Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | May 30, 2018

Stop the World; I Wanna Get Off!

Like so many of my articles, this one popped into my head in an instant, as I was driving across the Tappan Zee Bridge after a long day at work.  The box truck next to me said, “Carousel Cakes” on it.  I thought about carousels and the happy childhood images they conjure up.

carousel

Who didn’t love merry-go-rounds as a kid?  If my memory of home movies is correct, I had a plastic merry-go-round on top of my birthday cake as a toddler.  In fact, I think many adults still enjoy the magic and majesty of merry-go-rounds, and their even more elegant-sounding moniker: carousels.  (Even the sound of the word is magical!)

So I thought about it.  What makes these rides so special?  Antique carousels often have intricately carved horses, zebras, tigers, and other animals to ride on.  Even more modern ones are often bedecked with elegant curves, glistening crystals, and regal fittings.  And then there’s the music!  Oh, the pomp and ceremony of riding a carousel, as trumpets blare and musical notes tinkle lightly in a symphony of sound that suggests you are royalty.

As you move slowly around the circle, rising high in the air, then gently dipping lower, you feel the breeze on your face and you can’t help but smile, as you imagine a crowd of adoring fans waiting for you just ahead, hoping to catch a glimpse of you and perhaps merit a wave of your hand in acknowledgement.  As you go around and around you become giddy with glee, enjoying this interlude of fantasy and whimsy.

Now back to the bridge.  Sorry to pull you from your reverie, but the point I wanted to make was just that: it’s a reverie; it’s a dream.  The merry-go-round isn’t real; you’re just going in circles but not getting anywhere.  It’s nice entertainment, and it’s so easy to escape into that temporary reality, but at some point you should grow out of it.  And that’s when it hit me.

Isn’t the world just a big merry-go-round?  We spin around, fast as you please, rushing through time and space.  We encounter all sorts of pretty things to look at, sights and sounds that transport us to a mythical world but are we really getting anywhere?

It seems to me that like on the carousel, we have our ups and downs, and we care so much about the horse we ride: is it the prettiest, the fastest, the biggest, does it have the right bow or saddle on it?  Only in life, it may not be a horse, but a house, a car, a job, or something else that is but a creature comfort.

The glorious intoxicating music plays.  These are the distractions that take our mind off of where we are and why we’re here.  There is a famous parable about a farmer who saved the king’s life and was rewarded with an hour in the treasure room to take whatever he wanted.

The king was afraid that he would be left with nothing, until a wise advisor gave him some advice.  “Play some music by the vault.”  Sure enough, when the simple farmer walked in, the royal orchestra began playing a masterful symphony.  The man was enchanted.  He had never heard anything so sweet, so powerful. He stood there transfixed for a few long moments.  Eventually he regained his senses and continued down the hall to the vault.  On the way, a lone harpist sat strumming a golden instrument.  The farmer paused again, mesmerized by the lilting notes.  When he finally remembered why he was there, nearly half an hour had passed.

He began striding down the hallway purposefully, and was greeted by a band of musicians playing such lively music that he felt compelled to dance.  He danced as they played and kept dancing and twirling.  Finally, they stopped playing as a large gong sounded.  There stood the king, holding a clock, announcing that his time was up.

The man was beside himself.  He had gotten so focused on the music and distractions along the way that he missed his ultimate goal of gathering a fortune to take home with him.  I don’t need you tell you what that is a parable for; it’s pretty clear.

And that’s why I look at the world as a carousel.  It is fun to ride, and transports you to another place, but you’re really not getting anywhere or accomplishing anything if you spend all your time focused on the pretty toys or music.

It’s time to grow up and recognize that the beauty and majesty of the carousel called Earth is just a façade intended to stop us from proceeding down the hall to where the real treasure lies, locked inside the Torah and Mitzvos, waiting for us to gather them up.  It’s time we refocused our efforts and said, “Stop the world; I want to get off – and get on with making my fortune for the next world.”

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