Monday, August 01, 2005

Extreme Makeover, Soul Edition

I haven’t had plastic surgery…yet. I have managed to hold out, despite a barrage of television shows promising salvation by the scalpel.

Actually, I have no difficulty with plastic surgery. An improved physical appearance can improve one’s job prospects and possibility of marriage. Cosmetic surgery is simply another example of human ingenuity enhancing quality of life.

However, society’s fascination with plastic surgery is exaggerated. The aforementioned TV programs breathlessly tout plastic surgery as a vehicle for personal redemption. Attractiveness is seen as being next to Godliness. Aspirations of the soul, such as identity and meaning, are now accomplished with liposuction. Unfortunately, this is absurd: plastic surgery is by definition skin deep.

Now I’m not naïve: I realize you won’t see a TV show that features Rabbis performing advanced Torah implants or prayer lifts or charity peels anytime soon. But that’s a shame, because our souls can get just as torn and worn as our bodies. Harsh years in the dog eat dog workplace, coupled with excess consumption, can erode the most spirited youthful idealism. Cynicism and the pursuit of comfort can transform former idealists into sarcastic, brandy sipping, golf playing sellouts.

So how do former idealists get their souls back? With an extreme makeover for the soul.

Soul makeovers come in many different varieties. Sometimes you need to go on the road. Comfortable environments can lead to spiritual decay; you need to leave home in order to challenge your soul again. Find an appropriate spiritual retreat, and break away from the daily grind.

Sometimes you need to just do it. We all say we want to spend more time with family, volunteer more, and study more. But, on any given night, it’s too hard because we’re tired/had a rough day at work/need to take care of some errands. And all of our great goals end up sliding away, one night at a time. So just do it!

Sometimes, you need to go home. There is an amazing amount of spiritual insight in our own backyard. Yet we ignore own treasures, simply to search for fool’s gold. It is at times astonishing to me that some Jews, with the oldest and most influential religious tradition in the world, still run after every bizarre new fad. The best place for a soul makeover is right at home.

A member of our synagogue, Larry, traveled with me on a trip to Israel. It was his first visit, and he was overwhelmed by what he experienced. The history, religion and culture transformed his entire outlook on life. At the end of the trip, he said:

“Before coming to Israel, I was of the Jewish faith. Now, I’ve become a Jew” .

This is what a spiritual makeover is all about. You just do it, break away from the old grind, and return home. At the end, you finish with your life transformed, and even.....ith a more beautiful soul.

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