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Heroin, Helen Mirren, and Us

Rabbi Mark Shapiro
February 12, 2016


What could be more festive than the Super Bowl?
I know it's not everyone's cup of tea. Football can be violent and dangerous. On the other hand, football also requires incredible kinds of agility and excellence. Notwithstanding the drawbacks, I take great delight in the NFL season and I try never to miss the Super Bowl.
If nothing else, the commercials are worth the price of admission.

This year was no exception.
In particular, I am thinking of an unexpected commercial that came on towards the end of the game. It was unlike any other commercial insofar as it didn't come crashing at you or grab you with catchy music or fancy animations.
This commercial opened with a shot of Helen Mirren, the English actress who brought Queen Elizabeth to us along with the Woman in Gold and many other remarkable roles.
Mirren was seated at a restaurant with a bottle of beer on the table. You could just see the label so that you knew she was sitting there on behalf of Budweiser.
Then she spoke (and that's all she did in the ad). She sat still, looked into the camera, and spoke.
"If you drive drunk," she said, "you, simply put, are a short-sighted, utterly useless, oxygen-wasting, human form of pollution…A Darwin-award deserving, selfish coward. If your brain was donated to science, science would return it. So stop it."
Don't drive drunk.
The ad was stunning.
Simply stunning.

And it raised a question that seems particularly appropriate tonight after a week in which more news about the opioid crisis and heroin abuse have struck us.

Who would be short-sighted, selfish, and stupid enough to get involved with opioids?
Who would be stupid enough to drive drunk?
Who would be stupid enough to take heroin?

Yes. Who would be stupid enough to engage in dangerous, clearly self-destructive behaviors?
Who would drink too much?
Who would not realize that the drugs now under discussion are so addictive and, as for the new heroin, so poisonous.
Taking them is not like playing with fire; it is playing with fire.

And yet there is a market for the drugs. Otherwise smart people apparently engage in what Helen Mirren calls utterly foolish behavior.
No one worth his or her Darwinian stuff could possibly drink or drug so foolishly.

Except…follow the logic with me and I think you'll see the matter is not so simple.

I'm going to ask those questions again and keep going.
Who would be short-sighted and stupid enough to get involved with opioids?
Who would be stupid enough to drive drunk?
Who would be stupid enough to take heroin?

And speaking of self-destructive behaviors…

Who would be stupid enough to eat too much? (That kills too.)
Who would be stupid enough to smoke cigarettes?
Who would be stupid enough not to exercise?
Who would be stupid enough not to go to the doctor regularly?
Who would be stupid enough to work too much?

Who would be stupid enough not to tell others…I love you?
Who would be stupid enough not to laugh at least once a day.

Not to breathe deeply and admire a clear, blue sky.

Come to think of it, we are all probably quite stupid. By that I mean that, in one way or another, we all probably fail to do what we know we should. Our behavior may not be as extreme as abusing heroin, but abusing ourselves is something we regularly do.

Too much work, too little relaxation. Too much anger, too little humor.
Too much sitting, too little movement.
Too much time in front of the computer, too little time with family and friends.
Not enough time saying and acting - L'chaim - For Life.

I think our ancestors knew how human this tendency towards destructive behavior was. That is why the rabbis of old gave us this midrash.
They describe God's completing God's glorious creation. They describe the beauties of the Garden of Eden. And then they imagine God placing Adam and Eve in the lush, green Garden and saying, "Be careful. Be smart. All this is yours to protect.
Care for it well because it is all I can give you. If you destroy it, there will be nothing to replace it."
And why would God have had to say something so obvious as be careful with this delicious green gift? Why would the rabbis have created this midrash?
I suspect the rabbis did this because they already knew something about human nature: We humans can be quite stupid, but here I don't mean "stupid" in the sense of low IQ.

When we think short term, it's not because we aren't smart. It’s not because we don't know better.

It's because we are finite.

We do what we know to be foolish or dangerous because we are complicated.
We are uncertain. We are angry. We are frightened. We are tired.
We don't see goodness when we look at ourselves in the mirror.
We don't see enough goodness when we look at ourselves in the mirror.

We don't hear people when they tell us they love us.
We don't believe them when they tell us we matter to them.

Even though the Torah tells us that we are created in the image of divine, we don't feel that basic sanctity in our bones.
We are finite. We are flesh and blood.

I think that is why two blessings in our tradition are more important than they might at first seem to be. The blessings are actually part of every morning service. The wording is pointed towards God. Each speaks to God and thanks God, but I think that is not why the blessings are significant.

The first reads as follows:
Thank you, God, who formed the human body with skill, creating the body's many pathways…wondrously.
The second reads:
O God, the soul You have given me is pure. You created it, shaped it, and breathed it into me.

And why are these blessings so important?

Not because God needs us to cheer for God and send thank you notes.

The blessings are rather important because they can remind us how blessed we are. The blessings speak to us saying that our bodies and souls are gifts.
Delicate gifts.
Our bodies and souls…our lives…are precious.

At the very beginning of every day before we go off into the world…before we prove ourselves in the world…by virtue of the fact that we are simply alive, our bodies and souls are good.

Our lives are worthwhile simply because we have woken up.

We are finite.
We don't always do our best or see ourselves as we should.

But the blessings urge us to take heart.
To believe in ourselves.
To look in the mirror and see the image of God.

Does the message get through?

Much of the time it doesn't. We don't treasure the gift of body and soul as much as we should.
Some of the time we humans are so out of synch that our lives are consumed and shortened in a flash.

But not always.

Not usually.

We mourn this week for the lives that have been lost in our community and around the country.

We mourn those losses even as we remind ourselves that body and soul are a gift.

We are created in the image of God.

May we believe that truth.

May we reach out to others to share that truth as much as we humanly can.

Amen.

You may see the Helen Mirren commercial, by following this link.

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