Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Every Day's A Victory!

Sometimes context contains a message as important as content. Such is the case with the opening of the parsha this week of Vayechi. The Sages noted that this portion, unlike all the others in the Torah, opens without a spatial gap of significance from the close of last week's reading of Vayigash. Typically a gap of at least 9 letters will be found in the Torah where a new section commences. They ask " why is the beginning of the reading closed?" They answer "It is to teach us that with the passing of Yaakov the eyes and hearts of the Israelites closed from the servitude that began then".

The answer begs a question of its own. The answer implies that the oppression in Egypt began immediately with the death of Yaakov. We know however in accord with other sources that until all the brothers of Yosef died the Israelites were not oppressed. Only after the death of that whole generation did the Pharaoh initiate the measures of servitude and persecution. How do we reconcile the apparent contradiction.

One way to resolve the inconsistency is to reinterpret the medrash with which we began. When the sages said that "the eyes and hearts of the Israelites closed from the servitude...."They did not mean that the servitude caused their eyes and hearts to close. Rather the "from" used here means they could not see the servitude that was already in motion, though not yet actualized. Yaakov's death caused them to be blinded to the reality of the shifting attitudes of their hosts in Egypt. After Yaakov's passing they became unable to see the impending disaster, something that was open to them to recognize as long as he was alive.

Have you ever wondered, how is it that the Jews of Germany remained blind to the rise of Nazism and stayed put in the face of years of pogrom and prejudice leading up to the full scale murder of the Jews. They all had opportunity to leave prior to 1939 and much reason to flee. The laws against the Jews were promulgated over years and with increasing severity. Yet they denied the obvious and many, indeed most, refused to emigrate.

The answer is that we are all blind to that which we believe is more than we can endure. We have, built into our psyche, filters that hide from us the unbearable. The child who is molested will often have no memory of the experience. The parent who is invested in an agenda for his/her child will often deny the child's reality, refuse to see the child's limitations when it conflicts with that parent's expectations. People who are living an unhealthy lifestyle will often be blinded to the obvious consequences of their behaviors when acknowledging them will mean the need for a change they feel they cannot bear.

In all the above cases the failure to see is not a conscious decision. The person is not deciding to ignore what s/he does not want to see. No, s/he really does not see what to another is obvious.
S/he is protected by an unconscious desire to avoid facing that which s/he feels would be too hard to deal with .

The Jews of Germany really did not see what to anyone else would be a glaring truth. Their perceived need to retain their way of life, home and culture put filters on their perception.
Neither did the Israelites in Egypt recognize that the tides were shifting against them. Long before the oppression began in earnest the signs were there and compelling. Yet with the death of Yaakov they had not the eyes to see. It was simply more than they felt they could tolerate.

So you ask, what did the passing of Yaakov have to do with their eyes and hearts being "closed".
If it was too painful to accept that the people of Egypt were turning on them, so much so that they couldn't take it in, how would Yaakov have helped? How would he make it tolerable

I once asked my father, when he was in his mid-eighties and not long before he died where he saw himself in the trajectory of his life. I asked him "Dad, on a continuum, if we drew a line from the beginning of your life to its end, where are you now?" He said in all earnestness, "a little past the middle". My father struggled with many things in his life. He has a son mentally ill . He had business reversals. He had lingering health problems that caused him much discomfort and for many years. With all he endured when you asked him how he was he would answer "every day's a victory!".

My father was not pollyannish. He did not say "every day is a holiday". He knew life was full of pain. Yet he found the way to embrace his suffering rather than flee it. Indeed for him every day was a victory, his victory over the bruises and wounds that threatened to overwhelm him.
Not surprisingly he, as a 14 year old boy left Germany with his parents and siblings. He learned from his father that it was okay to see, even if that which he sees will mean having to uproot and start over. Through the courage of my father, I am blessed with eyes to see. He taught me, through a living example, that no matter what life may bring I need not be afraid to see. He showed me that in all circumstances we are larger than that which threatens to overwhelm us.
I need not be afraid to see. On the contrary, only in seeing is there the possibility of transcendence.

No one in our tradition had a harder life than Yaakov. His losses, his tragedies, the disappointments of his life are compelling. Pursued by Esav, cheated by Lavan, the tragic death of Rachel, the duplicity of his sons in the sale of Yosef, whom he grieves for 22 years, Yaakov's life is an endless litany of suffering. And yet it is precisely Yaakov and the courage he exemplified in the face of his suffering that allowed the Israelites to see even those things that seemed unbearable. They thought, "If' our father Yaakov could contain and do battle with his demons so can we." Only with Yaakov's passing and the loss of this exemplar of victory in the face of suffering did the Israelites become blind, their eyes and hearts unable to take in what they thought to be too difficult. Without Yaakov, without the parent showing the way, the people of Israel became lost to the reality before them. Naively, like their decendents in later generations, they denied the tide of horror and clung to false and dangerous hopes of prosperity in a social setting where they were hated.

What's the message in all this for us? For me the answer is clear. We are the parents of the generations that follow us. All that our children know about facing adversity they learn from us.
It is vital that we not hide our struggles from our children and grandchildren lest they learn from that that our burdens can defeat us and need to be minimized to be endured. When we tell the generations that follow us the fullness of our story, with its suffering, we empower them to believe that they too can cope with whatever comes their way and that they need not wear blinders as they go through life in order to persevere.

We need to show our children as much as tell them that yes, we have our woundedness and yes, even our defeats but we prevail for indeed every day with G-d's help is a victory!

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

When Bad Things Happen....

There is an old epigram that was used to point out the difference between a Jew and a Goy. When a Goy falls and breaks a leg he is likely to curse and bemoan his unlucky circumstances. When a Jew falls and breaks a leg he is likely to say, "thank G-d, it could have been two!".

In that spirit, and knowing that "gam zu l'tova, this too is for the good", is an attitude we try to cultivate in the face of adversity, I want to explore with you a troubling passage in this week's reading of Vayigash.

We read this week of the reconciliation between Yosef and the brothers and of the family's move to Egypt. The Torah tells us that Yosef, the viceroy of the land, brought his father Yaakov to meet the Pharaoh. At the encounter the Pharoah asks Yaakov his age. In response Yaakov says something surprising. He tells the Pharaoh " The days of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty. Few and and bad have been the days of the years of my life. And they were not as good as the days of the years of my fathers in their days of sojourning".

Many a commentary has sought to explain this encounter. What prompts Pharaoh to ask Yaakov's age? Why does Yaakov need to give the Pharaoh this report on the poor quality of his life ?

Interesting questions with interesting answers. But that's not what I want to focus on. Is it not surprising that Yaakov complains about his life, and to a total stranger. Where is the gam zu l'tova that we referred to earlier as a cardinal virtue of a Jew. Yaakov sounds so ungrateful for his life. Is this the attitude of the one our Sages call the b'chir sheb'avot, the most excellent of the three Patriarchs? If Yaakov had said he had a "hard" life we could understand. But he refers to his life as "bad".

In fact the Medrash tells us that Yaakov's response did not sit well with Hashem. In the words of the Medrash Hashem said, " Did I not save Yaakov from the wrath of his brother Esav? Did I not protect him from the evil designs of Lavan, his father-in-law? Did I not prevent the nations from harming him after his sons wiped out Sh'chem? Do I not deserve gratitude rather than complaint? The Medrash goes on to say that as punishment for Yaakov's remarks to the Pharaoh his life was shortened 33 years. Yaakov died at 147. His father, Yitzchak died at 180. The 33 year discrepancy corresponds to the 33 letters in the verse that begins with the Pharaoh's question of Yaakov concerning his age.

Okay, so we can say, with the Medrash, that Yaakov erred in complaining about his life to the Pharaoh. But I ask you, why does the Torah give us the story? It is not likely giving us the story to help us avoid similar mistake since it never specifically indicates that Yaakov sinned here. It tells us of this exchange and makes no reference to it being sinful. What then are we supposed to learn from Yaakov and his conversation with the Pharaoh.

I think to understand the message here for us we need to take a second look at our attitude to 'bad' things when they occurr to us or others. Yes, we know that "k'shem shemvarchim al hatov kach m'vorchim al hara", "just as we are commanded to make a blessing when good things happen to us we are also to make a blessing when bad things happen". But what's most important to realize is that its not the same blessing. When good happens we say "hatov v'hamaitiv", thanking G-d for His graciousness. When bad happens we say "baruch dayan ha'emet", blessing G-d as the true judge.

We do not pretend that we experience bad as good ! We don't celebrate tragedies as we would a simcha. On the contrary, we mourn and lament our losses. Even when we say "gam zu l'tova" we are not whitewashing something terrible. We are simply saying that "this too is good", meaning, it too has good in it for us, though it feels bad.

I can't over-estimate the importance of this distinction. A person of faith does not deny his/her experience of evil in this world. Maybe we were raised in an abusive home. Perhaps we saw violence against our mother or our sibling or even ourselves. Its is not the Torah way to say "oh it was not so bad", or minimize our pain. If we sustained tragedies in our lives, the deaths of those close to us, serious illness, business reversals, and the like, the Torah does not want us to pretend these events were good. We do not make the blessing hatov v'hamaitiv. On the contrary the blessing we make is baruch dayan ha'emet, acknowledging our suffering and loss.

It is only when we recognize and claim the bad that has happened to us that we can learn the lesson meant for us and derive the good from the experience that felt so bad. If we fail to call the bad by its name we never struggle with it nor will we use it for our becoming.

I believe this is why the Torah shares with us Yaakov's comments to Pharaoh. Yaakov claimed his experience for the truth that it was. He had a bad life. True, Hashem protected him. True also that much good came out of his life's journey. But that does not turn bad into good. It only makes bad a vehicle to access the good intended for us and others. That the Medrash says Yaakov was punished, was only because he failed to include in his remarks thanksgiving to G-d as well as the hurt and loss he suffered.It was not because what he said lacked truth.

The message for me in this is clear. We need to own our experience. Denial is not the same as faith. Bad is bad just as much as good is good. If we own our story with its hurts and tragedies we can come to make good from it. But our story itself will always retain aspects of tragedy. And it will always warrant tears and perhaps even anger amidst the joy and thanksgiving.

Yaakov's mida was emet, truth. Truth demands we be faithful to our experience, claim it without fear. In facing our truth we grapple with our bad and thereby allow the good meant for us in it to emerge.

Shabbat Shalom

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Healing and Change

With the Parsha of Miketz we bring the story of Joesph and the brothers to its climactic moment. After a series of harrowing events the brothers face the prospect of losing Binyamin to slavery for his having ostensibly stolen the divining cup of the viceroy of Egypt, who, little known to them, is really there lost brother Yosef. The question the story begs us to ask is why? Why did Yosef put his brothers through this horrific ordeal of fear and anguish. Why did he not simply tell them when they first arrived in Egypt and stood before him that he indeed was their missing brother?

And still more why did he wait at all for this chance rendezvous. Why didn't he immediately upon rising to prominence send word to his father that he, Yosef, was alive and well?

Many have offered reasons for Yosef's charade with his brothers. They range from Yosef's sense that he needed to fulfill the dream of his youth where all his brothers bow to him to the theory that he wanted to test whether they indeed had done teshuva. I must say, none of these explanations feel satisfactory to me.

I think that in order to understand Yosef's motives we need to think of the dynamics of a family.
I mean, can you imagine if Yosef had simply sent word up to his father Yaakov in Canaan that he was alive what upheaval it would have created. Yes, he could have found a way to say to his brothers that he forgave them and that all that happened was for the good, as indeed he later does. But would reconciliation really have been possible in that scenario?

Lets put the story in a larger context. Why are we here in this world? According to Ramchal G-d wants to bestow good on us, to give us His ultimate blessings of the world-to-come. We are here in this transitory world for only one reason . And that is to earn the very reward Hashem wants to bestow on us. He would prefer to simply give us our great gift, after all He loves us. Problem is that if he simply gave us the good without us having earned it we could never fully enjoy it. We would feel shame at being given a gift unearned and undeserved. It would be for us what the sages call a naama d'kesufa , a cup of shame. Hashem put us in this world so we will be able to enjoy the gifts He wants to give us in the world eternal through having a sense that we earned them through the struggle and effort of this world.

Human beings don't do well in relationships when they are simply the beneficiaries of the kindness of another. While they may enjoy the free ride for awhile, in the end they come to resent the one-sided dynamics of always being the recipient. Often they come to even hate their benefactor because his/her one sided generosity reminds them of their own limitations. Unless we feel some level of reciprocity and deservedness of what we receive we will experience a sense of shame in constantly receiving, a shame that ultimately turns gratitude into scorn.

I suggest it is this dynamic that motivated Yosef in trying to foster a reconciliation with his brothers. Of course Yosef could have sent word early on that he was safe and prominent in Egypt. He could have told his brothers that all was forgiven. They might even have believed him.
He could have avoided the whole drama and its anxiety climaxing with the near enslavement of Binyamin if only he had revealed himself to his brothers straight away.

But Yosef knew that in order for there to be a real healing in the family the dynamics would have to be more than one sided. It could not just be his generosity, no matter how sincere, that would foster the reconciliation. Yosef knew that for a true coming together the brothers would need to feel they had earned the right to be forgiven. The whole charade and drama was only created so they would have a chance to earn the gift of forgiveness Yosef wanted so desperately to offer. When in next week's reading they stand up for Binyamin and at risk to themselves they indeed show their mettle. Now the rapprochement is truly possible.

Most of us have places of shame in our lives, times we harmed someone we loved. We may have been verbally abusive to a spouse or worse to our child. We may have shown our ugliest side to another Jew treating him/her with disdain or callousness. Truth is, the other, our wife or child, and even our Jewish brother may be ready to forgive us and move on. Yet if we don't have an opportunity to redeem ourselves and show we deserve the forgiveness their generosity will likely not feel healing. A forgiveness unearned and undeserved rarely fosters reconciliation and, to the contrary, often contributes to deeper discord.

Like Yosef's brothers, we need opportunity to show we are no longer the callous and insensitive persons who spoke or acted so wantonly. To make the forgiveness of another work we need to have changed.

Our sages have long taught that a key component to teshuva, beyond the sense of remorse, is azeevat hachet, leaving the sinful behavior behind. In the ideal our change need be so complete that if the situation in which we sinned came before us again we would not fail.While most interpret these criteria as G-d's expectation of us, it may well be that we need to meet these conditions so that we can embrace the forgiveness G-d wants to give us. If we express remorse but remain unchanged we may well see Hashem's compassion towards us as unearned. That feeling would interfere with our capacity to renew our intimacy with our G-d.

The story of Yosef teaches us that real forgiveness is a process and not an instantaneous act. It takes time and effort and needs to be the by-product of both compassion on the one side and genuine change on the other.

Relationships are more than words. They are living dynamics between people. We all make mistakes. We all sometimes hurt the ones we love most. What we need do is show, not tell, we are sorry, and be willing to wait the time it may take for trust to be restored. And, most of all, we need to know that no healing is possible without change, not because the other won't be willing, but because we won't feel worthy.
Like the brothers of Yosef, only when we feel we have earned our return will we be able, once again, to embrace the opportunity for renewal and healing.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Surrender to Prevail

The story of Yosef, which we begin this week in the Parsha of Vayeshev can be much better understood at the macro level than at the micro level. I mean, we know that the family that was to become the People of Israel needed to be in Egypt. That was part of the Divine plan. According to our sages all the drama and intrigue between Yosef and his brothers was the vehicle to make that happen and in the best way possible. But at the micro level, looking at the individuals involved, we still have to wonder why did Yosef need to suffer so much. Why did he have to endure all the pain of his early years.

Its hard to imagine a more tragic series of circumstances than that which happened to Yosef.
His mother died when he was 7. True he had another brother from his mother, but that brother, Binyamin, was much younger. He craved the attention and acceptance of his older brothers and yet his way of trying to get it only served to antagonize them. He was painfully alone. He endured the horrific experience of being almost killed by his brothers and, in the end, instead, sold into oblivion as a slave to a caravan of merchants . In Egypt he finds unlikely success only to be brought down again and imprisoned on charges of rape when he was entirely innocent. He languished in jail. Even when he got the unique opportunity of access to the Pharaoh and a pardon with his kindness to the butler, the butler promptly forgot him. He was left with no hope and no prospects.

Why? Why did Yosef have to endure so much suffering?

I believe the answer is one that is vital to me and maybe to you. Yosef was a gifted young man. He was beautiful of appearance and talented. He had the graces of his mother Rachel. And whats more he knew it. While clearly a good boy and the favorite of his father, he also was full of himself. The Sages tell us he liked to comb his hair to enhance his already good looks. As the Torah tells us, he talked badly of his brothers to their father. And he not only dreamed the dreams of personal grandeur in which the whole family bowed to him, he needed to tell those n dreams to his father and brothers.

Yosef had all the ingredients of greatness. He was clearly the most gifted of Yaakov's children. The problem was that he knew it. He had a large ego. And that ego served to foil all the good that was possible for him to achieve. The whole experience of Yosef's life was meant to humble him. He needed to be made smaller. Only after he realized his limitations would it be possible for him to turn his talents and gifts over to G-d and become who he was meant to be.

Gifted people don't surrender their self-reliance easily. If one looks at the story in this way s/he can see that each time after being knocked down, rather than surrender to Hashem, Yosef relied on his talents to prevail. Even after all he suffered, when he is in jail, and interprets the dreams of the baker and the butler of the Pharaoh, he asked the butler to remember him to the Pharaoh. The Sages taught that even here Yosef did not sufficiently rely in Hashem to liberate him. His request of the butler cost him an additional two years in prison.

Only the total despair of the prison with no chance of parole leads Yosef to surrender to Hashem.
Completely without hope, after time and time again coming close but not succeeding to lift his life out of its hell,Yosef finally gives up and turns himself over to the ratzon, the will of G-d.

Why do I say this story speaks so loudly to me and maybe to you? Think about it. Its so easy to live one's life doing mitzvot and learning Torah and yet never surrender to Hashem. We may keep everything and maybe even we are machmir in our observance , but yet we never give up ourselves and our personal self-focused agenda. On the surface we look so good and committed but on the inside we are still living our life on our terms rather than pursuing the ratzon Hashem.

And why? Why do we not turn ourselves over? Why do we resist? In simple terms because we are afraid. To turn our lives over means to trust Hashem, to trust that whatever He wants from us will be the good. Bitachon, trust, is a very rare commodity indeed. In its truest form it usually comes only when ein breira, we have no other alternative.

I am reminded of the story of a mountain climber who fell from a cliff and was dangling over the precipice. He was barely able to hold on to the ledge and avoid a fall into oblivion. He turned his eyes heavenward and said "If there is a G-d up there please save me. I promise I will always be faithful to you. I will devote my life to doing kindness and improving the situation of others".
To his surprise he heard a voice responding to his plea. " I heard you my son and I will save you. Let go of your hands hanging on to the ledge and I will catch you and bring you to safety".
To that the mountain climber responded "Is there anyone else up there?".

It is one thing to believe in G-d. It is another to trust in Him and to surrender our life to His will. Even Yosef who is referred to as hatzadik, the righteous one, over his ability to resist the seduction of the wife of Potiphar, struggled with bitachon. It is not an easy madreiga, level to come to.

We read in Pirke Avot, "Make your will as His will so that He will make His will as your will".
Indeed if we truly make our will His we will know a bliss and a serenity currently impossible for us to experience. If our will is His than His will becomes ours, there is no conflict, and we are doing what we want to do . There can be no greater sense of peace.

Channuka is the holiday of bitachon. The Maccabees had no reason to believe they would prevail. They were fewer in number and less in strength than their adversaries. It was G-d's will they were doing, not their own. They trusted and miraculously triumphed. It is this we celebrate. We too are each called in our own way to surrender in order to prevail.
It would be so much better if we did not have to be, like Yosef, totally defeated before we turned our will over to Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Samayach!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Preparing for Defeat

Those who study human behavior have found an interesting phenomenon they call the Abstinence Violation Effect. They observed that many times when a person takes on a certain commitment, say to abstain from eating sweets or to abstain from drinking alcohol, if that person succumbs to temptation and violates his/her commitment by eating or drinking even a little bit, s/he is likely to then follow-up by binging on that from which s/he was trying to abstain and relapsing entirely to his/her former behavior or sometimes even worse.

I suspect many of us know the AVE phenomenon first hand. Perhaps we went on a diet or attempted to begin a regimen of exercises. We might have been successful for a period of time and thought to ourselves "Yes, I have this licked". Then we get invited to a wedding and a sumptuous feast of calories is before us and we compromise our resolve or we go on vacation and lose our exercise routine for a week. There is a great likelihood that the guilt we feel over our 'slip' will cause us to lapse into a total free-fall and not only will the diet or exercise plan fall by the way-side but we will indulge our appetites more vigorously than before feeling that we are hopeless.

I guess you are wondering why am I telling you this. Well Rebbe Nachman understood this human response long before the behaviorists of today wrote about it and he found its source in this week's parsha.

At the reading's outset Yaakov is about to meet his brother Esav, the very same brother who swore many years earlier to kill Yaakov over the blessings he stole. We are told that Yaakov was very much afraid. In preparation for the encounter he divided his camp in two. The Torah tells us that Yaakov thought "If Esav will come to one camp and slays it then the other camp will at least be a remnant".

Now we know Yaakov did more than prepare for a defeat. The Torah tells us that he prayed a powerful prayer and that he gifted Esav to appease him. Yet Yaakov, still and all, did not assume all would go well. If it did not, he wanted to at least minimize the damage done so it would not be a total loss.

Rebbe Nachman saw in our father Yaakov's behavior something relevant for us each time we confront our own challenges, in particular with the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. Rebbe Nachman taught that we should not be so confident in ourselves that we will always prevail over our temptations to do wrong. At times we may be vulnerable and succumb. Yet what is most important is that if defeated we not lose hope and make the loss a total loss. We need to minimize the implications of the defeat so that while we lose a battle we do not lose the war.

Worse still then committing an aviera is letting the sin cause us to lose faith in ourselves and our ability to be good so that we give in to the wrongful behavior. A single moment of weakness must not cause us to surrender. We should not give away more than we have to even when we are compromised.

For some years when I lived in the States I offered support to Orthodox young men whose sexual orientation was homosexual. These young men valiantly tried to live within a Torah framework and suppress their sexual desires that ran counter to halacha. It was often so difficult for them. They had no kosher outlet for there sexual desires. Often they felt guilty over a compromise, so much so that they struggled to find hope and to maintain resolve not only with sexual discipline but even with the entire call to shmirat ha'mitzvot.

Rebbe Nacham would have said to them, "Yes, you did wrong. But don't be m'yaeish, lose hope.
Your struggle is a holy one. And the failure in one part of your life or in one moment should not be seen as devaluing all the effort you make to do what Hashem wants for you. Learn from our father Yaakov. Prepare for defeat by making sure you not lose more than necessary".

How vital that lesson is for all of us. We all have our spiritual point of vulnerability. We all have midot that need correction behaviors that are unacceptable. Many times we give up on changing them because we have tried and failed. Rebbe Nachman would challenge us to not lose faith and give up the effort to change. To surrender would be the greatest tragedy.

We need instead to do like Yaakov and do battle knowing at times we may well lose. And yet make sure, even when we lose, the loss is not total and we continue our effort to improve.

Our sins are not the enemy. Its our attitude towards our sins that represents the real danger. We dare not lose hope. We dare not surrender.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When to Hold and When to Fold

When is it time to move on? Have you ever wanted something very much, prayed for it, waited for it, longed for it, but yet it did not come? When is it time to let go and accept that, sad as it may be, what we much hoped for will will not happen.

I suspect most of us have asked ourselves that question and more than once. We longed for something in our lives maybe a certain job, or something in our marriage, or a shidduch, and no matter how much we davened or how hard we tried, it simply did not happen. We were left with a dilemma. Should we hang on to the dream, after all it could still happen. Hashem may yet answer our prayers and we don't want to lose a gift that may be so near and could mean so much? Or should we let go. To continue to wait may come at too high a price especially when other opportunities beckon and the desired may never occur.

I suspect many a life has been wasted waiting and praying for that which never came. And similarly, I suspect many a person after years of waiting has abandoned a deep and powerful yearning only a short time before there aspirations would have been realized had they remained committed.

Knowing when to hold and when to fold is hard indeed.

I look at two episodes in this week's parsha that seems to speak to the theme. The first is the more simple. Yaacov spends 20 years working for his father-in-law Lavan. He is cheated and taken advantage of time and time again. By the reading's end he is ready to move on. He doesn't even say goodbye. He simply gathers his family and possessions and takes 0ff. Yaacov realizes there is nothing between him and his father-in-law. Despite his best efforts to create a cordial, if not warm, family relationship all he experiences in return is mistrust and envy. Yaacov, in accord with G-d's charge, moves on. He and his wives' family will never see each other again. What might have been is no longer anticipated. No goodbyes necessary. Its over !

The second story is a bit more subtle. We read of Rachel and her desire to have children. She was so pained that she was childless that she said to Yaakov " Give me children else I am going to die". Desperate, she gave her maid-servant Bilha to Yaakov in order to have children through her. After 7 years, while Leah, her sister, and Yaacov's other wife had 7 children and the maid-servants 4, Rachel conceives. The Torah tells us " And Elokim remembered Rachel and Elokim listened to her and opened her womb".

The Torah explicitly states that Rachel conceived not only because G-d remembered her but because he heard her . After 7 years and seeing all the births around her Rachel was still praying for a child. She had not given up. We might wonder about that. She knew her husband was not sterile. He was a virtual baby-maker, having had 11 children. She, on the other hand, had gone 7 years infertile.

Might she not have thought, "its time to move on. Its just not going to happen for me. Let me find another direction for my life." Who would have blamed Rachel if she had stopped praying to have a child and instead invested in other meaningful life endeavours. Some times one needs to move on.

When to move on and when to hold fast? Can we learn anything from the consideration of both stories?

I think there is a lesson here. And the lesson is gleaned more from the Rachel story than from the Yaakov-Laban saga. Little doubt their are times to move on. And they are not easy to discern. Yaacov himself may not have recognized the time to leave had G-d not come to him in a dream and mandated his exodus. I suspect most of us wait too long before letting go rather than leave too soon. How many a woman has stayed in an abusive marriage way too long, hoping it would get better, before finally giving up and leaving.

Yes, giving up on people and on dreams no matter how important has its time. We cannot wait forever. And their are other life investments to be made. But its different when what we are yearning for is not about someone or something else, but about our own becoming and about the realization of our truest self. Sometimes what we are praying for and yearning to realize is so personal as to be core to our self concept, having to do with who we feel ourselves to be.

Such was the case with Rachel. Rachel knew she was meant to be a mother. It was her essence.

That's why she told Yaakov "Give me children else I will die". She could not imagine being at all without being a mother. While its true, in some cases, that which we most believe to be core to our identity does not happen in our lives, no matter how hard we pray or how many tears we shed. Yet as long as their is any possibility at all, we do not give up. We cannot give up. Giving up is to die. And until that death is inevitable we will rightfully remain committed to our personal calling.

Rachel is the mother of the Jewish people. She is the only one of the matriarchs who is always called Imeinu. To be a mother was not a work of her life, it was her very essence, inseparable from her identity. 7 years or 70 years, it would not have mattered, until or unless she would have been physically unable, Rachel would have been praying and petitioning to have a child, to be a mother. When its your self you are waiting to bring to life, there is no folding up.

I remember the story of a Rav who went to a particularly wicked town and made every effort to get the people to do teshuva but to no avail. Year after year he preached. coaxed and pleaded to get the people to change with no results. Finally someone asked him "Rav why do you continue to make these heroic efforts. Can't you see its useless?". The Rav answered, "Originally I preached and pleaded to change them. Now I preach and plead so that they shouldn't change me".

When we are talking about that which we believe to be vital to our sense of self, no matter how long we wait, we need to continue to pray and anticipate, never giving up. Our opportunity may not yet have come, but we cannot abandon our personal call. In those cases we need to plead petition and daven, even if we feel unheard, so that time and circumstance does not change us nor dim our resolve to become who we were meant to become.

When to hold and when to fold....One thing is sure in every life there is call for both. And we need to be steadfast when necessary and have courage enough to let go and move on when that is clearly our work. Most of all, like Rachel Imeinu, we need to be resolute and persist, no matter the challenge, to become our truest selves.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Between Mothers and Fathers

Have you ever noticed, while we find blessings being given by men on numerous occasions in the Torah we don't find a single instance of a woman's blessing. Moshe blesses, Yaakov blesses, Yitzchak blesses in this weeks parsha and they give blessings more than once. Yet we have no record of Sarah giving a blessing nor of any of the matriarchs. Why?

I asked my Rebbe, Rav Yehoshua Cohen, who knows all shas and beyond as I know my address, if there is record of a woman giving a blessing in the Talmud. He could only come up with one vague instance where a woman gave Rav Papa a blessing when he came to a strange town and asked for a certain talmid chacham. Not knowing Rav Papa to be the great authority he was she told him "you should be like him".

At the chupah prior to the wedding the custom is for the father to bless the kallah. I have seen where the father-in-law blesses his new daughter to-be as well. But I have never seen a mother's blessing.
And in most homes on Friday night their is a custom for the father to bless his children. Rare is the practice that the mother blesses the children.

Why? Why is the blessing of children reserved as the prerogative of the father?

I don't believe this is an accident. There is real reason why blessings belong to the father and not the mother. And the reason is rooted in the respective roles mother and father play in the life of a child. Mother is the nurturer and protector of the child. She makes the child feel safe, secure, esteemed as s/he is. Mother validates the child and affirms his/her intrinsic goodness.
The mother's love for her child is not based on anything s/he does. It does not need to be earned. A mother's love is unconditional and simply based on who the child is.

The father's role is to challenge the child, to encourage the child to grow and become. He is like a coach inviting the child to push his/her boundaries, to strive and to mature. He wants for the child to realize his/her potential. While of course, he too loves his child without condition, its different than with the mother. He has expectations. And those expectations motivate the child to believe in him/herself and to take the risks necessary to grow.

We need both influences in our life to realize our capabilities. We need the mother's love that affirms us for who we are and forges our self-esteem. And we need the father's love to help us believe in our capacity to be more than we are now, to grow and become. (Of course its not that each parent gives one type of love exclusively. But these are the respective roles in family life and in the life of a child).

Look at this weeks parsha. We see the different roles of father and mother played out dramatically. Rivka loves Yaakov. She seeks to protect him. She loves him for who he is. She insists he claim the blessings he is entitled to even if it means he has to put on a huge deception. She sends him away when she hears his brother Esav has plans to kill him.Were it not for her fear for his life she would never have wanted him to leave.

Yitzchak on the other hand loves Esav. And here, unlike Rivka's love for Yaakov where the Torah gives us no reason, the Torah tell us why. Yitzchak loved Esav for his accomplishments, "for he was able to hunt and take care of himself". Like Rivka, Yitzchak too sent Yaakov away at the end of the reading. But the sending is oh so different. He sends Yaakov not to protect him but for him to find a wife, to make his way in the world. Yitzchak wanted Yaakov to go out and become, to leave the "tents" (the Torah describes Yaakov as one who "sat in the tents".) and make something of himself.

Why don't we find women giving brachot? The answer is because a blessing is essentially a challenge to a person to stretch their boundaries, to go and realize their gifts, to become. Blessings express the encouragement for the person to fulfill themselves. They are prayers that s/he know success in his/her initiatives. That sentiment belongs to the fathers role within the family. He is the one who invites the child to grow beyond who s/he currently is. The mother's role validates the child as s/he is. She affirms the child as a person, as good and whole independent of what s/he does. Its not for her to bless. She offers the love that says "no matter what you do or become you are already good enough".

Truth is we need both the message of Yitzchak and Rivka for our healthy maturation. We need both nurture and challenge. We need mother and father. Sometimes one more than the other, but always both. And we who play that role in the lives of our children need to know that as parents we may not always be on the same page, as Yitzchak and Rivka were not. As mother and father we bring different energies to our children and at times we may feel our roles divide us. As father and mother we share the role as parent, but not necessarily its application.
Accepting the reality that as parents we may rightly feel different from one another goes along way to resolving tensions between parents in the home.

Did Yitzchak and Rivka love each other? Of course. But that did not mean they always thought and acted alike. As parents they felt and acted differently from each other. And we, their children, are grateful for the unique contribution each brought into the life of Yaakov and through him to us.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Small Expectations

In Charles Dickens classic "Great Expectations", the protagonist grows up poor in the marshes of Wales. To his surprise and delight in his late teens he becomes the beneficiary of ongoing gifts from an anonymous donor that turns him from pauper to newly rich. For some years he believes the mysterious benefactor is an old eccentric woman he tried to endear himself to when a boy, someone he long hoped would leave him money in her estate. He is shocked to learn that in fact he is being supported by gifts from an escaped convict he once fed at the peril of his life when still a child, an escaped convict who later became wealthy and never forgot the kindness.

If Charles Dickens could name this weeks parsha of Chayai Sarah, he might name it "Small Expectations". There is much to learn from the story of Eliezer and his adventure to find a wife for Yitzchak. But what intrigues me this year is how Rivka, the woman who becomes our matriarch, finds all of who she is, then and forever, changed through one act of kindness.

I mean could Rivka ever have imagined that one day when she was walking to the well to get water for her sheep that she would be asked to do something the consequence of which would totally transform her life? Rivka is asked by a person who she perceives a total stranger, someone who had no prospects of ever mattering to her, if she might give him some water.
Had she any idea the import of her response? Of course not! Yet in her decision to not only give Eliezer water, but go beyond his request and water his camels she changed history, hers and ours, her children.

Rivka had small expectations. She was simply doing the act of hesed that she felt was right and good. Yet that seemingly small act had consequence beyond measure. Who would have ever imagined?

Whats the lesson here? You and I spend so much of our time worrying about the big issues, the big challenges of our life. And yet that which may be most consequential for our present and future may be the little thing that we encounter along the way. Whats that famous line "life is what happens while we are busy making plans!".

So much of the time we are focused on the future goal and acquire tunnel vision, missing the opportunities before us. We become blind to the real hesed that may be life changing for us and for others. I thought of this as I considered my daughter, Bat Sheva and her progress at school.
At times I can be so preoccupied wanting her to learn and grow that I miss the chance to compliment her, affirm her, show her that I love her. I think of her future but miss her present.
And in missing her present I may miss doing that which will be far more telling in influencing the person she will grow up to be and the direction of her life.

In Tehilim the pasuk reads "Ashrai shomrai mishpat oseh tzedaka b'chal et...Fortunate is one who is a guardian of justice and does tzedaka all the time" The Gemara wonders, "how can one do tzedaka at all times?" For me the answer is that the pasuk refers to one who is ready to do tzedaka at all times. S/he is never so lost in pursuit of his/her agenda that s/he misses the moment.
Like Rivka in our story, they seize every opportunity to do good for indeed who can know its import, not only for the other, but for us!

Who knows if the moment before our eyes is not the moment that will make all the difference in the world in terms of Heaven's decree for us or even in terms of some earthly consequence. In both Dickens' story and in our parsha, lehavdil, the main characters had no idea their single act would so radically alter their lives. I suspect you and I have many moments that pass like those, many moments with great import for us , but our small expectations of those times causes us to miss the moment and alas it is gone.

Let us emulate our mother Rivka and not let the hesed before us pass, especially with those nearest to us, who we often take for granted. One act, one word, one choice, can change our lives and persons forever! Open your eyes! Do it! Say it! Make it!

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Between Men & Women

The couple, in our tradition, most reflective of a loving relationship is Avraham and Sarah. The Talmud tells us that their union was so strong that even in death they were not separated (Bava Batra 58a). Yet the marriage of Avraham and Sarah, like all good marriages, had its moments of conflict. Last week we read where Sarah tells Avraham " I am furious at you....let Hashem be the judge between us". And this week Avraham is upset when Sarah insists that he get rid of Hagar and Yishmael. Its only when Hashem tells him to listen to Sarah that Avraham comes to accept her will.

But its not those passages I want to explore with you this week. But rather a troubling section at the beginning of the reading. There at the outset of the parsah of Vayeira we read that Avraham offers hospitality to three angels disguised as travellers. One of the angels was sent by G-d to tell Sarah that in a years time she would have a baby. Avraham already got the good news 3 days earlier at the same time that he was told of his requirement of mila, the ritual circumcision (last weeks reading). Its not clear from the text whether he informed Sarah of their good news but one would surmise he did. Nonetheless the angels come to deliver the news first hand to Sarah.

Yet, as we read the story, though the angels asked for Sarah they are not given access to her directly. Avraham tells them that she is in the tent. With no alternative the angels deliver their message to Avraham telling him that in a year's time Sarah will give birth to a son. Meanwhile, the Torah tells us, Sarah is standing at the opening to the tent and she hears the news. Her response, "And Sarah laughed to herself saying after I have grown old will I yet be desirable and my master (Avraham) is old as well".

This is a private laugh. The Torah tells us "Sarah laughed to herself..." and in any case no one heard her. She was alone at the entrance to the tent. Yet the angel finds problem with Sarah's laugh. He tells Avraham "Why did Sarah laugh saying can it be that I will yet give birth when I am so old." ( Though the Torah says this in the name of G-d most commentaries say it was the angel who spoke for G-d).The story concludes with Avraham confronting Sarah about her laugh. Sarah denies having laughed saying "'I did not laugh'....because she was afraid". And Avraham says to her "Indeed you did laugh". And that ends the episode.

There are many questions we need to ask about this story. First okay Sarah laughed, big deal.
Three days earlier when Avraham got the new from Hashem the Torah says " And Avraham fell on his face and laughed. And he said in his heart ' Can I really become a father at 100 and Sarah become a mother at 90'". Why was Avraham's laugh acceptable but not Sarah's. Second, how is it that Sarah denies her laugh. I understand she was afraid, but to lie a blatant lie? And then further, if she did lie in denying the laugh,why does Avraham go on to challenge her. Whats the point in embarrassing her? He is her husband and yet he seems to be acting like a repudiating parent.

And most importantly we would do well to wonder whats the point of the Torah giving us the story? What's the lesson in it for us? It seems peculiar at best.

I believe the key to understanding the story and its meaning is recognizing that at its core this is a story whose dynamics are rooted in gender. Avraham was male. Sarah was female. The idea of finally having a child with Sarah was wonderful for Avraham, a dream come true. For Sarah it was much more consequential. Little doubt she had died a 1000 deaths over the many years of their marriage each time her period came and she realized she was not pregnant. For her, as for most women, not having a child engenders a huge sense of failure and shame. She was so pained by her baroness that she asked Avraham to sleep with another woman (Hagar) just so she might have a child to raise as her own. By the time she was 90, no longer fertile, she had mourned her tragedy....and moved on. It was so painful to accept but she at last must have made some peace.

Now the angels come and she over-hears that she is going to have a child. Yes both Avraham and Sarah laugh when each gets their news...but look at the difference in what they are thinking.
Avraham's laugh is accompanied by the thought " Wow, can it be at 100 I will yet be a father (again) and Sarah at 90 be a mother". Its the laughter of joy and it invokes no criticism from Hashem.

What thought accompanies Sarah's (private) laugh on hearing the angel's words? She says "How can it be? My body is already worn (no longer fertile). Will I yet be desirable to my husband? And he too is old". Sarah laughs an anxious laugh. She wants to believe but struggles. One of the great Torah commentaries explained that Avraham and Sarah were no longer physically intimate. She was no longer attractive to him. She could not imagine how in practicality this baby was to be conceived. Sarah's doubt is reminiscent of Yaakov's inability to believe his sons when they return from Egypt and tell him that Yosef is alive. He grieved all these years. It meant so much to him...he was afraid to believe that it could really be . He was afraid lest he suffer a disappointment he could not bare.

Sarah's laugh is not the laugh of Avraham. Its the laugh of a woman afraid to believe for fear that if she trusts and she is disappointed she will not survive. This isn't just a wonderful gift for her. This is life and death. She wants to believe, desperately. But dare she?

It is to this that the angel speaks when he says to Avraham " why does Sarah laugh saying 'can I really give birth as I am so old'. Is anything too wondrous for Hashem to do. Next year at this time I will return and Sarah will have a son". The angel is not criticizing her. On the contrary he is making effort to reassure her, which was his purpose for the visit in the first place.
He is telling Sarah she can trust and not be afraid. The baby will come.

And so when we reach the end of the story and Avraham confronts Sarah on her laughter, Sarah denies the laugh. And why? Because "she is afraid". She is afraid that her private laugh that now is clearly known, that doubt that she expressed out of years of frustration and longing, will now cause her to lose this last chance at a child. She is afraid that the laugh will ruin everything...All seems so fragile and unreal to her...She fears what was promised will now be taken away.

It is to this that Avraham says " Indeed you laughed"saying thereby to his beloved Sarah, "Yes you laughed and its okay. This is real. We are going to have our son. And neither your laughter nor anything else will take him from us. You need not be afraid. Your redemption is at hand".

If we understand the story this way it speaks to the love between Avraham and Sarah. They each wanted a son. But the meaning it had for each of them was very different. Avraham already had Yishmael and even had he not, having a child was a gift. For Sarah, as for many women, it had the import of life and death. Avraham had to come to understand Sarah's anxiety. It was the same anxiety that according to a medrash caused Sarah's death when she feared Yitzchak was being killed at the akaida.

In my reading of the story Avraham does not chastise Sarah at the end. Rather he comforts her. feeling for her anxieties and worries.
Husbands and wives need to understand that though many times they want the same thing it does not mean that it has the same import to both.
Love is based on respect and respect is based on the appreciation of the unique mindset of the other. Its not enough for couples to say "we want the same things". That may well be true but it isn't enough to prevent serious misunderstanding. What priority do those things have for each of you? how critical? and for what reasons?

Yes, Avraham and Sarah are the ideal couple. But they too had to do the work of building intimacy and trust. Even at the ages of 100 and 90 and after perhaps 70 years of marriage they were still learning each other and growing together. That's not a bad thing. That's what gives life meaning. We would do well to invest in our marriages with similar resolve.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hesed Without Judgement

The Talmud tells a fascinating if troubling story of the great Amora, Rav. It was his practice to visit the cemetery there to converse with the dead. He often asked them of what did they die. In nine out of ten cases they answered "we died because of the ayin hara, the evil eye".

One of the renowned commentaries on the Talmud explained that the ayin hara that causes our death does not refer to the evil eye cast on us, but rather the ayin hara with which we look at others. It is our crtical gaze on others, questioning whether they deserve what they have that brings G-d's judgement on us. G-d says, as it were, "if you think others should only get what they deserve and no more, then I will judge you by the same standards". When we are judged exclusively on our merits inevitably we fall short.

This week in the parsha we meet our father Avraham. Avraham was the exemplar of doing hesed, acts of loving-kindness. His whole life was devoted to teaching the way to Hashem by outreach in the form of hospitality and care.

It is interesting to note that though Avraham extended himself to care for others and showed them love he was not naive about the evils of human nature. Avraham was no Pollyanna. He knew people were flawed and flawed severely. Just look at the stories and this becomes clear. Early on we read of his travels to Egypt and later to Gerar. In each case he saw the citizens as likely to kill him so as to claim his beautiful wife Sarah. When his shepards fight with those of his nephew Lot, Avraham does not say "lets work this out". On the contrary he sees the feud likely to escalate unless action is taken. He tells Lot "separate from me". Rather than mediate the confrontation he chooses to end the relationship. And still later after he saves Lot, the king of Sodom offers to let Avraham keep the booty he has won in his war on their behalf. Avraham refuses saying I suspect if I keep it you will go on to say "I enriched Avraham".

No, Avraham knows people can do terrible things. They are not necessarily good at all. He doesn't invest in hesed because he thinks the people are entitled to it. He does hesed because he realizes the way to tikun olam, repairing the world is by engaging in doing kindness to others.
Avraham recognizes that acts of kindness create a force for the good in the world, a force that enhances all of life and moves it to greater shlaimut. Avraham does hesed because hesed is what the world needs. And all humanity is blessed and sustained when a person does kindness to another.

I remember a few decades ago when much was written about the power of random acts of kindness. When I write of random acts of kindness I mean doing something kind for someone you do not know or may never know simply for the blessing it brings to the world. It may mean walking over to the man working hard on the train tracks in mercaz ha'ir and giving him a bottle of lemonade or ice cafe. It may mean putting money in a parking meter that's expiring, or it may mean giving 20 shekel to the woman who asks for a donation and would be grateful for 1.
Random acts of kindness don't ask whether the person is deserving of the gift I am giving. They are powerful precisely because we do not make a judgement. We simply see an opportunity to do a kindness and we do.

That's the hesed of Avraham, the hesed that made him the great benefactor of all, both Jew and non-Jew. When someone asked him for a favor he did not ask himself whether they warranted his effort. He did not do good for others on the basis of their deserts. He did for other because hesed is always good. Hashem built His world on hesed and so Avraham emulated His ways.

Can there be a more important lesson for us to learn. How often does the man collecting ask us for a donation and we start to question whether he deserves or really needs our help. We judge before we give. We judge before we do. That attitude is sadly the kind that brings the kitrug, the judgement down on us from above. As we judge others so we are judged.

Would we not be better if we simply did the act of hesed for no other reason than the person asked for it, without judgement or critique. Then we would be walking in the footsteps of Avraham. Then we would be doing hesed in the way that sustains the world. Then we would be doing the random act of kindness that makes both us and others better.

I take the lesson this week to heart and on a personal level. Bli neder, without taking a vow I pledge to do 5 acts of random hesed a day. It can be a kind word spoken to someone who does not expect it and maybe has not earned it, or it can be letting the person behind me go in front of me in line at the makolet. It need not be money. It simply need be hesed for the sake of hesed. I hope you will join me in such a pledge. The results will make another happy, create a positive energy in the world, and earn us the kindness from Hakadosh Baruch Hu that we bestow on others.

Let us walk in the way of our father Avraham. Let us do hesed without the judgement!
Can their be anything more worthwhile!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Consequences of Success

"Nothing ruins a man quite like success". So goes the adage that gets validated over and over in the course of human drama. From Bill Clinton's absurd fling with Monica Lewinsky to Bernie Madoff's ponzi scam the stories of men and women who achieve prominence and then self-destruct is legion.

And we first encounter such a story in this week's parsha, the portion of Noach. At the outset of the reading Noach is referred to as the ish tzaddik. A person can receive no greater personal validation, and this from the Torah no less. He is the real survivor, chosen to stay on the island of the world not by scheming peers as in the television series but by G-d Himself. All of life is indebted to Noach for its existence. Can there be any greater success than to have literally saved the world?

Yet a short time later in the parsha after leaving the ark Noach is referred to in quite different terms. As he begins to enter the normalcy of life he is called the ish ha'adama, " the man of earth". His first real labors are to plant a vineyard. We are told he goes on to get drunk from its harvest, so drunk that he rolls around naked in his tent and becomes the object of ridicule (and some say much worse) for one of his children and grandson.

How can it be? How can Noach who was so strong and so moral as to stand alone againt a whole world of corruption become so compromised and self-destructive. What happened?

We can ask that very question of so many who seem to have fallen from grace. Are they hypocrites? Were they really never as good as they pretended to be. Does the lapse indicate that the person we thought them to be was never really them?

Its easy to say that. And in some cases it may be that they were never really who they claimed to be.

But the story of Noach says that's not always true. After all the Torah calls Noach a tzaddik and affirms him in glowing terms. Clearly he was not a pretender. Yet tzaddik though he was, he had a mapala, a fall in stature. Great as he was, he compromised himself.

What happens to people when they seem to self-destruct is mysterious and the reasons may be as varied as the people themselves. We can speculate about Noach. We can say that he lost purpose. He had no social evil to fight, all his adversaries were dead. The new world belonged to his children to settle. With no heroic agenda before him what was left to him? Planting a vineyard is a pale substitute for saving the world.

I suspect that many a seemingly great person self-destructs precisely when their battle is won.

They no longer have a mission to motivate them. The history of revolutionaries from those who fought the Czar to Castro shows that once in power idealism gets lost and the new become as corrupt as the social system it was meant to replace.

I believe Bill Clinton is a good person. And Bernie Madoff was not always evil, after all he earned the trust of many people. Call me naive, but even Fidel Castro at one time was concerned with the masses and willing to make heroic personal sacrifices on their behalf. For Bill, Bernie and Fidel their successes compromised, and in the later two cases,
corrupted them. Success has that effect.

And you and I are vulnerable too. Until we accomplish our goals we can be so generous with others striving like we are. We identify with those marginalized and struggling. Yet once we succeed we so often show a kind of arrogance and deal with others in a condescending manner. How many might say of us "He used to be such a nice guy. Now he thinks himself a big shot". In our successes,when no longer driven by a purpose larger than us, we lose our humility. In losing our humility we self destruct. We lose our souls.

So whats the answer. Surely it cannot be to wish for failure.

While the world may not have an answer, we as Jews do. And the answer is learning Torah.
Our sages long taught "barati yetzer hara barati Torah tavlin", G-d says as it were " I have created the evil inclination. And I have created its remedy through the study of Torah".
The study of Torah forever provides us with a purpose. We never complete our learning and we never know enough. Torah study is the antidote to gaava, the arrogance that causes our demise. It is always larger than us. It always presents us with a challenge. What do we call the one learned in Torah... a talmid chacham, a wise student !

If Noach had a Torah to study he would never have been identified as the ish ha'adma. If he had a Torah to study planting a vineyard would not have been his work. Sure he would have finished his task as savior of the world but the daf yomi would have been waiting.

We can have success. Indeed G-d wants us to long as we are learning Torah. To separate from Torah study is to become vulnerable to compromise and corruption. We risk self destruction precisely when we have most achieved. We need Torah to keep us focused and filled with mission.
With Torah our work is never done. Before her we can never think ourselves
greater than others.

Torah is the sam hachayim, the elixir of life. How fortunate we are that we can learn !

Shabbat Shalom