Friday, May 26, 2006

Are We Running in the Right Direction?

We are born to run. Man is an ambitious being, created to get things done. In fact, without a good challenge, we start to fall apart. Boredom is not only frustrating, it’s downright dangerous, and without challenges, people get depressed. Elderly people who are inactive tend to die at a younger age than those who are busy and challenged.

Because we are born to run, we try to run as fast as possible. Since the beginning of time, man has competed to see who is the fastest. The ancient Olympics were at first a 190 meter race, and later expanded to include chariot racing and other sports. Man has raced camels, horses and dogs, just to see who has the quickest animals. We run marathons and sprints, and race on bicycles and on skis. And in the 20th century, with the arrival of motor technology, we have begun to race motorcycles and cars and motorboats.

As history moves on, all of us run faster. There is no question that as technology progresses, the pace of life speeds up. Today, we can fly off to Europe and China at a moment’s notice, and order what we need off the internet. We have Palm Pilots to make us more efficient, and we can dash off phone calls from our cell phones and e-mails from our Blackberrys in a moment’s notice. Mankind continues to move faster and faster, achieving bigger and greater victories every day.

Now, the ultimate race, The Grand Prix, is coming to Montreal, and along with it a great deal of glamour and glitz. It attracts the international jet set of the wealthy and successful, people who are considered winners in the race of life. It is the perfect symbol of the 21st century: speed, wealth, accomplishment.

While I salute the accomplishments of the swift and successful, and appreciate the need for speed (I’m a blackberry addict myself) I feel there is still something missing. As we run and rush, we neglect to ask a simple question: are we running in the right direction?

There is a small prayer recited when a book of the Talmud is completed. In it, we remind ourselves to build meaningful lives, and not to follow those who live selfishly and foolishly. The prayer says “we run, and they run; we run to an eternal life, and they run to an empty pit”. Anyone can run; the problem is that sometimes we can run in the wrong direction.

Running the wrong way gets you nowhere fast. There’s the famous story of the Minnesota Vikings football player Jim Marshall, who mistakenly ran the football the wrong way, and scored for the opposing team. Imagine if we’re doing that in life? What if we’re doing all of this running, only to land up in an empty pit!

We need to run, but we need to run in the right direction. In Pirkei Avot, it says one should “run like a deer….to do the will of God.” A real champion crosses the right finish line.

Unfortunately, there is no Grand Prix for those who run in the right direction. You don’t have TV cameras following those who devote their lives to spirituality and kindness. But every time a person runs to help the poor, every time we hurry home to hug our spouses and children, every time we squeeze our schedules so we can study Torah and pray, we will be winning the race of life.

Moving fast is not enough. To be a true winner, you have to be moving in the right direction.

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