It's said that everyone aspires for fifteen minutes of fame. Well, I had my moment in the limelight this week, and let me tell you, it wasn't quite the party I'd have imagined it to be.
I was winding down my weekly Kabbalah & Coffee class last Sunday in East Boca Raton, when a student said that there was someone outside wanting to speak to the class participants about the election.
Hearing the word "election," I mentioned the fact that in contrast to all other species that were created en masse, man was created as a singular entity. The image of one man and his world was intended to instill within all of man that it's always about one man and his world. The 12th century Jewish sage Maimonides put it this way: A person should always look at the world as perfectly balanced between good and evil, so that a single action on his or her part will tip the scales for himself, and for the entire universe, to the side of good and redemption.
A single act by a single individual that changes the entire world? My class liked the idea, but also seemed a bit skeptical.
It's not as high minded as you think, I said.
"Think of the 2000 election and the pivotal role of our South Florida county, when America's choice of its president--arguably the most powerful job on earth--was decided by a handful of votes."
I looked around the room of 25 students, amongst them a few Jewish seniors from Century Village that composed my regular crowd. "Looks like it might happen again this time," I quipped. "The fate of the world for the next four years--it's all going to boil down to a few old Jews in Century Village." Everyone laughed, getting the point.
So far, a regular Sunday morning in the life of a Chabad rabbi.
Only this week, it turns out that the "someone outside wanting to speak to the class participants about the election" was a New York Times reporter who was standing in a corridor listening in on the class. She had her sound-bite, and my "old Jews" quote featured prominently in the opening paragraphs of her article about Obama's efforts to woo the Jewish vote in Florida.
From there it spread like wildfire through the news outlets and the Net. Time and Newsweek magazines both featured it as its "quote of the day."
My inbox started filling up with comments by slighted seniors, and the sight wasn't pretty.
I replied to those who wrote me, explaining the circumstances of my remark. But I can imagine how it looked to the many thousands who saw just those 14 words stripped of their context.
Oh, well. "This, too shall pass," the wisest of men is said to have said. I hope I'm not quoting him out of context…..