Tuesday, October 15, 1996

Buckaroo Banzai versus Abraham Avinu: Life Comes with Directions

Buckaroo Banzai vs. Avraham Avinu:
Life comes with directions

Rabbi Michael L. Feshbach
Temple Anshe Hesed, Erie, Pennsylvania

The following story is attributed to Rabbi Jacob Kranz, the Dubner Maggid, also known as “the Jewish Aesop.”

Many years ago, a nobleman‘s son was a student at a military academy, and one of the sports in which he was an expert was shooting bull‘s eyes. In fact, he had won many gold medals for his marksmanship. After he was awarded his diploma, the young officer rode home on his horse. Passing through a tiny village, he saw a hundred circles drawn on the side of a barn -- and in the center of each circle was a bullet hole. The officer was so amazed he stopped his horse and yelled out: "Who is this expert shot? A hundred perfect bull‘s eyes! That’s incredible! Why, even I could not do that." Just then, a young boy walking by looked up at the officer on his tall horse and snickered: "Oh, that’s Nar, our town fool." "I don‘t care what he is," interrupted the officer. "Whoever can shoot a hundred perfect bull‘s eyes must have won every gold medal in the world! I must meet him and shake his hand! "

"Oh, no, no," the boy laughed. "You don‘t understand. "Nar doesn’t draw the circle, and then shoot at it. He shoots first, and then he draws the circle!"

(From Peninnah Schram Jewish Stories One Generation Tells Another)

The great (albeit fictional) philosopher/scientist/rock -star/time traveler Buckaroo Banzai noted, in a monumental tribute to acceptance as a state of being, that "wherever you’re going -- there you are!" As if... as if we were meant to shoot first, and draw the circles later to leave on a trip but not to pack to leap, and only then to look.

Perhaps it is not this way with every one of us. But many of us jump feet first into something so often in our lives that we justify our actions with an appeal to existential complacency: wherever we are, whatever mess we got ourselves into, whatever faults we may have, well, that’s just ‘‘who we are." The tone implies that to accept another person, one must take the complete package. Something you don’t like? Well, that’s just the way he is. Or: she’s just like that. And often, that is true. Trying to change another person is
not the easiest thing in the world. It is not always even the right thing to try to do. It is good to be reminded that sometimes we need to accept other people as they are Cromwell-like -- warts and all. Sometimes we need to learn more about loving each other, and less about criticizing each other.

And yet... it is one thing to accept the circles that someone else has drawn around the shots they called. It is another to get away with the same thing... in ourselves.

And the time is near -- the time is now -- for us to step back, and to look at ourselves... without illusion. As Jews, we are called upon to make sure -- at least once a year -- which we draw the circles in our lives first. That we think about what we are doing, that we think about where we are going that we set our goals first, and then aim to meet them.

Many years before Buckaroo Banzai, a different man heard very different words. Not "wherever you’re going, there you are," but "lech lecha!" Go, you. Go forward, yourself. Go forward -- into yourself. And with these two words,

Abraham set forth on a journey that would wind its way into history. He did not always know exactly where his journey would take him. But he had a guide. And that guide meant that he had a goal. And it was the goal he chose, more than any physical compass, which set the direction of his life. Life comes with directions. Or, more to the point, it implores us; it empowers us, to choose directions for ourselves. And that is the central challenge of this season and all seasons: to lift up our eyes, to look up, to look ahead, to choose our path, to set our goal and to follow. To live, not just wherever we are blown by the winds of chance, but somehow with a modicum of control over at least our inner fate, over the kind of person we choose to be. To reach a star, first we must choose the star. Then, and only then, does all our reaching have a chance.