Friday, July 24, 2009

Visions and Visionaries

Yesterday morning I was watching The Today show as I got ready for work. Meredith Viera was interviewing Susan Boyle, the famous Britain’s Got Talent contestant who has been all over the news this summer. For those of you without a television or internet access, Susan Boyle walked on to the Britain’s Got Talent microphone and endured eye-rolling and taunting by the judges because of her frumpy looks and socially awkward comments. Then she began to sing. Her stunning, powerful voice filled the theater and immediately brought the audience to their feet. Famous naysayer Simon Cowell stared open-mouthed and teary-eyed as she belted from Les Miserables, “I Dreamed A Dream.”

Immediately Susan Boyle was catapulted into super-stardom. The YouTube video of her performance got over 3 million hits in one day. It has since gotten ten times that many. Though she ultimately lost the television program’s competition, it takes a Goodsearch to find out the name of the winner. It is Susan Boyle who we remember, and who we most certainly had not heard the last of.

The coincidence of her song choice, “I Dreamed A Dream” has not been lost on those who cover her story. Her dream was to sing, and sing she did. Perhaps this is the very reason for her popularity. That a person can tap into a talent so special that physical appearances, social ability, and mental ability melt away into inconsequential trivialities. All that matters is doing what she does best. She had a vision and worked to make it a success.

Very few of us have the vision to accomplish all of our dreams. We may be successful and happy, yet there is still the possibility there is something we still want. One of the best ways to accomplish our goals is to envision them already completed. We can close our eyes and see the health, wealth, family, happiness, whatever it is that we feel we desire. Sometimes our vision is out of focus and we need meditation and prayer to pull ourselves back together. Some of us are better at having the visions than others.

In Hebrew the word for vision is chazon. We find it in this week’s Haftarah, from the beginning of the book of Isaiah: Chazon Yishayahu ben Amotz, asher chazzan al yehuda v’yerushalayim. “The vision of Isaiah, son of Amoz, which he envisioned about Judah and Jerusalem.” This Saturday is called Shabbat Chazon, in reference to the first word of the Haftarah. Typically the Haftarah will point to an element of the Torah portion. A word or a theme from the Parashah will be reflected in the Haftarah selection, allowing us to connect the later parts of the Bible to the weekly Torah reading. This week, however, the Haftarah is tied to the calendar, the last of three Haftarot of rebuke leading up to Tisha B’av this coming Thursday.

Isaiah alternates between harsh scolding of the Israelites’ behavior and compassionate consoling and reminding that if they change their ways, his destructive prophesies will not come true. In Isaiah 1:18, the prophet offers a deal with Israel:

"Come, let us reach an understanding, declares the Lord.
Be your sins like crimson,
They can turn snow-white;
Be they red as dyed wool,
They can become like fleece."

In other words, no matter how bad it gets, no matter what we have done or what situation we find ourselves in, we can always make it better and succeed. Isaiah is referring specifically to the sins of Israel. Crimson is the color of blood and reminds us of the evil we do, the harm we do to others. Turning our deeds snow-white is absolution. When we do good, good things happen.
Isaiah is talking about the major sins of Judah, especially giving in to the idolatrous practices of their neighbors. But the concept holds true for lesser things in our lives, too. If we can purify our thoughts and our actions, envision our lives the way we want them to be and behave in a way that will get us there, our visions will be realized just as easily as red dyed wool can become like fleece.

Perhaps what we need now is not a vision of doom and gloom. Not a vision of cause and effect theology. What we need is a vision of optimism. In Yiddish, the term alle mailis refers to all the best that life has to offer. When a person has alle mailis, they have looks, brains, and talent all rolled in to one with the added bonus of loving family and friends. When we envision all these things for ourselves, it is the first step in making our vision a reality.

May all our positive visions this week come true.

Shabbat Shalom.

No comments: