2013: Let’s Not Make A Deal
“Let’s Make a Deal” was one of the most popular game shows in television history. The original show ran for over 14 years, mostly with Monty Hall as the host, and now they’ve revived the show for a new generation. You know the show. The people dress up in crazy costumes trying to catch the eye of the host so that he will pick them to go up on stage, and then he gives them a prize and ask them this question: “Now, do you want to keep what you’ve got, or do you want to choose what’s behind one of these doors?”
And there are three big doors or curtains or boxes on the stage and the contestant has to decide what they want to do — are they happy with what they have or do they want to trade in all they have for the chance to get something better?
You never know what’s behind those doors — it could be a new car or an entertainment center, or it could be something that no one wants, like a live donkey or some other bad prize. It is a chance they have to take: Do they want to give up what they had to try to get something better?
I could talk about how this show shows how materialistic we are, that we will go to any lengths, make complete fools of ourselves on national television, for a new entertainment center. I could talk about how greedy we are; we’re not content with what we have, we always want more stuff. We always want more.
But that’s not how I want to use “Let’s Make a Deal.” I want to draw a contrast between this tv show and a fundamental Jewish concept. I’ll get into this idea by talking about something that happened to me when I climbed Mt. Sinai a number of years ago and by quoting one of my favorite songs by Bruce Springsteen.
When I worked on an archeological dig in the Sinai desert, there were Muslim holidays on which we were not allowed to work. On one of these holidays, we took off on a trip to the mountain that is believed to be Mt. Sinai itself, the place where Moses and the Israelites made the Covenant with G-d, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. We traveled by car for five hours through the wasteland and came to the foot of the mountain.
There is only one way to climb the mountain in the burning desert. You wake up in the freezing desert cold at 2 AM and you climb up the mountain to be at the top when the sun comes up. My friend Harvey and I woke up at 2 AM and we were off. I want to explain that this was years ago, before I understood the importance of exercise. When I started to climb, it did not take long before I was huffing and puffing. It was cold and pitch black and in those days I was very out of shape. I couldn’t do it. My body and my mind told me to forget it and go back down. I told Harvey not to wait for me. I needed to stop and sit every few minutes. Harvey was doing very well, and he could have kept going at a brisk pace, but with real patience and calm, he insisted on waiting. I felt inadequate. I felt like I was holding him up. The truth is that I was hoping he would go up the mountain so he wouldn’t see me go back down. But every time I thought he had gone on, there he was, smiling, encouraging. Harvey had twenty years on me, but he was in good shape and I was not. About two-thirds of the way up, I just gave up. Not another step. But there was Harvey, in a kind, fatherly voice, and he would not allow me to give up. At one point he said, “Come on, just think: You’ll get a sermon out of this experience.” And I said, “If I really make it up this mountain, it will change my life.”
I’d like to tell you that climbing that mountain was a triumph of my spirit over my body. But it wouldn’t be true. I only kept going because Harvey was there. When we got close to the top, Harvey finally left me alone because he knew I’d make it. When I got to the peak, he was waiting there, and he said, “You see, I told you you’d make it.”
So there we were, at the top of Mt. Sinai. It was the single toughest physical thing I’d done in my life.
I looked out at the most beautiful view I’d ever seen. I looked down at the peaks of all of the other mountains in the area. I stood there with Harvey and watched the most incredible sunrise I’d ever seen, and I thanked G-d for being alive, and for having had that experience, and for having a friend like Harvey.
After an hour or so, we started down. I was fine, I almost glided down the mountain, but Harvey was wobbling and wavering and needed to stop often. People tell me that you need different muscles for descending than you do for ascending. Of all the people who’d gone up the mountain that morning, we were the very last to make it back down. It took us as long to climb down as it had to climb up because Harvey was really suffering. I was only too happy to wait for him, and encourage him, and to tell him that it wasn’t a race with anyone else.
If you go into my office, you’ll see these enlarged photographs of Harvey and me, and the pictures that he took on the top of Mt. Sinai, as we watched the sun come up over the desert.
What is Mt. Sinai? Mt. Sinai is the place of covenants.
Covenants are permanent; they are not deals. Every time you’re offered what’s behind Curtain #3, one deal supersedes the next deal. We cannot live lives that are just based on deals.
The experience of climbing Mt. Sinai changed my life partly because it showed me my physical inadequacies but more importantly because my experience symbolized the covenant of friendship.
In our personal relationships, there’s a song that expresses what I’m trying to say about covenants. It’s by Bruce Springsteen:
We said we’d walk together baby come what may
That come the twilight should we lose our way
If as we’re walking, a hand should slip free
I’ll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me
We swore we’d travel darling side by side
We’d help each other stay in stride
But each lover’s steps fall so differently
But I’ll wait for you
And if I should fall behind
Wait for me
Now everyone dreams of a love, lasting and true,
But you and I know what this world can do
So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see
And I’ll wait for you
If I should fall behind, Wait for me
There is wonderful realism here. The part I like the best is:
Now everyone dreams of a love, lasting and true,
But you and I know what this world can do
That’s exactly right. Real life intrudes on romantic dreams. And the song recognizes that what often happens to two people, for all their good intentions, is that they wind up with such different lives that they feel pulled away from each other.
And the covenant becomes just another deal
Something to calculate
Something to figure out with pencil and paper
Do I stay with him for another year because I can’t afford my own apartment?
What will it cost me to stay but what will it cost me to go? What’s the better deal for me?
The covenant has dissolved into a deal and deals can be broken.
But way in advance, long before this happens, the song speaks of a covenant that anticipates the possibility that the relationship will become just another deal.
There are going to be times when I’ll be ahead of you and there will be times when you will be ahead of me
We have to wait for each other
There will be times when my career will be taking off and yours will be stalled and vice versa.
And the one who’s doing better has to help unstall the other one.
There will be times when I will be making new friendships and deepening old ones and you will be stuck, and vice versa.
There will be times when I will be excited with life and you will bored and there will be times when I will be bored and you’ll be thrilled.
And at all those times that we’re not walking at the same pace, one of us will have to wait, patiently, with kindness and sensitivity.
I am drawing an opposition between the world of “Let’s Make a Deal” and the world of covenant, the covenant at Mt. Sinai and the very realistic covenant of the song. In the world of “Let’s Make a Deal,” we discard people, even the people closest to us, for the next box,
or maybe simply because we are impatient and we just don’t want to wait any more,
or because we just can’t listen to weakness and insecurity while we are feeling so strong and secure, or because we never seem to walk at the same pace.
But in the world of covenants, the commitment stays true even in changing circumstances.
Springsteen is talking about romantic covenants that are two-way covenants. There are parent-child covenants which should be two-way covenants.
Let me explain by telling you one of the best stories I ever heard about parents and children. I heard this from a pre-school teacher. Her class was thrilled one day to see that right outside the classroom window, a robin was building a nest. Day by day, the robin built the nest, and sat in the nest, and then the kids saw that there were three eggs. And eventually the three eggs hatched and they watched the mother robin feed and nurture her little birds.
One day, they saw the mother robin fly about twenty feet away, catch a worm, and hold the worm in her mouth. She stood, waiting for her little robins to follow.
And one of them stood on the edge of the nest and flew right to her, and started to eat the worm.
The second little robin stood on the edge of the nest but then fell back in, only to get up again and after a lot of delays, it flew to its mother and started to help eat the worm.
But the third little robin just stayed in the nest. And the mother waited and waited but the third little robin did not come to her. Finally, the mother flew back to the nest with what was left of the worm so her last child could eat.
This is parenting. If you’re blessed with more than one child, you learn quickly that each one is different. We have to be like Harvey was with me climbing the mountain or like Springsteen’s song would make us, acting in full recognition that we all have different needs at different times.
This should be our covenant with our children: to be that mother robin and to do different things for different children.
But let’s be honest, parents and grandparents: Many of us show little of this patience and understanding. We want our kids to be nachos machines that we can brag about and we cannot understand those kids who are not like us, or who have difficulty doing things that are easy for us.
Some of us act as if there’s a deal: “I have a child, the child achieves, I feel better about my own life.” And believe me, those kids see your impatience and it only makes them feel badly. And if they resent us, maybe they’re right. We have not upheld the covenant of parent and child. Children climb the mountain at different paces. Some don’t climb it at all. We have to be like that mother robin and help each child as he or she needs to be helped.
In our country today, there are many who do not understand the covenant that all Americans should have with each other. When they get ahead, when they start climbing the mountain, they show incredible impatience with those who fall behind.
There was something that happened at a Republican Presidential debate last year that still bothers me. The situation was posed: A healthy thirty-year old man has a good job and decides that he doesn’t need to buy insurance. If he goes into a coma, who pays for it? He needs intensive care for six months. The answer in the audience was: “Let him die!”
The notion in certain circles is that if I can make it, if I can buy insurance, then everyone can make it. This notion is too tough for me.
We have a covenant with each other, a covenant to take care of each other. As medical science progresses in leaps and bounds, the system of providing medical care also has to progress.
Now I know that the medical system in American has enormous problems. My doctor friends tell me that the system as it was could not be sustained. I know that in many ways things feel broken. And I have no idea how the new systems will work or not work. I am afraid of the changes that are coming but I’m afraid not to change.
But I know what I want America to be, an America that has a covenant with all Americans, and while we may go through a time of uncertainty that may have negative implications for all of us, we have to try to develop a system that concretizes the best that America can do for all of us.
So I’ve mentioned covenants and deals in romantic relationships, in parent-child relationships, and in our relationship with the people of our country. Now let me talk about G-d and football.
If you know about the game “Let’s Make a Deal,” you know that there are games within the game. One of them is called “Beat the Dealer.” That’s what some us think we can do with G-d. We think we can make deals with G-d.
I want to give you a ludicrous example. Many Americans, three in ten, believe that the Super Bowl is in G-d’s hands. 27 percent of Americans believe G-d plays a role in determining which teams will win sports events. A majority, 53 percent, also agrees that G-d rewards athletes who believe in Him. You see athletes scoring touchdowns and pointing to the sky, thanking G-d for the six points.
I would ask a couple of questions:
First: Are you kidding? Do you really think that G-d is interested in the score of a football game?
I am a fanatic about my football team, but even I don’t think that G-d is involved in a game where people in uniforms bash each other.
In fact, I find this kind of belief primitive and simplistic and ultimately just self-centered.
Do you think that G-d, Who created this world and gave us laws and morality and then like a good parent has stepped back to let us exercise our free will and face the challenges of being human, do you think that G-d made the defensive back misread the pass so that you could catch it and score? Is this why you’re pointing to Heaven, saying “Thank you Lord for making them blow the coverage?”
But this is the deal that many people think they’re making with G-d. They think that if they pray, they will win. Prayer isn’t like that. Prayer is part of a relationship, part of our people’s covenant with G-d.
Deals are for game shows.
Real faith is about the covenant that we made at Mt. Sinai.
And that covenant is not about beating another football team.
Faith is about praying to G-d that we can keep our covenants with our loved ones,
that we can we true to the concept that we will wait for those who fall behind and be able to count on our loved ones who get ahead of us to be waiting for us further up the mountain.
Deals are for game shows.
Covenants are for life.
In every aspect of our lives, we have to try, as hard as we can, to live by our covenants. It isn’t easy. To keep any covenant, in our romantic or parental or societal relationships, may be the hardest thing we will ever do.
There are going to be times when you will be impatient and bored and restless because a loved one or a friend is constantly worrying or complaining or suffering about something. And you may not say it, but you will tune out, because you just can’t hear about it any more. You’ll say to yourself: This isn’t what I signed up for.
It’s at those times that I want you to remember that one of these days, the role will be reversed, and you will need that person’s patience.
It’s at those times that I want you to remember that to be Jewish is to try to live by a code: If I should fall behind, please wait for me. If you should fall behind, I’ll wait for you.
My grandson Alexander had his first day of First Grade at Ezra Academy last week. He was fine, but his mother Rachel was very nervous because her little robin was flying out of the nest and she kept trying to hold his hand. He looked at her and said, “Mama, are you holding my hand or am I holding yours?”
As we climb up and down the mountains of our lives, sometimes we will need our hand to be held and sometimes we will need to hold our loved one’s hand. That’s the covenant we call “love.”