present in all our prayers, we must introduce a new and equally critical dimension to prayer. It is a framework of prayer that is geared toward helping us to become centered. It is a framework that is designed to free us from the tyranny and paralysis of fear. It is a prayer to find ways to achieve enough balance to set out on the path of finding ourselves once again. It’s a prayer for achieving a more balanced and focused prayer! It’s a prayer that G-d help us cultivate the healthier perspectives that are critical if we are to remain grounded, and a prayer for the courage to seek the healthier state of mind that only we can rediscover for ourselves.
It is a prayer that helps us recognize that the ways we navigate the complexities of these times is as important as the prayer to eradicate all that needs to be eradicated. And it is a prayer that is framed and suffused with obtaining the wisdom and faith to dance our way through the growing chaos.
In the course of learning the steps to this sacred dance, we will have already found a way to stand on the other side even with its distant elusive shores nowhere in sight.
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker leads Chabad of The North Shore.