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The Casablanca Perspective
Mom with a View

The Casablanca Perspective

Looking at life in the grand scheme of things.


“The problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this world.”

All classic movie fans will recognize Humphrey Bogart’s line in Casablanca. The movie has been lauded for many things but never, perhaps, for the deep Jewish idea expressed here.

It’s another way of describing a type of awe – of saying that, in the grand scheme of history spanning thousands of years, in the vastness of the universe covering thousands of miles, our issues of the moment are insignificant and irrelevant.

We are so caught up in our pain and challenges of the here and now and yet, in terms of the eternal life of the Jewish people, it is barely a blip. This is a great strategy for regaining perspective – for not sweating the small stuff, and sometimes the big stuff too.

Important caveat: This is an extremely useful tool to use personally. It is NOT what we tell someone else who is going through a difficult time. For them we should be all compassion and kindness.

Recognizing our relative insignificance isn’t easy. We have an ego that heartily protests this idea. We are busy doing and accomplishing and it all seems so important. (Doesn’t every generation think that they are the ones that really shaped the world?)

I am blessed to live near the ocean. And the ocean is a reality check. It overwhelms and overpowers. It is beautiful and magnificent and seemingly endless…It is ever-changing – calm and violent, loud and silent, with variant shades of blue and green.

The ocean is awe-inspiring and it provides real perspective. It re-orients our focus. It lifts us out of our anxiety and concerns and even some really painful problems.

I realize not everyone lives by the ocean, but there is natural beauty everywhere. There are mountains and lakes and forests. There are deserts and valleys and glens (sounds like a cue in to This Land is Your Land).

But they aren’t just beautiful, they are an opportunity – to embrace something larger than me, something transcendent, something meaningful and eternal and everlasting. It‘s a chance to remember that the world is not about me and to set my challenges in context.

Last week we took a family vacation to Kauai. My husband and I watched the sun rise on the beach every morning and marveled at the sense of hope it carried with it. Our difficulties receded. Our challenges subsided. It was an amazing gift and a powerful lesson. I need to hang on to those moments.

The minute we stepped off the plane, it all came flooding back – with a vengeance. But when things seem bleak, I take out my camera and I look at those images and I remember that it’s all temporary, that it will ultimately all be washed away in those waves, that the eternal reality is the only one that really counts.

February 1, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 6

(5) Gary Tolchinsky, February 10, 2014 9:21 PM

Partially True, But...

I appreciate the truth of keeping perspective on life and
staying away from self-absorption that ignores the
greater picture. However, in some sense, I think it's
a Jewish idea that people's problems DO mean
something and are more than a "hill of beans"
Aren't we encouraged to pray to G-D for what
we need, be it a parking spot or healing a cold or
countless other "minor" things? G-D cares about
everything and everyone, so our problems
do matter. We sometimes think that G-D has
bigger things to worry about than our "little"
problems, but since G-D is infinite, He can
handle it:) Again, I like the general theme of the
article, but just as it's important to keep perspective
of the bigger picture, that perspective does not
necessarily devalue the problems we are facing or
the pain we may be experiencing because of them.

(4) Anonymous, February 7, 2014 8:26 PM

Great, except for the conclusion

Beautiful piece but have to take issue with the conclusion, that "that the eternal reality is the only one that really counts." Each and every precious moment of our lives also counts. Really. This is an essential truth I have always been understood to be at the core of Judaism, that we must balance the demands of olam hazeh/this world with the promise of olam haba/the world to come. Hillel expressed much the same in Pirkei Avos/Precepts of the Ancestors (my understandings are bracketed): "If I am not for myself [as a creature of the immediate present, the only world we know as mortals], who will be for me? But if I am only for myself [without a thought for others or regard for what may lie ahead], what am I [what will be my future]? And if not now [to set that balance, to navigate between those extremes], when?"

(3) Jaya, February 7, 2014 10:55 AM

Perspective .

Tagore said that when he was a little boy he made a paper boat on a rainy day , but it drowned in the heavy down pour , he felt the storm had come just to drown his boat , and each time he felt that way when things went wrong after he had grown up , he reminded himself of his response to his drowned boat.

(2) Ra McC, February 6, 2014 10:54 PM


Whenever I believe that I have some control over my life I awaken very early and watch the sunrise. I attempt to stop it by one second. I have never succeeded in 71 years. That's how much I have control over in the realm of eternity. It's a good test for checks and balances. Really believe! God determines everything in His time.

(1) Bernie Siegel, MD, February 6, 2014 3:23 PM

well said and so true

yes on a personal level as a physician and caregiver this speaks the truth for maintaining our wholeness. the ocean also reminds one of creation and water is a wonderful role model for us to learn from.

you can look into a mirror and see your image
water reflects your image too
but unlike a mirror you must get close to the water and yourself to see the reflection
and you and the water must be still and untroubled by outside forces
and just as water may exist as a liquid, solid or vapor
you can undergo continual transformation too
depending on your state of consciousness
you can choose to close your heart
and become hard and cold as ice
or become sparkling diamonds on the branches of the tree of life
or protect and guard the life which exists beneath the surface
for it is only when we are willing to go beneath the surface
into the stillness and depth of our being that we truly find ourselves
and create the authentic path our stream should follow
as a stream of water flows over and around stones making beautiful sounds
your blood stream can flow over obstacles, become as destructive as a tsunami
or choose to vaporize and rise above life’s difficulties
ready to fall back, when needed,
as gentle rain softening the soil of life
one day every blood stream will find its way to the endless sea of life
where you will be reborn as white crystals
which descend slowly and gently onto the frozen ground
when the world experiences a drought of love forming a blank canvas upon which the world can now create a work of art

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