Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Touchdown Dance

In American football, if a player is fortunate enough to score a touchdown for his team he will typically do a spontaneous little dance in celebration often referred to as "The Touchdown Dance". In a wonderful old movie titled "Parenthood", the late Jason Robards, playing an old parent with a wayward son, who while mature in years, continues to get himself into juvenile trouble, makes the observation that the work of parenting is never over. One never can do the 'touchdown dance', celebrating a culminating triumph.

The story of Avraham confirms Jason Robard's observation, not only about parenting, but about life in general. There is no touchdown dance.

This week we read the portion of Chayai Sarah. It begins with the death of our matriarch Sarah, telling us of Avraham's grief and then of his search for a worthy place for her burial. In tradition, its no accident that the Torah tells us of Sarah's death following the story we read last week of the 'akaida', the 'binding of Yitzchak'. Avraham has no opportunity to celebrate the gift G-d gave him of getting his son back, that is, not having to kill him as a sacrifice as he first thought, none at all. As soon as Avraham gets home rather than make a celebration on his and Yitzchak's salvation he learns of his beloved wife Sarah's death. He goes from elation to grief. And then he has to go seek help from strangers to secure a place to bury Sarah. And later still he worries that Yitzchak is getting older and remains unmarried. Avraham proceeds to send his servant a great distance, back to Avraham's birthplace, to hopefully there secure the appropriate wife for his son.

Again and again Avraham passes through crisis, times of worry, only to need G-d's help once more to negotiate the next issue. The crisis/issues never end. And with it neither does Avraham's need for G-d's deliverance. There is no final triumph, no touchdown dance.

I have always found it compelling that in Hallel, the psalms of praise we recite on holidays and days of deliverance in our liturgy, we exalt in G-d's response to our crisis. Near the Hallel's close we chant the verses "This is the day Hashem has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." And just prior we say, "I will give thanks to Hashem because He answered me and did not let my enemies rejoice over me." These verses are typically sung in the synagogue with great enthusiasm and abundant joy.
And why not. The Hallel is recited on days memorable for their glad tidings. In joy we sing and praise G-d.

What's surprising is what follows in the Psalm. Immediately after those triumphal verses we recite in a very different and plaintive mode, "Please G-d save me".
Question is how do we go from the triumph to the desperation in such a seamless flow?
If we are so jubilant in our victory how in the next moment do we experience such a need for salvation?

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov noted the continuous flow of ups and downs in Avraham's life. In each case Avraham would experience the 'y'shua', the salvation of the Divine, only to need it again, almost immediately, in a pursuant crisis. He understood the dynamics by first pointing out that each 'y'shua' manifests a nearness of G-d to the person in crisis. In fact the essence of the salvation is not the relief from the threat but rather the presence of G-d in one's life as evidenced in one's relief.

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