January 19, 2019

Finding the Adult Within

“So, tell me, what are you looking for in awoman?” I ask.

“Someone kind and gentle, intelligent, educated,cultured, witty, fun, a professional, independent, but interested intraditional things, Jewish, haimish, warm, family-oriented…andthin, tall, attractive, blond, well-dressed.” He continues, but Irealize already that I know him. He’s my 3-year old. The open mouthof the infant: “I want, I want, I want.”

I know what he wants: a Playboy playmate who willadore him, cook like his mother but make no demands on hissoul.

He isn’t alone. He belongs to a whole culture ofchildishness.

My kids’ favorite video is “Hook,” the Peter Panstory, as told by Steven Spielberg. In this version, Peter fell inlove with Wendy and left never-never land. The boy who said that hewouldn’t grow up has matured to become a driven corporate executive,chained to his cell phone, without time for his wife, his children,or his humanity. Stripped of all imagination, playfulness and love,he is everything Peter Pan always abhorred about adults.

Suddenly, his children are kidnapped by his oldnemesis, Captain Hook, and Peter is challenged to one final battle.He returns to never-never land to save his children and, really, tosave himself. He is powerless against Hook until he recovers thatpart of himself denied these many years: the child within, hisspontaneity, imagination, capacity for enchantment — all taught tohim by the wise, loving Tinkerbell.

It is a touching, enchanting film. And it is deadwrong.

The problem of our civilization is not that wehave lost touch with the child within. Our problem is that too manygrown-ups refuse to be adults. Our problem is not that we have losttouch with the sources of enchantment. Our problem is that too manyhave lost touch with the wisdom of maturity.

Judaism loves children. All of our festivals –Pesach, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Purim, Chanukah — put children at thecenter. God wakes up each morning, relates the Talmud, takes one lookat the world, and decides to destroy everything until He hears thesounds of children learning, playing, and laughing. He then decidesto let the world go on one more day.

Our tradition loves children, but we revereadulthood. Our tradition adores the spontaneity and imagination ofchildren, but we revere the wisdom of maturity.

This week’s Torah reading contains a sectionrecited in the daily Shema, a section that teaches the first lessonsof adulthood: “If you will obey the commandments that I enjoin uponyou this day, loving the Lord your God and serving Him with all yourheart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season….Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow down tothem. For the Lord’s anger will flare up against you, and He willshut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground willnot yield up its produce, and you will soon perish from the good landthat the Lord is giving you.”

Adulthood is about making choices. And choiceshave consequences. We must live with the consequences of our choicesbecause, despite our childhood fantasies to the contrary, theuniverse does not revolve around any of us. If we choose values thatare real, eternal, expressions of the Source of Life, we grow inwisdom and prosper spiritually. We make the world our home. We learnto love and to hold others close. We create life. If we turn away andchoose the never-never land fantasies of the culture around us — itsaddiction to entertainment, amusement, distraction — then we shriveland starve.

Somewhere out there, there’s a 38-year-old man whohas just learned this wisdom.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom inEncino.

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Read a previous week’s Torah Portion by RabbiFeinstein

AUGUST 15, 1997 Make the Time Count

AUGUST 8, 1997 ‘What’s the Meaning ofLife

AUGUST 1, 1997 A Warning toRevolutionaries