Today is April 20th. To me, as soon as I hear 4/20, I think back to 1999 when I was in 7th grade, watching from a Denver dentist office the aftermath of the Columbine massacre which prematurely claimed the lives of 12 high-school students and a teacher. I vividly remember the images of dozens of kids running out of their school with their hands up over their heads. I remember mourning with them from my living room as I watched their candle light vigils from my television. I remember crying every time I listened to the beautiful song "Columbine friend of mine" by Jonathan and Steven Cohen. I remember the references to how April 20th also coincided with Hitler's birthday.
It is therefore always very painful for me when I hear of how excited everyone is each year on April 20th, because 4/20 is also the unofficial Marijuana holiday where everyone celebrates marijuana and lights up, or consumes some brownies, as the case may be. I am pained not only from the tragic memories of 1999, but also because of the fact that taking a drug called marijuana has become an unofficial national holiday. I honestly don't know if marijuana was a thing when I grew up in Denver Colorado in the 90s and early 2000s, because I spent my time hanging out at Walmart and going cow tipping in Crowley County, but one thing I do know for sure is that I never had the slightest desire to partake of it.
You see, dear Henry, as a rabbi it is very easy to tell the good folks out there what they want to hear. It is a lot more difficult to bring things up that they might not want to hear. I reckon that out of my thousands upon thousands of devoted readers across the span of the universe, a whole bunch of them smoke weed-- to all of you out there, I love you dearly and G-d forbid you should think I am passing any judgment on you whatsoever. But, like a parent would want to point out a problematic behavior to his/her child out of nothing but love, so too I am blowing the whistle on weed smoking/ consumption out of love. In short, oh Henry, it's coming from a good place.
About five years ago, I had the good fortune to live in the lovely Washington Heights Manhattan. Most days were grey and dreary, there was often dog poo littered on the ground and the smell of fresh urine emanated from the streets. Despite all of that, I will never forget observing my son Avrumie's reaction to the scenic views: from his stroller he bobbed his head from side to side, excitedly taking in all of the sights and smells. I realized that for this child, he was literally seeing the world for the first time-- and the world-- even the Heights--is a pretty spectacular place. This morning, as I recited the morning prayers on this grey and rainy Up-State day, I couldn't help but notice the greenness of the grass, in contrast to the grey, colorless sky. I couldn't help but be moved. Later that same morning, I observed my 3 month old princess basking at the sights of her play mat- (pictured below) kicking and squealing in utter delight. The complex patterns and colors literally brought her to a state of ecstasy. This past Shabbos, as I shifted my attention from child to child, relishing in how precious and special each one of them is, I felt higher than a kite.
Humanity is created, the Torah tells us, in G-d's image. Each and everyone of us is G-d-like. In Judaism, we are commanded to be Holy, and to be a "kingdom of priests, and a holy nation." We believe that we are imbued with all the tools we need to live a lofty, high, elevated life. There is no need for outside substances, which bring this to us in a fake way, which I am told promotes laziness and apathy, and a depressing downward spiral when the high wears off. There is no need for this substance, which for many brings with it, paranoia, or anxiety. Judaism teaches we can reach this euphoria not by lighting up, but by simply learning to open our eyes and perceive the abundance of light.